Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Listen To California!

Two out of three California voters believe “we can have a strong economy and a clean environment at the same time.” Nearly two-thirds (63%) say environmental laws shouldn’t be used as bargaining chips in budget negotiations.

That’s according to
a new poll commissioned by several environmental groups that are Sierra Club California’s allies in battling efforts to undo environmental protections.

California voters have spoken! So far, though, their voice hasn’t been heard by a minority of legislative Republicans from trying to erode these important existing laws that protect our air, our climate, our lungs and our land.

Among them: regulations that protect Californians from diesel pollution caused by dirty engines; allow affected residents to sue to stop global warming pollution; require environmental review of the sale of state lands; and prevent the use of smog-forming pesticides. Another minority-group effort would tie the hands of California air regulators in an endless loop of red tape.

Of course, governing by poll results isn’t always the best thing to do. But in a time of back-door budget blackmail, the recent poll results provide an important reminder of our democratic process.

Let’s hope they’re listening now.

Want Proof? The Sacramento Bee’s website has an actual copy of these scary budget proposals (PDF)!

See what the SF Chronicle’s “Thin Green Line” blog has to say about the poll

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sick Trees and Global Warming Science

“We will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. … We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

(President Barack Obama’s Inaguration Day Speech, January 20, 2008)

President Obama’s inspiring words about science and green infrastructure have brought new hope to Sierra Club California – even amid
bad news today that global warming is decimating western forests.

Our hope? That this Administration will apply science and technology to the problem of global warming – just as his predecessor’s administration disregarded science – in time to turn back the threat to our trees.

Last year, then-President Bush’s U.S. EPA
denied California’s automobile greenhouse gas waiver request. The waiver would have allowed California and other states to implement a plan to fight greenhouse gases created by cars, trucks and vehicles – the top source of the pollution that causes global warming in our state, scientific studies have shown.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols has written the Obama Administration
a letter requesting that the waiver be granted. Quick action on this matter will allow other states to follow in California’s lead – and perhaps prompt the production of cleaner cars.

At the same time, we need to keep in mind that harm to our forests has already begun, and is unlikely to stop even if we begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why Sierra Club California started working with state officials to craft a plan to lessen the inevitable effects of global warming on habitats and wildlife.

Obama’s Administration can also follow California’s path in this – or work with our state’s leaders to ensure that science and protection prevails. As our new President said during his inauguration, “With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to .. roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

Let that work begin now.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

State of the State Misses The Mark

Sierra Club California’s environmental advocates today watched Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s short “State of the State” address with disappointment.

Like most Californians, we are caught up in the pain and worry surrounding the state’s fiscal crisis.
Gov. Schwarzenegger’s short speech failed to address those very real concerns by proposing real leadership (Click on the photo at right to watch the speech).

Instead of spinning his wheels with a short address, Gov. Schwarzenegger should be declaring 2009 to be the Year of the Green Jobs,
as Director Bill Magavern suggested in a recent KQED radio interview. We have opportunities to create and improve public transit, water supply, affordable housing, flood protection and energy efficiency – all without harming our environment or spending money we don’t have.

California’s legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, have a plan to stimulate the state’s economy by spending already-approved bond money on “green infrastructure” projects that would improve our state’s economy without affecting its ecology. What’s more, the proposed Green Economic Stimulus Plan looks out for the next generation by providing green jobs training.

Gov. Schwarzenegger also missed his chance to tell California that he’s going to halt his unproductive efforts to suspend California’s environmental laws, after balking at signing a state budget fix that didn’t include enough rollbacks of California’s treasured environmental protections.

As the Governor concluded his remarks today, “Let us resolve the budget crisis, so that we can get on with the people’s work.”

And, we might add, let’s get the Green Economic Stimulus Plan in place, so we can get people to work!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Real Green Stimulus For California

You’ve probably heard by now about Gov. Schwarzenegger’s plan to grow California‘s economy by shrinking its environmental protections.

there’s a plan to stimulate our state’s economy while benefiting its ecology! At a press conference today, Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President pro Tempore, Darrell Steinberg released the California Democratic Leadership’s “Green Economic Stimulus Plan.”

The plan would provide thousands of green construction, transit and Conservation Corps jobs, while refurbishing our state’s roads, levees and water storage in green ways. What’s more, the plan will reach out to would-be high-school dropouts, offering them the promise of green jobs for California’s future.

Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (right) said today, “California must lead the world.” We agree. Californians have a chance to show the world a better way.

As Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (left) said, “The state of our state will be much better if this plan becomes law.” Tomorrow, Gov. Schwarzenegger will give his “State of the State” speech. We hope that he will support the Green Stimulus Plan and prove once again that California can advance our state’s economic priorities without putting environmental protections on the chopping block.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bad Budget News II: We Are Not Alone!

The governor’s continued efforts to hold out for environmental rollbacks – combined with his proposed cuts for transit – represent a giant step backward for our state’s economy and ecology alike.

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what some major news organizations statewide had to say about the disappointing proposals sifting through the state Capitol:

Schwarzenegger is proposing that the California Department of Transportation forge ahead with some construction projects that are tied up in court over environmental issues. One is a $165-million carpool-lane expansion on U.S. 50 in Sacramento that a judge has delayed because of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it could generate, among other concerns.Protections would also be lifted on a freeway-widening project through an ecologically sensitive area of coastal San Diego County and on a controversial plan to drill a tunnel into the Berkeley Hills. And Schwarzenegger wants to empower a panel of his appointees to waive environmental rules on other projects.

See the LA Times’ map of the proposed projects

“[T]here's good reason to think a permanent end to public transit funding will be part of future budget proposals. It shouldn't be. California voters have repeatedly shown they want some of their gas tax money to fund transit, and they're even willing to tax themselves more to improve bus and rail systems. Transit agencies, like every other public service, can expect to take a big hit in the next budget, but that doesn't mean their permanent funding stream should be cut off.”

“[T]he governor was opposed to the Democratic budget, not because of the revenue increases, which he did not criticize, but because he wanted more spending cuts and relaxation of environmental and labor laws to stimulate public works projects.
“On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger said he wanted a bipartisan solution to the budget impasse. In other words, he belatedly has come out against the Democrats' fee-is-not-a-tax scheme, which clearly never would get any GOP support. If the governor opposed the revenue-raising element of the Democrats' budget, why didn't he say so nearly three weeks ago, when it was first proposed?”

“If you are a business owner, it is likely you belong to the Chamber of Commerce or some other business association. … Here are some questions you should ask yourself: Are the leaders of my association or union acting in the state's interest? Are they even acting in my interest? If I'm a supplier who contracts with the state, do I want a budget resolution delayed so my business coalition can press Democrats to waive environmental reviews of highway projects?”

"Now it's back to the bargaining table with the one faction that has been orbiting in outer space while disaster looms in Planet California. The Republican Senate and Assembly members will join Schwarzenegger and the Democratic leaders at a "Big 5" meeting today. The governor said it was time to 'turn the page.' We'll see.
"The GOP legislators continue to refuse to consider any new taxes to fill these deficits. They're seemingly so determined to adhere to their no-tax pledges that your tax refund might get held hostage as a result, and the economy they're claiming to protect will suffer the reverberations of a government breakdown. "

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Budget Battles – A More Concrete Plan

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to press for unnecessary big-road-project exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why he vetoed a proposed budget fix advanced by the democratic leaders in the Legislature.

He’s trying to make something out of nothing.
Nonpartisan analysts at the Legislative Analyst's Office have identified problems with Schwarzenegger’s approach. For example, the efforts to roll back California’s environmental protections only would advance many projects by a few months. Other projects may be held back by Prop. 1B limits on spending bond money on project design.

The state’s best hope for economic stimulus may instead lie with investment in rehabilitation and safety improvement projects, such as bridge maintenance, drainage improvements and pothole repair, according to the analysts. Even better, these small-scale projects can be done at less cost, since there’s traditionally more competition for smaller projects.

Such spending could cause true economic stimulus, and offer statewide safety and environmental benefits.
Wouldn’t that be something?

Image courtesy State of California

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Putting the Brakes on Bad Budget Ideas

Fed up with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s inaction on the state’s budget crisis, California’s Assembly and Senate leaders have challenged the governor to sign their proposal to help balance the state budget.

So far, the governor has refused to sign a Dec. 19 package of budget-boosting fees, including his own proposal to tax oil companies for the harm they do to California’s air, land and water.

Gov. Schwarzenegger keeps moving back the goalposts. Rather than working to stabilize California’s chilling economy, the governor has been holding the proposals hostage in order to roll back California Environmental Quality Act regulations for a number of massive freeway expansion projects.

Putting the brakes on environmental protections means less consideration for the potential effects of construction: increased global warming pollution; more bad emissions in affected neighborhoods; and potential harm to water, land and endangered species. It also sets a dangerous precedent by removing YOUR voice from projects that could affect YOUR neighborhood!

What’s more, the governor’s budget delay resulted in the shutdown of a number of public works projects, including important habitat restoration work – potentially costing working Californians their jobs!

Sierra Club California joins other environmental groups, workers’ groups and seniors’ advocacy groups in calling for the governor to stop holding the budget hostage – and start working toward a real solution.

Read the LA Times' take on the budget

Gov. Schwarzenegger has threatened to veto the proposals. Read the story here

Sierra Club California's Paul Mason stands with protesters following a state budget press conference.

Cartoon c. The Sacramento Bee, used for non-profit educational purposes under terms of "fair use" doctrine. Props to Rex Babin.