Author Archives: Alison Hawkes

Lawsuits Loom Over “Fantasy Island”

Concerns linger over plans to transform Bay island into city of the future

Former military housing would be demolished to make way for an ambitious makeover of Treasure Island. (Photo: Alison Hawkes)

The massive redevelopment of Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay has cleared all regulatory hurdles and is now officially green-lighted for construction as early as next year. But the project’s eco-credentials are still in dispute.

As San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signed off on the project last week, environmental groups were pondering a lawsuit. They’re calling the $1.5 billion project to remake the former military base too car-centric to be labeled “sustainable.” And they say housing as many as 19,000 people on bay fill is too risky with the triple threat of earthquakes, tsunamis, and sea level rise. Continue reading

Emissions Trading May Not Worsen Local Pollution

Study could weaken underpinnings of suit holding up AB 32

Trees killed by acid rain. (Photo: bdk)

In response to a court order, California regulators say they are working up a “very robust analysis” of alternatives to cap & trade, a critical part of the state’s AB 32 climate law.

Right now, the entire implementation plan is on hold, after environmental justice groups sued the Air Resources Board.

A lower court ruling has forced state officials to reexamine the carbon trading program, on the grounds that alternative ways of controlling emissions were not adequately considered.

The activists’ concern is that a market-based system of emission reductions will create “hot spots” in low-income communities of color as industrial polluters buy the rights (called allowances, or carbon credits) to emit more greenhouse gases, and potentially bring other more toxic forms of pollution into nearby communities.

But will that happen? Since carbon trading won’t start until at least next year, the argument is hypothetical. But another example of emissions trading has been well tested.
Continue reading

AB 32 Negotiations Stalled: Climate Plan in Limbo

Litigants can’t come to terms on letting part of the law proceed

Environmental justice groups say California's carbon trading program would make pollution worse for communities near major polluters. (Photo: Alison Hawkes)

Prospects for full implementation of California’s 2006 climate change law turned a darker shade of gray this week. Environmental justice groups walked away from negotiations with state officials. The talks were intended to allow certain portions of the plan to move forward even as the carbon trading program remained tied up in litigation.

That means implementation of AB 32 is effectively at a standstill.

“At this point my clients consider negotiations over,” said Brent Newell, a lead attorney in the case representing a dozen environmental justice groups and individuals. Continue reading

Why EJ Groups are Leery of Cap & Trade

Environmental Justice groups say they support California’s climate law. So why did they sue?

Environmentalists may seem the most unlikely of sources stalling the state’s landmark climate change law. But the case brought by a group of environmental justice advocates is bringing up issues that have been largely overlooked in the zeal of carrying forward AB 32.

(Photo: Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment)

This means that a California power plant can increase CO2 emissions if it buys allowances from another industry that’s reducing emissions, or offsets from, say, a tree farm in Canada.

“The evidence out there is that cap-and-trade is going to fail these communities and will continue to allow polluters to dump on them, and that’s unacceptable and it’s also illegal,” said Alegria De La Cruz, legal director at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment in San Francisco. The Center is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by several organizations over the implementation plan for AB 32. Parties in that case are awaiting finalization of a state court ruling that could hold up the scheduled launch of California’s cap & trade plan. Continue reading

Hidden Treasure: An “Eco-City” in SF Bay?

Thousands roar by Treasure Island every day without a passing glance. That could soon change…radically.

Listen to Alison Hawkes’ companion radio feature on The California Report, Monday morning, and see a slide show of the island’s transformation, below.

Architect's rendering of a proposed "eco-city" on Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco’s twin islands in the Bay – Treasure Island and Yerba Buena – are not exactly jewels of nature. Although they have stunning views, a half-century of use by the U.S. Navy and years in redevelopment limbo have taken a toll.

Some sites on Treasure Island are severely contaminated, and much of the island is cracked asphalt and derelict buildings. Yerba Buena is solid rock but Treasure Island is entirely artificial, conjured from bay mud as an engineering showcase for the 1939 World’s Fair. As time passes, a corner of Treasure Island is gradually sinking into the sea. Rising sea levels as a result of climate change could subsume the island entirely, returning it back to its natural state, which is to say underwater.

In short, the place needs some serious help and this is where a massive multi-billion dollar redevelopment takes stage. Private developers want to transform the islands into a high-density “eco-city” with as many as 20,000 residents, making use of the best that technology and city planning have to offer in sustainable development. Continue reading

Antidote for Urban Heat: More Trees

When the temperature shoots up, cities usually feel the heat the most. But some cities feel the heat more than others.

Scientists studying urban heat islands in 42 cities in the Northeastern U.S. have found that the greatest temperature differences between urban areas and the surrounding environment are in places you might not expect. Continue reading

Carbon Storage Could Be Shaky Proposition

Underground storage of CO2 could trigger earthquakes

Some say storing carbon underground as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions is risky. The container has to last essentially forever, and what if an earthquake rips through the seal? But new research is showing that pumping CO2 underground could itself trigger earthquakes. Continue reading

Center to Study Climate Impacts on Ocean

Federal officials this week launched a new climate change research center, designed to be a hub for studies on the impacts of climate change on the San Francisco Bay and coastline.

The tidal gauge off of San Francisco's Fort Point is the oldest in North America.

The Ocean Climate Center is housed in a collection of century-old military buildings on the edge of the Bay at Crissy Field. It couldn’t be a more picturesque — and critical — location. Adjacent to the oldest tidal gauge in North America, the center will allow cash-strapped federal agencies to pool resources into climate change research and work with natural resource managers to combat negative impacts on the marine ecosystem and communities along the coastline. Continue reading