Policy

RECENT POSTS

A Few May Lose Big as Delta Changes: How to Contain the Cost

A new report warns that some islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta may not be worth saving.

California Department of Water Resources

Increased flood risk in the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta has people worried about the economic impact on the farmers and residents located there.

Here’s the bad news for Delta farmers: A new report concludes that the worst climate impacts on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta could affect a relatively small number of people — the farmers whose land is below sea level and protected by a vast system of levees. Maintaining and repairing those levees falls on local reclamation districts, which can’t necessarily count on state or federal bailouts in the event of catastrophic flooding in the future. It can be expensive if a levee breaks. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) studied the economic impacts of changes to the fragile Delta ecosystem and has produced some recommendations that are not likely to warm the hearts of some Delta landowners. Continue reading

Planners Seek Public Input on Bay Area Growth

How do you want the Bay Area to look in 2040?

Tonight the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) kicks off the first of nine “Plan Bay Area” workshops, aimed at gathering public input on plans for sustainable growth in the region. The planning agency is seeking comment on the Initial Vision Scenario, which was released by MTC and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) last month.  This scenario is the first draft of the Bay Area’s Sustainable Communities Strategy, a planning document required under the state law, SB 375, which was passed in 2008 and requires planning regions throughout California to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars by integrating land-use and transportation planning.

The Bay Area, Sacramento, and San Diego
have some of the most aggressive reductions targets: seven percent per capita by 2020 and 13-16% by 2035 (compared to 2005 levels).  The South Coast (by far the biggest region, including Los Angeles, San Bernadino, Ventura, and other counties) is shooting for an eight percent reduction by 2020, and 13% by 2035.
Continue reading

Brown, Chu Tout New Renewables Law

(Photo: Lorie Shelley, CA. State Senate Photographer)

California’s utilities now have their marching orders: to provide one third of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Now that the “33-by-20″ target is a mandate backed by state law, supporters say it will lure more renewable energy investments to California. There’s evidence that it already is.

Calling it a “breakthrough,” Governor Brown signed the bill into law at the dedication of a new SunPower Corp. manufacturing plant in Milpitas, near San Jose. And he laid down a challenge:

“Last year six thousand megawatts of solar installations were produced by China and one thousand by the United States. Now, are we up for changing that? I think we are.” Continue reading

CA Moves Forward with Renewable Goals

33% by 2020: It’s (almost) The Law

After two failed attempts, California is moving ahead with the most aggressive renewable energy goal in the country. Today the State Assembly passed SB 2x, a bill that requires utilities to get 33% of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, by 2020.

By all accounts, utilities will need to add an unprecedented amount of renewable energy to meet the goal. Peter Miller of the Natural Resources Defense Council says that will spur new technology and green job opportunities. “There’s worldwide competition to lead this industry, which is the growth industry of the 21st century,” said Miller. “And this moves us, I believe, to the front of the pack.”

If the 33% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) doesn’t sound new, that’s because it isn’t. The goal was originally set by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 2008 executive order. Supporters knew that an executive order could be overturned by a future governor, but two previous bills aiming at cementing the goal failed to make it into law. Continue reading

New Rules May Put National Forests at Risk

Environmental groups are criticizing the Obama Administration’s new proposed rules for managing the country’s nearly 200 million acres of national forest, arguing that they weaken current standards for protecting wildlife and watersheds.

More than 100 organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Defenders of Wildlife, signed on to a letter sent to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Monday, arguing that the proposal “fails to provide critical, concrete protections for the most precious resources of our forests — water and wildlife,” and that it “weakens the strong standards for safeguarding water quality and wildlife viability first issued in 1982 by the Reagan Administration and currently still in place.”
Continue reading

What Will Your Water Cost?

Report: Big changes needed to avert “widespread environmental and economic losses” in California

Grand illusion? Water rushes over the spillway at Nicasio Reservoir in Marin County. (Photo: Craig Miller)

A high-profile team of experts is calling for a major overhaul of the way California manages its water. In a 500-page report from the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, the authors say decades of well-intended water policies simply haven’t worked, leaving the state vulnerable to major crises, including water shortages, catastrophic floods, decline & extinction of native species, deteriorating water quality, and further decline of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“Our system has been dying a death by a thousand cuts,” says co-author Ellen Hanak, an economist and policy analyst at the PPIC. Hanak says that the state’s water management efforts have been “incremental” and “piecemeal,” with little success to show for it. Continue reading

Storm Surges and King Tides

Pacific storm makes for some high tides and scary waves on the Bay

Waves slosh on to San Francisco's Embarcadero during Thursday's "king tide" (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

Take naturally-occurring extremely high tides, and add to them high winds and torrential rain, and you get some pretty big seas.

At least, that’s what I got out on the San Francisco Bay today.  How big exactly, is hard to say (our uneducated guessed ran the gamut), but they were big enough to wash over the bow of our 26-foot boat on more than one occasion and to keep most of us aboard holding on for dear life for much of the three-hour voyage.   What I can say for sure is that as I type this blog post, four hours later, my body still feels like I’m rolling up and down and back and forth on some stormy seas.

We braved the weather today to check out the latest round of “king tides” and see how they affect low-lying shorelines in places like Crissy Field, Treasure Island, and SFO. The seas were so rough that we didn’t make it all the way to the airport, but we did see waves crashing over the sea wall along the Embarcadero  just south of the Ferry Building (see video below). At Crissy Field, the beach was nearly submerged and a small footbridge near the mouth of the estuary was almost awash. Continue reading

State Struggling to Reduce Vehicle Emissions

This post was originated by our content partners at California Watch.

Report says driving needs to be more costly to get us out of our cars

By Marie C. Baca

Drivers now pay $6 to cross the San Francisco Bay Bridge during peak traffic hours. "Peak pricing" is one strategy to push commuters to alternative transit. (Photo: Craig Miller)

California faces significant obstacles in complying with a 2008 state law aimed at reducing passenger vehicle usage, according to a report by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

The report points to unrealized rail transit investments and resistance to pricing tools like fuel taxes as factors that have slowed reduction in car usage.

The two-year-old SB 375 mandates that California’s major metropolitan areas reduce per capita emissions from driving by 7 percent by 2020 and by 15 percent in 2035. While the primary focus of the bill is a reduction in the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, the legislation places a special emphasis on addressing traffic and public health concerns by reducing the number of miles residents drive. Continue reading

NASA Climate Funding Under Attack

The head of a major NASA research facility in California is downplaying efforts by a handful of House Republican members to strip the agency’s budget of its climate science funding.

An image from a joint NASA-NOAA satellite project. (Image: NASA-NOAA GOES Project)

S. Pete Worden, the director of NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, expressed confidence that the agency’s 2012 budget would remain intact, despite a letter sent to committee heads from Congressmen from Florida and Utah, urging an end to climate science research at the agency. Continue reading

Wind Farm Forecast: More & Bigger

How much wind energy do we need to make California’s goal of 33% clean electricity by 2020? Whenever I put this question to one of the experts, the answer is always: “It depends.” But under almost any scenario, thousands more windmills will dot the California landscape in years to come.

Cattle and wind turbines dot the Solano County landscape. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Those who don’t see them on a daily basis might be surprised to learn that there is already something on the order of 13,000 commercial wind turbines operating in California. Ryan Wiser, who tracks wind energy trends at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, does a rough calculation that meeting that state-imposed threshold of 33% renewable energy could take 5,000 more, in order for wind to do its share. That’s based on an estimated 10,000 megawatts of new wind power, using the current standard two-megawatt turbine. While most of these will be concentrated in a few major “wind resource areas” (there are currently four big ones in the state), numbers like that almost ensure that wind turbines will become a more familiar feature of the California landscape. Continue reading