Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Water Bond Idea Is All Wet

(previously published in California Progress Report)

The California Legislature’s ongoing debate over a water bond (
ABXX 8, Huffman, Caballero, Wolk) seems to echo discussions going on in houses across California: Should we put big purchases on a credit card and pay them off, or should we be more prudent with our money?

It’s great that our state’s leaders want to take on our state’s water woes, and that the California Assembly has dived into this issue with enthusiasm. But right now, they are talking about spending $10 billion for water – and essentially putting that charge on a “credit card” of more bond-money borrowing. Annual payments on existing borrowing already represent the fourth-largest expenditure in the state’s budget.

Rather than address our problems as a one-time purchase, we need to come up with a steady “stream” of financing that we can use to take on the big, ongoing problems facing our state’s water systems:

- A collapsing Delta capable of delivering an unprecedented shock to the 23 million Californians who drink its water;

- Worsening water quality, as bacteria, trash, pharmaceuticals, plastic byproducts and nitrates poison our rivers and streams;

- Costly, unnecessary dam proposals that would cost billions to build and benefit only a few;

- And a complete failure to regulate groundwater, which plays an increased role in drinking water supplies during droughts.

A one-time water bond won’t do enough to address those problems, and it definitely doesn’t provide a consistent, stable source of funding for water.

We’re not alone in wanting this sustainable funding. Our colleagues with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, the Planning and Conservation League, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Clean Water Action, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation all agree how important it is to end the spending drought for funds already approved by voters.

Together, we’re asking the California Legislature to rethink its entire approach to funding water policy. We’re also standing up for disadvantaged communities and individuals: those who must fish to feed their families, agricultural workers who can’t drink the water that comes out of their tap. We’re fighting to make sure that these families and workers get a fair share of any bond. Along with our disappearing fish species, they have suffered the most from decades of water policies that rewarded special interests without improving water quality or supplies for these low-income communities.

We have the tools to start making a difference in those communities right now. More than half of the funds from previous bonds already approved by California’s voters, Propositions 84 and 1E, still needs to be appropriated and invested in California’s water resources. As we strategically invest those dollars to clean up dirty aquifers and help low-income Californians, we will have some more time to take a more critical look at our state’s water future.

Right now, the California Legislature has a chance to begin making a real, permanent change to California’s often-shortsighted water policy. It’s time to put down the credit card, and start planning for a sustainable future.

image courtesy DWR

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Green Chemistry Future For California

The LA Times has an editorial today praising Assembly Bill 1879, a bill that lays the framework for a green chemistry future.

It arrives just in time for an anticipated vote on the Senate floor, which could take place as early as today.

Assembly Bill 1879 (Feuer) would give state toxics regulators the chance to take a comprehensive, scientific look at chemicals that end up in baby products, shampoo, serving dishes and countless other products you use every day. Federal officials have inventoried 20,000 new chemicals since 1979, even though they have very little information about the way these chemicals affect our air, water and health.

A Sierra Club California priority bill, AB 1879 could be just the thing for jump-starting the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s green chemistry initiative. Because it doesn’t seek to ban a specific chemical, the bill even has the support of some in the chemical industry – although many manufacturers still oppose the effort.

AB 1879 represents our best hope for a full scientific evaluation of the products we take for granted. I hope the California Legislature acts on its unique opportunity.

-- Bill Magavern, Director, Sierra Club California.

Let's Energize The Debate!

If California competed in an Olympic event for renewable power generation, we’d only take fifth place!

That’s what
our allies at Environment California announced today at the State Capitol. We’re joining them in their call for the California Legislature to power up its efforts to pass a renewable portfolio standards bill that would call for a full third of California’s power to come from renewable sources by the year 2020.

Currently, utilities must generate at least 20% of their electricity from renewable resources such as solar, geothermal and wind power by 2010. Last month, Sierra Club California wrote Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking him to work toward a 33% standard.

Schwarzenegger has joined the team of allies trying to hurdle California’s renewable generation capacity toward 33%. Speaking for him, California Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas joined a panel that also included representatives of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies; the Union of Concerned Scientists; Environmental Defense Fund and a score of environmental, public health and environmental justice groups.

Raisng the bar for renewables would pay off across a number of issue areas, the groups agree.

"Increasing the renewable portfolio standard would lower greenhouse gas emissions, clean our air and create an estimated 200,000 new jobs for Californians," says Jim Metropulos, Sierra Club California's Senior Advocate.

A 33% renewable portfolio standard should be a top priority for the Legislature, the group agreed.

“If developing renewable energy were an Olympic sport, California surprisingly wouldn’t even win a bronze medal,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate for Environment California. “It is high time California gets back in the race by upping our mandate and commitment to removing barriers to renewable energy.”

PHOTO: CEERT's V. John White answers a reporter's question as representatives from Environment California, Sierra Club California and other groups back him.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Shut Up? Not So Much!

The Aug. 16 Long Beach Telegram’s story about offshore drilling includes the following quote from oil industry geologist Mel Wright, who wants to start drilling off California’s coast:

"They've got all the information in their files right now, and they could start the minute the Sierra Club shuts up.”
We can’t “shut up” if it means oil companies will start drilling our beautiful coast. Shutting up would mean putting up with increased spills and spoilage. It also means ignoring more sustainable solutions that that will bring down gas prices much more quickly, such as improvements to vehicle fuel efficiency, use of alternative fuels and smarter community planning that cuts the amount of time commuters spend in their vehicles.

Of course, it’s not just us speaking out against offshore oil drilling: A bipartisan group of California lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also stand ready to guard our coasts against offshore drilling.

Remember: even the Bush Administration has acknowledged that drilling for oil won’t pay off for 10 years or more. We can either drill and wait for new oil supplies that will lower our price at the pump by just a few cents – or we can give voice to entrepreneurs, innovators and everyday Californians in their efforts to power up a clean energy economy.

Things like basic vehicle maintenance can mean so much. As Governor Schwarzenegger himself said today about a new program called “
EcoDriving USA”:

“I am talking about simple things, like proper tire pressure, avoiding rapid starts and stops, and keeping your engine tuned up. This is no substitute for a consistent, long-term, national energy policy, but it rovides immediate, tangible relief from high gas prices…. We don’t have to wait for the

You can’t expect us to shut up anytime soon, but you can expect a lot more vocal discussion about California’s future. Read more at Sierra Club California's
Energy page.

-Paul Mason, Deputy Director

Historic image courtesy U.S. Department of Energy

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Holding The Line Against Wildfires

Yesterday, Sen. Sam Aanestad held a one-sided “Legislative Wildfire Summit” that purported to probe the reason behind the more than 2,000 devastating wildfires that have swept California. Essentially, he explained, more logging in forest areas would lessen the fire problem – and he scolded the governor for not allowing that logging.

The Grass Valley Republican concluded his event by sending out
a press release that included the following quote:

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” said Senator Aanestad. “This didn’t have to happen.”

He’s right: it didn’t have to happen – and it doesn’t have to keep happening. Smarter land-use decisions like those advocated by Sierra Club California priority bill
SB 1500 (Kehoe) would give CalFire the chance to develop helpful guidance documents for local government, and offer CalFire a greater role in reviewing and commenting on General Plan Safety Elements as well as projects built in State Responsibility Areas and Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone. And SB 1617 (Kehoe), another Sierra Club California-backed bill, would provide new funds for proactive fire protection by assessing a $50 fee on the houses that are already in this fire-prone area – helping to address the problem of fire protection for homes already in unsafe areas.

But Senator Aanestad has voted against SB 1500 and SB 1617, just as he
voted against a 2004 bill that increased defensible space requirements, Senate Bill 1369. Now state law, the bill requires clearing 100 feet of defensible space around homes in fire-prone areas – a move the insurance industry has credited with saving homes during wildfire.

A robust fire suppression program to protect lives and homes will always need to be a core part of California’s fire management efforts. Still, 2008’s tragic fires have reminded us all that we can’t address fire with suppression alone – we need to get smarter about how we plan and prepare for inevitable fires, and stop exacerbating the problem by building homes in harm’s way.

We best honor those who have died and suffered in these wildfires not by getting mad, but by pledging to make good planning decisions that keep families and firefighters out of harm’s way.

Please encourage your representatives to support SB 1500 and SB 1617, to protect homes, families and firefighters.

photo by Robert A. Eplett, OES California


Republicans want more aggressive forest thinning (Contra Costa Times)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Water For ALL!

Protesting Governor Schwarzenegger and Senator Feinstein’s push for a November water bond, community groups throughout California rallied yesterday to expose the proposal’s failure to provide long-term and equitable solutions to California’s water problems. Community groups oppose the bond and are calling for immediate action from the Legislature to distribute existing bond funds that have sat unspent since 2006.

“Our communities are struggling as budget cuts dry up state support for our health, education and infrastructure programs. Now the governor is asking Californians to repay another $9.2 billion dollar water bond? We simply cannot afford to do that,” stated Debbie Davis, legislative analyst for the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. “Ironically, this bond is called the ‘Safe Drinking Water Act,’ but it does nothing to address the drinking water crisis in thousands of communities in California.

"Our communities need funding for programs that help provide safe, clean drinking water. Despite a $9.2 billion dollar price tag, this bond doesn’t deliver.”

California’s recent drought has exacerbated water problems throughout the state, ranging from a lack of clean drinking water for rural communities to the collapse of the Delta ecosystem. Instead of creating new management solutions to old problems, the bond provides funding for the same types of projects that have already pushed California’s water system to the brink. Proposed dams and surface water storage would take decades to put in place, and most profit special interests.

“We have a water crisis today. This proposed bond wastes $3 billion on projects that will take decades to produce a drop of water,” said Jim Metropulos, Sierra Club California's Senior Advocate. "We don't need 19th-century solutions to today's problems."

Metropulos, Sierra Club Angeles Chapter staff and others called on the Legislature and the Governor to pass SB 1XX (Perata, Machado and Steinberg), releasing unspent funds from Proposition 84, passed in 2006. Over $800 million is being held hostage as leverage for a wasteful water bond.

The Legislature reportedly has until the end of this week to vote the water bond onto the ballot.

Information and images courtesy Environmental Justice Coalition for Water and Planning and Conservation League.

Monday, August 11, 2008

And The Winner Is...

Grassroots lobbying is more important than ever.

That's what Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland, told a group of volunteer lobbyists who donated their Sunday and Monday to assist Sierra Club California's senior staff in advocating key legislation.

Perata, who won Sierra Club California's first-ever Byron Sher Award for Outstanding Environmental Achievement by a Public Official in recognition of his tireless efforts on behalf of the environment, encouraged these volunteers to continue to maintain their presence in the State Capitol. Because of term limits, he said, California's legislative leaders won't have the experience to push forward major pieces of legislation like the Global Warming Solutions Act - unless the people in their district hold them to it.

"If you can talk to someone where they live, where they shop, that's going to be how we get these bills passed," he said. "[You must] maintain your vigilance, and maintain the priority you place on the environment in your daily lives."

He also warned that some Republican representatives of the Legislature want to build more dams and roll back environmental protections.

But it wasn't all seriousness. After warning the Club members to stay aware of legislation, he brought warm laughter with an aside:

"Of course, asking Sierra Club members to be more vigilant is crazy," he joked.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A “Suspense”-ful Week

This week brought many wins and losses for Sierra Club California.

It was a week of difficult hearings on the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees, which basically decide whether there’s enough money to pass legislation. Some of our top-priority bills had landed on the “Suspense Calendar,” essentially put on hold until this week.

The following measures survived this crucial step, although they still face votes in the Assembly and Senate:

  • SB 1500, SB 1617 (Senator Kehoe): Improves the state’s ability to respond to fires.

  • AB 2175 (Laird and Feuer): Sets a water conservation goal of 20% for the state.

  • AB 1879 (Leno): Gives state environmental officials more say over toxic chemicals in textiles, toys and consumer products.

These Sierra Club California-supported bills failed to leap off the suspense calendar:

  • AB 2989 (Fuentes): Sets up a program to get more kids outdoors. Sierra Club California is working with Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes’ office to try to rescue this beleaguered bill.

  • SB 1672 (Steinberg): Funds initiatives to help train workers to take clean-energy and “green” jobs. Sierra Club California will continue to work to get this measure on the 2010 ballot.

All of these bills represent important policy priorities for Sierra Club California and the entire environmental community. We will continue to fight to pass these measures in order to protect our air, water, wilderness and environmental health.

-Bill Magavern, Director

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Hunters, Activists, Scouts: Kids, Get Active

Sometimes, kids actually teach grown-ups about what’s important.

Sierra Club California, California Waterfowl and the Girl Scout Council of California learned that yesterday during a joint press conference and educational event.

Alarmed by statistics that show kids spend as much as a quarter of the day hooked to TV screens and computer monitors, the three groups have united with dozens of allies to back Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes’ “No Child Left Inside” Act, AB 2989. From health groups to hunters, law enforcement to local government, just about everyone interested in the well-being of California's kids has signed on to this key legislation.

The bill would fund a grant program that would pay for California’s kids – especially at-risk, underserved young people – to learn and play at outdoor educational and recreational spots. Outdoor education and recreation boosts youths’ self-esteem and improves science test scores, according to a study by state education officials.
Right now, the “No Child Left Inside” Act is stuck in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Spending time outdoors provided a passageway into a world of wonders, young Girl Scouts told the gathered adults, including Assemblymember Fuentes, several reporters and representatives of California Waterfowl and Sierra Club California. Hiking, caving and adventuring gave them a passageway into a new world, the teens told their audience.

Just as the kids learned how to “play together,” the three organizations and their dozens of allies have joined forces to focus on what matters: getting kids outside.