Author Archives: Jeremy Miller

Jeremy Miller is a contributing editor for High Country News, and his stories have appeared in numerous publications including Harper's, Orion, Men's Journal, Earth Island Journal, The Boston Globe and The San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Magazine. He currently lives in the East Bay with his wife, Emma, and children, Deirdre and Owen.

The New Cap & Trade Battlefront: How to Spend the Revenues

Lawmakers weigh in on what to do with the carbon-trading windfall

AB 32 requires California's largest emitters to meet carbon reduction targets. If a firm's emissions are below state-mandated targets, it may auction off its remaining "allowances" to firms that exceeded their emissions targets.

Since the enactment of AB 32 in 2006, California’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction law, analysts have speculated about how to spend the money generated from the law’s cap-and-trade carbon allowance auctions, the first of which is set for this November.

On Tuesday, the State Assembly passed new legislation, AB 1532, that narrowed the options. The bill, which the California Chamber of Commerce has described as a “job killer” and an “illegal tax,” passed 47-26 and awaits action in the Senate. If ratified, it would establish a “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Account” within the state Air Pollution Control Fund and authorize spending auction proceeds on clean energy technology, low-carbon transportation, conservation and green energy research and development.

On Friday, the California Air Resources Board held a public hearing to discuss where auction funds might be spent, as a panel of speakers from across the state and country — representing a broad array of industries and interests — sounded off on where this sizable stream of new funding might be best directed. Continue reading

Getting Serious About the “Other” Greenhouse Gases

Are we too focused on CO2?

While carbon dioxide reductions are at the heart of efforts in California to curb greenhouse gas emissions, state air regulators were reminded in a hearing on Thursday not to overlook a number of other “short-lived” greenhouse pollutants in meeting targets outlined under AB 32, the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act.

A panel of noted scientists was on hand, several from California universities and research labs, to discuss the effects of black carbon, methane and hydrofluourocarbons on regional and global climate. Short-lived pollutants such as these are estimated to comprise more than a third of overall global climate warming emissions. (Carbon dioxide, by comparison, makes up 56% of total global greenhouse emissions.) Continue reading

Three Delta Disasters that Could Disrupt California’s Water Supply

Storms, quakes and creeping saltwater intrusion could all spell trouble at the tap

California Conservation Corps workers repairing a levee in the San Francisco Bay-Delta. The levees are a vital defense for farmland and communities but are vulnerable to sea level rise and quakes.

In the conclusion of her three part series, “California’s Deadlocked Delta,” KQED science reporter Lauren Sommer explores how climate change will affect the San Francisco Bay-Delta’s already foundering ecosystems and further complicate management of this critical hub of California’s water supply.

For those who know little about the massive estuary an hour east of downtown San Francisco, the Delta is the meeting place of two of the state’s largest river systems, the Sacramento and San Joaquin. Flowing down from Sierra snowfields and lakes, the two rivers converge in this 1600-square-mile tangle of tidal marshes, sloughs and canals. Continue reading

Bay Area’s Controversial Housing & Transit Plan Clears Hurdle

State law requires that every metro area have one–but try pleasing everybody

Drawing of a proposed string of high-density, bike- friendly, mass transit-oriented developments along a stretch of El Camino Real between Daly City and San Jose.

A sweeping “green” vision for the future of transit and housing in the Bay Area inched a step closer to realization in Oakland last night.

Officials from the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted on portions of Plan Bay Area, a 25-year strategy for land use and transportation for the Bay Area’s growing population, which is expected to surpass nine million by 2040.

The plan also proposes ways to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction target of 15% by 2035 outlined under SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act – namely by encouraging high-density housing near transit hubs and along corridors. Continue reading

Study: Western Streams Resist Influence of a Warming Climate

Streams show varied response

Hot Creek, near Mammoth Lakes, was one of 20 streams in the Western U.S. examined in a study by Oregon State researchers who found no clear relationship between increasing air temperatures and stream temperatures.

Rising sea levels, melting glaciers, intensifying storm events – evidence is mounting that the effects of a warming planet will be far-reaching and potentially catastrophic. But one natural system may be more resilient than others when it comes to global warming: mountain streams.

Researchers from Oregon State University report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that small streams in the western United States have not heated up in response to the region’s warming air temperatures.

Water temperature is a critical variable for aquatic ecosystems. Some fish, for example, time egg-laying to minute changes in water temperatures; in other species, stream temperatures are a key factor in determining the sex of juvenile fish. Continue reading

Brown Says State’s Buildings Must Go Green

An executive order directs state agencies to cut carbon emissions, save water and energy

California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Sacramento. In 2003, the 25-story tower was given a “Platinum” rating by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2003.

Governor Jerry Brown decreed yesterday that state-owned buildings across California must go green.

The executive order stipulates that state agencies must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20% using 2010 as a baseline, and half of all new and renovated buildings must be Net Zero Energy by 2020. The order, B-18-12, also continues a previous policy requiring state-owned buildings larger than 10,000 square feet to meet the guidelines of the U.S. Green Building Council’s “Silver” rating.

“This shows that the state is very focused on meeting very ambitious yet achievable goals,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

The move is a step toward compliance with AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires that statewide greenhouse gas emissions brought down to 1990 levels by 2020.

According to a release from the governor’s office, the statewide initiative will also save one billion gallons of water and an estimated $45 million in tax dollars each year. Westrup did not have figures on projected job creation, but he pointed out that similar initiatives geared toward efficiency have created 1.5 million jobs across the state since 1978.

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New Reports Highlight Climate Challenges to State Water Supplies

Good news, bad news for California: we’re well-prepared but still vulnerable

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the hub of California's complex water system.

California is both highly prepared and highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change on its water systems, according to two recent studies.

Released today, the National Resources Defense Council’s “Ready or Not” report ranked states in terms of overall water preparedness. The rankings took into account susceptibility to various climate-related factors – such as coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion and flooding – as well as steps being taken to curb carbon emissions and to recognize and tackle vulnerabilities to a changing climate. Continue reading

New Bill Would Make Confidential Groundwater Info Public

Documents include details on depth and location of wells in California

A well on a farm in the Central Valley. Groundwater accounts for 30-to-40 percent of all water used in California.

[POST UPDATED, 4/3, 5:04pm]

It’s no secret that with several recent years of drought, California’s groundwater supplies have come under increasing strain. But Dennis O’Connor, a water consultant with the State Senate Natural Resources and Water committee, wants to rewrite an arcane piece of California water law that, for decades, has kept documents containing information on the state’s groundwater resources under wraps.

The documents O’Connor wants released to the public are called well completion reports, or “well logs” – technical documents filed by well drillers with the state. Under California water law, well logs are confidential, accessible only by individuals in state agencies or those who meet special criteria.

“These logs are rich sources of information. The data can help you connect the dots and create a three-dimensional picture of what’s going on underground,” O’Connor told me. Logs contain data on the depth, location and geology of the sites as well as engineering details such as the kind of casing used and the angle of drilling.

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Survey: Waning Support for Alternative Energy Among Westerners

Meanwhile, support for mining and drilling has gone up

Wells stretch to the horizon in a Wyoming gas field. A recent Pew survey found increased support in the West for expanded gas and oil drilling.

As gas prices surge, support is waning for alternative energy sources, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center released last week. The decline has been particularly pronounced in the western U.S., a region characterized in previous surveys by strong support for alternative energy.

Ebbing enthusiasm for alternatives, according to the survey, is coupled with greater support for “traditional” gas and oil development. In a survey last year conducted by Pew, 73% of Western respondents said they supported increased development of alternative energy, while only 19% were in support of increased development of traditional sources such as oil, gas and coal.

Fast-forward a year. With the price of gas nationwide averaging close to $4 per gallon – up nearly 9% from the same period last year – the percentage of respondents in support of alternatives declined by 20 percentage points, whereas support for expanding mining and drilling jumped by 20 points, to 39%.

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Humans and the History of Water

Q & A With Brian Fagan, archaeologist and author of Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind

The Sacramento-San Joaqiun Delta provides water for tens of millions of Californians.

While many work to understand the world’s current water problems with a laser focus on the present, a few, such as University of California at Santa Barbara emeritus professor of archaeology, Brian Fagan, have chosen to look back, at the water engineering efforts of past civilizations. In his recent book, Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind, Fagan finds striking historical parallels to California’s myriad challenges.

He agreed to answer some questions for Climate Watch.

JEREMY MILLER: In previous books such as The Long Summer and The Great Warming you have written about the influence of climate on ancient civilizations. How did you decide to make water the focus of your latest book, Elixir? Did living in California play any part in your decision?

BRIAN FAGAN: I got into the history of water as a result of giving a talk to the California Water Policy Conference on medieval drought, where some participants strongly encouraged me to undertake such a history.

Two experiences have shaped my perspective on water. The first was living in East and Central Africa for six years when I lived among subsistence farmers and saw the problems of drought first hand. The second is, of course, California, which has a classically erratic rainfall pattern that varies greatly one year to the next. In both cases, I learned just how precious water is to us.

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