Government & Business

What's brewing in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, and beyond


Water From Above and Below Likely Culprit in SoCal Landslide

Rain, irrigation and residential development contributed to November’s San Pedro Slide

Options for fixing the San Pedro Slide in southwestern Los Angeles range from several million to 62 million dollars.

It’s a long and inconclusive list of usual suspects that appear in the final draft report [PDF] released by the City of Los Angeles this week. The Department of Public Works tapped the Glendale geotechnical consulting firm Shannon and Wilson to investigate the slide that sent a 600-foot section of seaside roadway toward the Pacific last November.

My radio report and blog post back in April explained the slippery mix of water and soft sediment that permeates the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and what happens when too much water gets between those unstable layers of earth.

Shannon and Wilson’s report lists the following as “contributors” to the slide: irrigation — both residential and watering done inside the White Point Nature Preserve adjacent to the slide — coastal bluff erosion, precipitation, road construction and underground utilities. Just above the Preserve is a 13.2-acre complex of U.S. Air Force housing, and watering from those homes could be “influencing groundwater” near the slide. Continue reading

Hydropower With a Shrinking Snowpack

And why that could show up in your electric bill

We’ve mapped all of California’s hydropower dams as part of our series on “Water and Power.”

PCWA's Ralston Powerhouse on the Rubicon River in Placer County. California typically gets about 15% of its electricity from hydro facilities inside the state..

While much is uncertain about California’s warming climate, there is little doubt that it’s already changing the fundamentals of how most of us get our water. In fact, the Bureau of Reclamation has estimated that the Sierra snowpack could be reduced by half as soon as a decade from now.

And that has some far-reaching implications that could even show up on your electric bill.

“When you hear people talk about a depleted snowpack, it’s because of warmer temperatures and the snow just cannot stay in the hills,” says Robert Shibatani, a hydrologist and consultant to numerous government agencies. He says the “hydrograph” for California — the “usual” pattern of precipitation and runoff — is already changing. “There’s no question about it,” he told me in a recent interview. “That’s not an if. It’s not even a when, because I can tell you the when. It’s happening now.” Continue reading

New Soot Limits Will Challenge Some SoCal Counties

The EPA’s new air quality standards reduce the amount of soot allowed in the air

Soot comes from diesel trucks, industrial emissions and fires.

Two California counties are already behind the eight-ball with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new limits on soot. San Bernardino and Riverside are the only counties in the country that the EPA projects will not be able to adhere to the upper limits of its new range.

Soot has been linked to asthma, heart attacks and strokes and it’s also a culprit in climate change. The nasty stuff, also known as black carbon, comes from smoke from fires, diesel tailpipes and industrial emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing an update to its national air quality standards, which seeks to lower the amount of soot in the atmosphere. The new rule would limit the annual exposure to fine particle pollution to between 12-and-13 micrograms per cubic meter. The current standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

The New York Times’ Green blog writes that the EPA had delayed issuing the politically volatile proposal until it was ordered to by a federal court judge. California was one of the states that challenged the delay: Continue reading

Peter Gleick Returns to Post as Pacific Institute President

The Heartland Institute cries foul as Gleick is invited back to work

After a three-month internal investigation, Pacific Institute president Peter Gleick has been cleared of further wrongdoing in the Heartland Institute scandal.

The announcement that Peter Gleick has been reinstated as president of the Pacific Institute was met with an outcry from the Heartland Institute, which has vowed to press ahead in its effort to prosecute the noted scientist for fraud.

In February, Gleick admitted he had faked his identity to obtain internal documents from the conservative think-tank.

“The Pacific Institute’s board of directors has failed to perform its duty and should be deeply ashamed,” said Heartland president Joseph Bast in a statement released today. “We have asked the federal government to prosecute Gleick for what we believe were serious crimes he committed, and we await its decision.”

Gleick took a leave of absence from the Oakland-based Pacific Institute in February, as an independent internal investigation began looking into allegations that he had given a false name to Heartland, and also manufactured a document containing detailed strategy information on Heartland’s national effort to downplay climate science.

While the Pacific Institute has not released any documents detailing the specifics of the investigation, it has cleared him of any further wrongdoing.
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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

A More Agreeable Climate for Iowa

The ship, not the state

The USS Iowa being readied for towing from Richmond to San Pedro, CA.

This has nothing to do with climate as we usually cover it here and everything to do with Memorial Day. But somewhere off the California coast, the battleship USS Iowa is on its final voyage to become a floating museum in San Pedro. That’s a long way from speculation a couple of years ago that she would become a reef at the bottom of some ocean.

People like Bob Rogers were not about to let that happen. “She’s the last of the dreadnoughts,” says Rogers, who led one of several efforts to save the Iowa from scrapping or sinking. “She was a true ship-of-the-line, designed to go toe-to-toe with any ship, including the enemy’s largest, slug it out and survive.” And survive she did, through five decades and three wars. And though Rogers’ campaign to land her for Stockton was not successful, he’s just glad she found a good home after eleven years in limbo. “She’s going to a great place,” he told me, on the ship’s final morning in Richmond. “We all had the same goal. We wanted to see this ship saved.” 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

Fire Season Off to a Roaring Start

Wildfire response in California doubling last year’s pace — with fewer resources

For the second straight year, CalFire is running its engines with reduced staffing.

Get ready for what might be a nasty season for wildfires in California. Though few have made big news so far, CalFire says that its crews have already responded to more than 1,000 fires this spring — that’s double the pace from a year ago and well ahead of the five-year average.

And fires aren’t the only challenge. State firefighters are already trying to do more with less. CalFire is working with a smaller budget and reduced staffing on its engines.

“It’s tough,” says Clare Frank, CalFire’s assistant deputy director. “I won’t say we’re unimpacted. We’re doing our best to minimize the impact on the public.” Frank says that so far, budget cuts have not affected the agency’s basic attack strategy in the field. “We’re still going to pursue our goal of keeping 90% of the fires at 10 acres or less,” Frank told me after an inter-agency briefing on Wednesday.” “We want to keep small fires small, we want to hit them hard with initial attack, and that strategy remains the same.” Continue reading

Trendspotting: Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of the Cloud

Did the Greenpeace “Clean our Cloud” campaign nudge Apple toward a stronger environmental stance?

Greenpeace demands a cleaner iCloud at Apple's corporate campus.

Since April, the environmental organization Greenpeace has had a bull’s-eye on Apple in its campaign to clean up the Internet “Cloud” that stores our music, apps, and photos. It’s accused Apple of using high-carbon “dirty fuels” like coal to power its new data center in North Carolina and has used dramatic pranks and slick videos to get consumers involved.

Last week, members of Greenpeace barricaded themselves in a giant iPod at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters and dressed as giant iPhones to demand a cleaner iCloud. Two days later, in a rare demonstration of transparency, Apple released a detailed statement explaining how its new data center would be 100% green. The whole drama made me curious to learn how the Cloud’s power source and growth could impact the environment.

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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