Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Green Chemistry Initiative" Should Yield Chemical Safeguards

Today Cal-EPA issued its Green Chemistry Report.
The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Chemistry Initiative is a serious effort to address the hazards posed by toxic chemicals. Most Californians would be surprised to find out that our state government has no authority to assure that the goods sold at our local stores are safe for our families. The Green Chemistry Initiative has the potential to fix this problem – but only if it survives intense lobbying by the chemical industry.

Cal-EPA has gone all out to make the process of reforming chemical policy inclusive and interactive. Now that today’s report has laid out the options, the administration must begin the hard work of deciding which alternatives to adopt and which ones to propose in legislation.

The Green Chemistry process should result in major new statutory authority for the state’s experts to protect us from toxins that are currently allowed to contaminate our bodies and our environment. Voluntary measures and recognition of best practices have their place, but the only way to ensure meaningful reductions in human and environmental exposures to harmful chemicals is through enforceable safeguards. Collecting the most comprehensive and current data available is one essential building block of those safeguards.

The Legislature should give DTSC the authority to, if warranted by scientific evidence from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, ban or restrict the usage of particular chemicals in consumer products. The process could be patterned on the Air Resources Board’s program that has successfully reduced emissions from consumer products.

Cal-EPA’s scientific experts will need to set priorities in addressing hazardous substances, and should start by protecting the most vulnerable people, like children. Our government must ensure that products many infants are exposed to -- from baby bottles to toys to baby food containers -- will be safe for the next generation.

Furthermore, manufacturers of products containing hazardous materials should be held responsible for the safe disposition of those products at the end of their useful lives. The Integrated Waste Management Board should work with the Legislature to require extended producer responsibility for such products, and should exercise that authority by prioritizing consumer products that, when discarded, become hazardous wastes (like mercury-containing thermostats).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Expert Details Viable Ways to Cut Carbon Emissions

Cutting carbon emissions both locally and globally is an issue of the utmost importance for Sierra Club California, and we draw valuable information from experts with the knowledge necessary to make a carbon-free economy a reality. Daniel M. Kammen, Ph.D./distinguished Professor/Chair in Energy, is one such person who knows what it takes to research and implement such progress. Speaking recently at the California Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Kammen highlighted some important emerging technologies he sees as vital to getting California, the United States, and the rest of the world to kick the fossil fuel habit.

Kammen sees carbon sequestering biofuels, super-efficient solar/wind technologies, and sustainable re-development as the most promising ways towards a low-cost, low-carbon roadmap for California to meet near and long-term sustainability targets. Important to Professor Kammen's seminar was the implementation of green technologies on a receptive economy. Citing over a dozen separate studies and findings, Dr. Kammen concluded that his favorite green improvements would create 3 to 5 times more jobs per dollar invested than would be created with a traditional fossil-fueled economy. Also, what Kammen advocates is not a far-flung technology which has yet to be created; he only talked about what exists now as a reality. Everything Professor Kammen mentioned could be implemented tomorrow if only the funding and investments existed. But, not to be disillusioned, Kammen expressed much optimism as to the viability of a low-carbon economy and energy infrastructure that is slowly coming to fruition.

Click here to see the archived web-cast of Daniel Kammen's seminar, then follow the links to the video/audio of the January 29th Chairman's Seminar at Cal/EPA Headquarters, Byron Sher Auditorium, 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM.

Assembly Runs out of Gas on Clean Car Bill

The Assembly left town yesterday after deciding on the fate of its remaining bills that had not cleared the house last year. The Assembly went out with a whimper, failing to pass AB 493, Ira Ruskin's innovative proposal to give consumers discounts on cleaner vehicles, paid for by surcharges on the more polluting cars and trucks. With no Republican support at all, and with too many Democratic lawmakers unwilling to cast a vote against the powerful auto dealer lobby, the bill lacked the necessary votes, and was never even brought up on the floor.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Where have all the salmon gone...

It appears that the relatively healthy stocks of Central Valley fall run chinook are in serious trouble. Today's Sac Bee has the story:

The Sacramento River's fall chinook salmon population is headed for a collapse, according to new federal data, threatening the upcoming commercial and recreational fishing season on one of the country's most important runs.

The fall chinook run in the Central Valley has long been touted as a conservation success story. As many other species declined, fall salmon spawning in the Sacramento River and its tributaries held reliably above 200,000 fish for 15 years.

But in fall 2007, the number of spawners suddenly fell to just 90,414 fish, the second-lowest total since 1973. That includes wild and hatchery-raised fish.

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) found two areas of particularly bad news. First, the return of mature Sacramento river chinook failed to meet conservation targets for the first time in 15 years. Second, the returns of younger "jack" salmon (which return to spawn when they are two years old rather then the normal three) were at a record low 2,000 fish, compared to a long-term average of 40,000. This is an ominous indicator for next year's run.

The collapse of these previously solid stocks have PFMC fisheries experts very worried:
Last week scientists questioned whether returns in 2008 could meet the conservation objective even without any commercial or recreational salmon fishing where these fish are found. If returns do not meet the conservation objective, an emergency rule from National Marine Fisheries Service may be required to allow any fisheries.

The reasons for the decline are not entirely clear - both wild salmon and hatchery fish appear to be affected, and the cause is likely related to ocean conditions.

The economic implications for fishermen (and those who love to eat wild salmon) are dire. Sacramento chinook have historically been the "workhorse" salmon run, providing much of the commercial catch. If the population has crashed as severely as it appears, the fishing season next year will be substantially restricted.

The PFMS will meet in Sacramento on March 8-14 to discuss management options, followed by public comment and hearings up the coast. It certainly appears that it will be a painful decision making process.

More information is available at the Pacific Fisheries Management Council web site, including an informative press release.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Clean Car Bill Up for Assembly Vote Next Week

With the State Assembly poised to vote next week on the Clean Car Discount, AB 493, authored by Assemblymember Ira Ruskin, the Los Angeles Times has weighed in with strong support in an excellent editorial, "'Feebates' for new cars."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sierra Club California, Surfrider State Park Foundation and others, Urge Protection of San Onofre State Beach from the Foothill South-Toll Road

Sacramento, CA – On January 22, 2008, a coalition including environmental groups, campers and surfers spoke out against Governor Schwarzenegger’s recent decision to support a six-lane, 16-mile toll road extension through San Onofre State Beach in Northern San Diego County. Scattered on the capitol lawn were 161 little red tents representing campsites that would likely be abandoned due to the harm the toll road would have on the San Mateo Campground.

“Approval of the Foothill-South Toll Road through San Onofre State Beach would set a dangerous precedent and put all our parks at greater risk,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, President of the California State Parks Foundation. “As California becomes more and more crowded, we are at a turning point. It is our generation that will decide whether state parks are merely warehouses for future development projects or if the lands we cherish will be protected for future generations to enjoy.”

“Because we live in San Bernardino, far from the coast, being able to camp at such a lovely campground near the beach is very important to us,” added Deborah Fry, a teacher whose family camps at the San Mateo Campground several times a year. “Camping together brings my family closer and creates memories that will last a lifetime.”

The protection of San Onofre State Beach from the Foothill South Toll Road is not just an issue of local concern but one of statewide significance as well. If they can put a road through San Onofre, it will set a dangerous precedent and put all of our parks at greater risk. As California becomes more and more crowded we are at a turning point. “Will our parks and natural spaces remain open protected for future generations to enjoy or will they be seen as just warehouses, set aside for future development?” said Jim Metropulos, Legislative Representative for Sierra Club California “Parks should not be looked at as the path of least resistence for developers proposing bad projects."

Early next month, the California Coastal Commission will decide if the Foothill South-Toll Road is compliant with California’s Coastal Act. Last year, the Coastal Commission staff released a 236-page report stating the road violates the Coastal Act in substantive and unmitigable ways. The Coastal Commission will make a decision regarding the toll road extension when they meet on February 6th in Oceanside.

The proposed Foothill South-Toll Road has long been a source of contention between environmentalists, campers and local citizens and toll road proponents. Environmentalists assert that the road will not significantly reduce the county’s traffic problems and construction of a road through a state park will set a dangerous precedent. The proposed extension would connect the current portions of the Foothill South Toll Road to the I-5 freeway at the Orange County/San Diego border cutting through San Onofre State Beach, the San Mateo Campground and the San Mateo Watershed causing the abandonment of nearly 60% of the park.

Not only would the road ruin San Mateo Campground, but Surfrider Foundation is also concerned the toll road will pollute the San Mateo Creek and alter the natural flow of sediment and cobbles that help form the waves at Trestles. “Why risk ruining a pristine watershed, impeccable water quality, and a perfect wave for a toll road?" asks Stefanie Sekich, Save Trestles Campaign Coordinator for Surfrider Foundation.

From the California Progressive Report: "Who Wants to Camp Under a Toll Road? A Bad Idea for California’s Parks"

From Capitol Weekly: "Coalition rises to protect San Onofre State Beach"

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Schwarzenegger Proposes to Close 48 State Parks & Cut Lifeguards at 14 State Beaches

Last week Governor Schwarzenegger proposed cutting $13.3 million from the Department of Parks and Recreation general fund budget in 2008-09, in attempt to close the huge $14 billion state deficit. This reduction would mean the closure of 48 state parks out of 278 existing parks and reduce the number of lifeguards at 14 state beaches in Orange, San Diego and Santa Cruz Counties. The department would also eliminate 136 permanent employees that work in the state park system, including park rangers, maintenance workers, scientists and tour guides.

Sierra Club California strongly opposes any effort to close our state parks. These cuts would be devastating to the millions of Californians who rely on their state parks for recreation, educational opportunities and quiet enjoyment of nature.

Shutting down state parks is out of touch with the priorities of Californians. The 48 parks slated for closure represent some of the most significant cultural, historic, and natural resources in the state. State parks slated for closure include Henry Coe near Morgan Hill, Portola Redwoods in San Mateo County, Sutter’s Fort Historic Park in Sacramento, Del Norte Redwoods near the Oregon Border, Pio Pico in Whittier, and Great Valley Grasslands in Merced.

The 14 state beaches that are slated to have lifeguards removed from their shores are some of the most popular state beaches in California. Proposing that California’s state beaches can go through the summer without adequate lifeguard staffing is a dangerous proposal that threatens the health and safety of Californians. Lifeguards would be reduced at Silver Strand State Beach in San Diego, San Clemente State Beach in Orange County, Sunset State Beach south of Santa Cruz and other locations.

Click here for a list of proposed park closures and lifeguard reductions.

We believe that the Governor’s proposal is the wrong way to go about balancing the state’s budget. The total reductions from the state parks budget would only eliminate one-tenth of one percent of the state deficit.

Sierra Club California is contacting legislators and working with them to oppose the closure of any state parks during the budget process. Soon, we will be asking you to contact your legislators and Governor Schwarzenegger to tell them to keep all of California’s state parks open for everyone.

Jim Metropulos
Sierra Club California

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Victory at Long Last for Jackson State Forest!!!

After a seemingly endless saga of court cases, environmental documents and hearings spanning the past eight years, the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection today finally approved a new and improved management plan for Jackson State Forest. Sierra Club has been following this issue since 1996, has been intimately involved with this process, and is very pleased with the outcome.

At nearly 50,000 acres, Jackson State Forest in Mendocino County is California’s largest state-owned forest, and is by far the largest public redwood forest between San Francisco Bay and Humboldt County.

A working group of industry and enviro reps in Mendocino County worked for 18 months to craft consensus recommendations aimed at resolving much of the ongoing controversy surrounding the management of Jackson Forest. The Board, recognizing a historic level of agreement between disparate interest groups, followed nearly all of these recommendations.

The Board of Forestry adopted the new approach to Jackson on an 8-1 vote, with Tom Walz, the representative from Sierra Pacific Industries, opposing all aspects of this historic agreement. We wish we were surprised… On the other hand, we commend Board members David Nawi and Pam Giacomini who comprised the Jackson Forest Sub-committee and put endless hours into this effort over the past few years.

Major kudos need to go to Vince Taylor at the Campaign to Restore Jackson State Forest for his years of work to bring the mis-management of Jackson Forest to the attention of the courts and the public. Check their website Thursday for a more extensive update. We have worked closely over the past several years both at the Board of Forestry and in the Legislature to fundamentally change the management direction at Jackson, and we’ve finally cleared a historic hurdle.

Victories in the realm of state-regulated forestry are few and far between, but this is clearly significant progress on a long-festering issue. Here’s to more successes in the near future.

Paul Mason & Kathy Bailey
Sierra Club California

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

State of the State Address Misses Opportunities

While we had hoped that Governor Schwarzenegger would use the State of the State to roll out important new programs regarding green chemistry and better fire planning, the speech was largely devoid of details.

As expected, the Governor led with last Fall’s tragic Southern California wildfires. One of the key lessons from those fires is that we need to get smarter about how and where we build. If local governments continue to approve building projects in areas where the state is expected to provide fire protection, costs and loss of life will continue to increase. Rather than describing a vision of proactive planning to protect lives as well as wildlands, the Governor focused exclusively on thanking the heroes. We join in lauding the Californians who stepped up during the crisis, but we were hoping for more proactive planning to prevent future crises.

Unfortunately, Schwarzenegger continues to push for the building of more expensive dams as a solution to California's water problems. The Governor's insistence on new dams has lead to a stalemate with the Legislature, which favors investments in water conservation, water recycling and groundwater cleanup. We hope that the Governor will work with the Legislature on solutions to our state's water problems that do not involve new dams.

On the bright side, environmentalists are always pleased to hear the Governator repeat his promise to sue the Bush Administration as often as necessary to obtain the waiver necessary for California’s clean-car standards to take effect.

Environmentalists who had heard that new initiatives to address toxins in consumer products or the plastics choking our oceans might appear in the State of the State speech were disappointed, as Schwarzenegger missed an opportunity to put those problems high on his agenda. The Governor did make a general promise to put forward “many” legislative proposals on energy and the environment, but offered no specifics as to what they may be. (During his four-plus years in office, Schwarzenegger has so far made very few legislative proposals of his own, preferring to respond to the bills initiated by legislators.)

The Governor’s proposal for a Strategic Growth Council has the admirable purpose of bringing together his administration’s economic development programs with its environmental sustainability concerns; during this and previous administrations, growth and sustainability have too often been considered in isolation from each other. But the administration needs to provide more details on how this council will allocate bond funds, and needs to make sure that it respects the wishes of the voters who approved the bonds and that it works with the Legislature on appropriating the money.

Will 2008 Be the Year of Green Chemistry?

As Governor Schwarzenegger prepares for his State of the State Address this afternoon, questions linger about the fate of his administration's Green Chemistry Initiative. Launched last May, the initiative has missed its January 1 deadline for publishing a list of policy options. While a short delay certainly need not be fatal, the initiative could use a public push from the Governator.

For more information on the need to reform chemical policy in California, see my Capitol Weekly article from last month, Cal-EPA plan could make state a leader in toxic chemicals policy.

Bill Magavern, Sierra Club California

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Governor Appoints Outstanding Doctor to Air Board

Sierra Club California applauds the governor’s appointment of John Balmes, M.D. to fill the seat of the medical/health representative on the California Air Resources Board. Dr. Balmes is committed to reducing global warming pollution and achieving cleaner, healthier air for all Californians, and especially for children, the elderly, and the millions of Californians suffering from asthma and other lung diseases.

Dr. Balmes is a Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) where he is the Chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH), and an Attending Physician in Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine at SFGH. Dr. Balmes leads an active research program involving controlled human exposure studies of the respiratory effects of ambient air pollutants, and he has advised both CARB and the Department of Toxic Substances Control, among other governmental bodies.

As it grapples with the two vitally important tasks of protecting public health and stabilizing the climate, CARB will benefit enormously from the expertise and commitment of John Balmes.

In related news, a groundbreaking new study from Stanford University being released today identifies and quantifies that carbon dioxide is not just heating up the planet, it is making it harder to breathe.