A nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics

Trump v California

In this corner: Environment

For basic background, start with The weigh-in: Environment

issue
Clean Energy
Climate Change
Oil and Gas
Water
Protection
status
All talk, no action—yet
It's on!
Punch
Counter-punch
On the ropes
Draw!
California wins!
Trump wins!

Gov. Brown invites the world to climate change summit in San Francisco

published Jul 6, 2017

Seldom missing an opportunity to upstage President Trump, Gov. Brown tonight will announce a global climate action summit, which he will lead in San Francisco in September of 2018.

With Trump in Europe—facing the ire of Western allies for announcing his intention to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord—Brown will beam a video message to the Global Citizen Festival in Hamburg, Germany, inviting “entrepreneurs, singers, musicians, mathematicians, professors” to the Bay Area conference.

Jerry Brown continues to spar with the Trump Administration over climate issues. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Jerry Brown announced a global climate change conference will be held in San Francisco in September. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli via Associated Press

“Look, it’s up to you and it’s up to me and tens of millions of other people to get it together to roll back the forces of carbonization and join together to combat the existential threat of climate change,” Brown says in the video. “Yes, I know President Trump is trying to get out of the Paris agreement, but he doesn’t speak for the rest of America. We in California and in states all across America believe it’s time to act.”

As it happens, Trump and the U.S. delegation are in Hamburg meeting with leaders of the G20 nations. Among other items on the agenda is the difficult work of hammering out language on unified policy toward global climate change, which the president has described as a hoax.

Brown’s brief video offered little detail about the fall conference, but he’s clearly signaled —frequently— that he will steer a singular path for California, making independent carbon-trading agreements with Canadian provinces and setting strict statewide greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Most recently, Brown was appointed a special advisor to the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Bonn, Germany in November.

 

Once again, California sues feds over failure to enforce Clean Air Act

published Jun 29, 2017

In what is becoming a familiar pattern, the state of California has notified the Trump Administration of its intent to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce an Obama-era law calling for reduction in methane gas emissions.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

The EPA had previously issued rules requiring cuts to emission from new or modified oil and gas facilities, but California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is arguing federal law mandates that once regulations are issued for new sources, the EPA must establish guidelines for existing sources.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s failure to issue new rules, Becerra said, is a violation of the Clean Air Act. In fact, in March Pruitt withdrew a federal request asking the fossil fuel industry to provide the EPA with emissions data.

“When the science and the law are clear, it’s not time to stall, it’s our duty to move forward,” said Attorney General Becerra. “States are leading the way—requiring the oil and natural gas industry to do more to reduce this potent greenhouse gas pollutant—and it’s past time for the EPA to step up to the plate. If it takes a lawsuit to get the EPA to fulfill its obligations, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Methane’s potent heat-trapping capacity makes it many times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Regulating methane emissions is a critical component of California’s effort to reduce greenhouse gases. The state Air Resources Board recently limited methane coming from both new and existing oil and gas sources.

Trump administration signals it won't try to revoke California's emissions waiver

published Jun 20, 2017

It’s looking like the Trump administration has decided to sidestep a pollution fight with California over the state’s power to set more stringent vehicle emission standards than the federal government.

Environmentalists and state officials had worried that the federal Environmental Protection Agency would try to yank back the waivers that have given the state unique authority to enact its own rules—waivers that have for decades have enabled California to reduce smog and climate-cooking greenhouse gases—after EPA chief Scott Pruitt refused to commit to continuing the waivers.

Smoggy traffic in the Newhall Pass.

Smog-fueling traffic in the Newhall Pass. Photo by Jeff Newhall via Flickr

But late last week, Pruitt not only declared that the Trump administration was not reviewing the California waiver, but told a House hearing that the waiver existed “because of the leadership California demonstrated.”

Bill Magavern, policy director for the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Clean Air, described Pruitt’s testimony to the Los Angeles Times as “a rare bit of good news out of the Trump administration.”

Brief history, however, has taught that there’s little certainty with the Trump administration. On Monday, Myron Ebell, of the Libertarian-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute, made a forceful case that California’s waiver should be revoked.

Ebell, who crafted the Trump transition team’s environmental policy direction, told a group of reporters in Washington, D.C. that the state’s interest in controlling vehicle emissions is a thinly-veiled attempt to regulate fuel economy.

“States are pre-empted from regulating fuel efficiency,” Ebell said. “The waiver is illegal. California is trying to impose its polices on the rest of the country. The waiver has to go.”

Ebell, who said he does not speak for the President, nonetheless predicted that the Trump administration’s goal is to dismantle the entirety of Obama’s climate change policies.

While the Trump administration has signaled that it may backpedal on the Obama administration’s fuel mileage standards—which President Trump has complained are unfair to automakers—California is vowing to stick with them.

State accuses federal agency of stalling energy efficiency standards

published Jun 13, 2017

California Attorney General  Xavier Becerra today joined a dozen states  in suing the federal Energy Department for failing to publish energy efficiency standards for some products, a step that would have made the greenhouse-gas reducing rules legally enforceable.

Becerra called on the Trump administration to stop “stalling” in enacting the energy-saving regulations, which California considers a critical aspect of its strategy to reduce climate-warming emissions.

Xavier Becerra

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

“Every family and every business can be part of the climate change solution by using more energy-efficient appliances,” Becerra said in a statement. “However, the Department of Energy is blocking common-sense energy efficiency standards. This is absurd.”

The standards for five products—portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies, air compressors, walk-in coolers and freezers, and commercial boilers—were approved late last year. But the regulations were never published in the Federal Register, necessary for them to become law.

The lawsuit argued that the agency’s failure to codify the energy standards harmed the states’ efforts to “reduce global warming related impacts” and enforce state laws regarding energy efficiency. California has some of the most stringent standards for energy efficiency of commercial and consumer appliances.

California had previously joined other states in a similar suit regarding delaying standards for ceiling fans. The Trump administration eventually published the efficiency standards.

Brown joins other governors to defy Trump on climate goals

published Jun 2, 2017

Not long after President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced a new climate pact, this one with a group of other elected officials vowing to uphold the goals of the international agreement.

The governors of Washington and New York joined Brown in creating the United States Climate Alliance and pledged to bolster existing climate programs, share information and “implement new programs to reduce carbon emissions from all sectors of the economy.”

Brown employed provocative language in a conference call with reporters, saying “California will resist.” Reneging on the international climate pledge was “an insane move by this president,” Brown said. “The world depends on a sustainable future. He’s going the other way. It’s going to affect people’s health, the stability of countries, our entire future. “

It is unclear what the import of the new group will be, other than staking out already expressed positions to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Dozens of state and cities have set goals that go well beyond what the Paris agreement prescribed.

President Trump this week pulled out of the Paris climate accord. Image by Skidmore/Flikr.

With virtually every nation on earth signed on to the Paris pact, the U.S. joins Syria and Nicaragua in turning its back on what is widely considered a critical tool to stave off the most serious impacts of climate change. The president called the Paris accord a bad deal and explained his decision by saying he was protecting American jobs and sovereignty.

Brown said the state would  not budge from its  already ambitious environmental goals, adding: “California is all in. We are on the field ready for battle. While our president may be AWOL in the battle against climate change, we’re not. ”

In the meantime, Brown is off to China to talk trade and, of course, carbon reduction.

Trump order could open California coast to oil and gas drilling—but state leaders unveil a plan to thwart that

published Apr 28, 2017

President Trump today signed an executive order that could open waters off the California coast to new oil and gas drilling, triggering a volley of outrage from state officials scrambling to craft legislation to thwart future drilling.

“It is stunning for us to learn this morning that the new administration in Washington is considering opening up California’s waters to new drilling,” said Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, the state Senate’s Democratic leader. “We will oppose those efforts.”

The order instructs U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review locations in the Pacific for lease sales—areas that were placed off limits at least through 2022 by President Obama. The last time federal oil leases were offered off California was in 1984.

An oil platform off Santa Barbara's coast. Photo by Doc Searls

An oil platform off Santa Barbara’s coast. Photo by Doc Searls

The battle could shape up as a war of words—the state has no jurisdiction over how Washington manages its mineral estate in federal waters, which begin three miles off the coast. California has authority over the Pacific from the beach to the three-mile limit. But Democratic legislators weighed in with a significant potential roadblock, preparing to introduce a bill next week that would prohibit the State Lands Commission from approving any new infrastructure that supports offshore oil and gas development.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who chairs the Lands Commission, issued a statement saying the agency is “unequivocally resolved to create an environmental rampart along California’s coast. California’s door is closed to President Trump’s Pacific oil and gas drilling.” 

Offshore rigs generally pump crude through submerged pipelines to onshore receiving facilities, joining an extensive network of pipelines that move the oil to refineries. The proposed bill, while not stopping the drilling outright, would make it more expensive for companies to operate and could limit the volume of oil shipped at a time when the low price per barrel is already discouraging new exploration.

Democratic state Sen. Hanna-Beth Jackson, who is sponsoring the legislation, said a return to offshore oil exploration would take the state back to an “outdated, retro, madman era” and does not align with California’s values.

“This not a distant or abstract issue,” she said. “This is deeply personal.”

Jackson represents Santa Barbara, where the memory of the massive 1969 oil spill that despoiled beaches and killed wildlife is still vivid. The area was hit again in 2015, when a pipeline failure sent more than 140,000 of crude oil onto the beach at Refugio State Park.

State officials have long sought a permanent ban on offshore drilling, citing potential disruption to California’s $44 billion coastal economy. They have been joined by political leaders from Oregon and Washington in calling for legislation that would permanently protect the Pacific’s offshore waters from energy exploration.

“New oil drilling along our coasts is unnecessary and dangerous,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, one of two Democrats representing California. “There’s no reason to expose more coastal economies to the risk of disastrous spills so oil companies can drill for hard-to-reach fossil fuels. Rather than signing reckless executive orders, the president should focus on investing in safer, cleaner energy sources.”

Trump’s plan, which is certain to face legal challenges, also call for new leasing in the Atlantic and the Arctic Seas.

In signing the order, Trump said the directive would lead to prosperity and energy security: “It’s going to lead to a lot of great wealth for our country, a lot of great jobs for our country.”

 

 

 

California sues Trump administration to stop it from delaying oil royalties

published Apr 27, 2017

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas in filing a lawsuit this week against the U.S. Department of the Interior for delaying the implementation of a rule intended to ensure that the taxpayers —and states— receive appropriate royalties from mining and energy companies leasing federal lands.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

The so-called Valuation Rule closes loopholes that allow coal companies to maintain artificially low prices, according to Becerra, and tightens regulations that require oil and gas companies to pay required royalties. The rule went into effect on Jan. 1 but the Trump administration postponed it from taking effect until litigation is resolved.

The states’ lawsuit claims that the action is invalid because the rule had already gone into effect.

Federal officials projected that royalty collections would increase by more than $78 million annually. Since 2008, California has received an average of $82.5 million annually in all royalties from federal mineral extraction within the state.

California Air Board thumbs nose at Trump administration, vows to stay the course on car emissions

published Mar 24, 2017

Saying ‘a deal is a deal” the California Air Resources Board voted today to endorse the stringent automobile emissions standards hammered out with federal agencies five years ago, vowing to go to court if the Environmental Protection Agency follows through on a threat to undo the regulations—and then blocks the state from setting its own standards.

In a unanimous vote in a public meeting at Riverside, the board used strong language to send a message to Washington that California will resist any effort to rollback fuel economy and emissions standards. The move does not change the status quo, but affirms once again that the Golden State is not prepared to accept backsliding on emissions agreements and will, if necessary, pursue a waiver to go its own way.

The hours-long meeting was civil but pointed, with air board commissioners flatly telling the representatives of the auto industry that they made a big mistake in lobbying the Trump administration to revisit an agreement reached in 2011 that set nationwide emissions standards and raised the average fuel efficiency of cars to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.

“What were you thinking when you threw yourselves upon the mercy of the Trump administration to try to solve your problems?” chided Mary Nichols, board chair.

Another board member grew animated, wondering aloud why a midterm review of the deal was necessary, saying nothing had changed.

“To me a midterm review is an off ramp opportunity,” said Hector De La Torre. “It’s turned out pretty damn well. There is no damn off ramp. Why would we take the off ramp? This is the right way to go, to stay on track here.”

He then echoed what numerous California officials had said regarding the state’s willingness to fight the Trump Administration in court to preserve air quality targets.

“If a divorce is going to happen at some point, we are going to litigate that divorce strongly,” De La Torre said. “When your parents are fighting, you can see which one has their act together and which one doesn’t. A deal is a deal. There were three parties at that table back in 2012, we are going to continue to exercise our authority under that deal until WE decide that deal is no longer valid.”

At issue are the 2022-2025 vehicle miles-per-gallon requirements set last summer by the outgoing Obama administration. The rules raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, up from 27.5 mpg in 2010.

The Trump administration says it will re-evaluate the standards over the next year. The president has maintained that environmental regulations are hampering U.S. automakers and costing American jobs. John Bozzella, who represents an industry trade group, has urged California to stay in line with federal standards. “There is more effective way forward than regulatory systems that are different,” he said.

But the strict guidelines are a critical part of California’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thus worth fighting for.

“If Washington continues down this road,” Gov Brown wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, “California will take the necessary actions to preserve current standards and protect the health of our people and the stability of our climate.”

 

 

State coastal agencies urge pushback against federal cuts to research and grant programs

published Mar 20, 2017

Leaders of California’s three coastal conservation agencies are calling the Trump administration’s proposed budget a threat to the state’s environmental and economic future, and urged California’s congressional delegation to push back against deep cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The letter—sent on behalf of the Coastal Commission, Coastal Conservancy and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission—said the proposed cuts would gut programs that provide grants for communities to invest in protection from flooding and sea level rise, as well as support for critical research and training.

“Eliminating NOAA’s core state grants program when California and all other coastal states are at increasing risk from these growing threats is shortsighted at best,” the letter said. “Most important, it will put California’s economy, coastline, and quality of life for millions of residents at risk.”

The letter cited the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, administered by NOAA, which helps fund coastal infrastructure and recreational access to the coast. The program is especially important, the letter said, because the grants are matched by the state.

Coastal Commission Director Jack Ainsworth, speaking at the last commission meeting, said the proposed funding cuts represent about 10 percent of the agency’s budget and would likely lead to layoffs. The state received $2.7 million from the program in 2016.

 

Trump administration freezes fuel-economy standards, leaving California in the lurch

published Mar 15, 2017

President Trump traveled to Detroit today to announce that his administration was shelving the Obama administration’s aggressive fuel-economy standards for cars—standards that California has been relying on to spur the production and sale of energy-efficient, electric and hybrid cars, thus reducing greenhouse gases.

The Trump administration says it will re-evaluate the standards over the next year. The President told automakers his priority was freeing them of regulations so they could build more cars. “If it takes an extra thimble of fuel, we don’t want that to stop you,” he said.

It was seen as an ominous sign for California, which had compromised with automakers and the Obama administration and resisted setting its own miles-per-gallon standard because the federal government adopted a higher standard nationwide. With the Trump administration appearing ready to unwind that deal and lower fuel economy standards, California is expected to invoke its right to seek a waiver to keep the higher standards. If the Trump administration refuses, that could ignite a lengthy court battle.

“If Washington continues down this road,” Gov Brown wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, “California will take the necessary actions to preserve current standards and protect the health of our people and the stability of our climate.”

The Los Angeles Times also reported that state Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed legal action this week asserting its need for more stringent emissions rules. “Any weakening or delay of the national standards will result in increased harms to our natural resources, our economy, and our people,” the filing says.

State official offers climate scientists a Golden State parachute: If Trump doesn't want you, California does

published Mar 14, 2017

Just as the Trump Administration is proposing significant cuts to federal agencies that employ climate scientists , a California official is in Washington D.C. this week, aiming to poach skittish federal researchers.

Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, intends to stand outside the Energy Department tomorrow and the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday to pass out fliers advertising dozens of jobs solving pressing environmental issues in California.

“If climate scientists and experts want the opportunity to continue doing important work for the good of our planet, my message is simple: Come West, California is hiring,” Picker said in a statement.

The PUC, the California Air Resources Board, and the California Energy Commission are hiring scientists to work issues related to climate change, in a state where the issue has the rapt attention of the governor and much of the Legislature.

Picker may be stampeded with resumes from prospective candidates. Proposed Trump administration budget cuts call for reducing the federal EPA’s budget by 25 percent and eliminating 3,000 jobs, and reducing or defunding renewable energy and carbon emission reduction programs at the federal Energy Department. Other agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expect to have their climate change research projects discontinued.

“On climate action, there’s a dark cloud hanging over Washington right now,” Picker said.

California’s aggressive move to hire federal researchers comes on the heels of an executive order President Trump signed yesterday to make the executive branch “more efficient.” It requires a six-month review of all 440 federal agencies to see whether some or all of their functions could be jettisoned—including an evaluation of whether any agency’s function would be better left “to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise.”

Trump budget-cutting to target California coastal and bay protection

published Mar 13, 2017

The Trump Administration’s budget-cutting plans reportedly include eliminating funding for restoration and protection of the San Francisco Bay, and programs that help California coastal communities prepare for climate-related threats.

The administration has proposed slashing budgets of nearly every federal agency, but protections for the environment appear to be especially hard hit.

The San Francisco Bay Delta

The San Francisco Bay Delta. Photo by Steve Martarano, US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Washington Post reported that the proposed budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is to be cut by 17 percent, with sharp decreases in programs that pertain to climate science and adaptation to its effects. If the cuts are instituted, the California Coastal Commission could stand to lose about 10 percent of its overall budget, or about $2 million, according to agency spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz.

The grant programs are critical in assisting local governments to fund projects that prepare coastal towns to withstand damage from severe storms and sea level rise.

Among the programs targetted, according to the document, are NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management grants and Regional Coastal Resilience grants, Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency grants, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, and the Sea Grant program.

The preliminary budget for the Environmental Protection Agency calls for the elimination of the $4.8 million San Francisco Bay program, which funds wetlands restoration and beefing up protection of the shoreline, at risk for sea level rise. The proposed cuts, reported by Reuters, would need the approval of Congress.

The San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund was established in 2008. That EPA grant program has allocated nearly $45 million to pay for projects to restore wetlands, improve water quality and reduce polluted runoff.

Trump has characterized the EPA as regulation-happy, complaining the agency uses “totalitarian tactics” that restrict industry and cost Americans jobs.

EPA poised to roll back fuel efficiency standards, undermining California's climate goals

published Mar 10, 2017

The anticipation continues to build as California officials spent another week waiting for the expected rollbacks of vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency standards to come from the Trump Administration—moves that could have serious repercussions for California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

At issue are the 2022-2025 vehicle miles-per-gallon requirements set last summer by the outgoing Obama Administration. The rules raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, up from 27.5 mpg in 2010.

In a separate action, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is widely expected to loosen the emission rules for cars, which have for a number of years been identical to California’s stringent standards. That has been assumed to occur at any time, but Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, told a Sacramento audience this week that although she’s hearing the same rumors, she has no particular insight into what the federal agency might do. “They aren’t asking me.” she said.

So expected was the move that a state senator  introduced a resolution  opposing “any efforts by the current administration and Congress of the United States to deny, rollback, or otherwise undermine the waiver authority.”

But, by the end of the week, the shoe had failed to drop.

The EPA itself has been strangely quiet, although Pruitt on Thursday week confounded scientists around the world when he said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change. “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box. “But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

In fact, there is little debate about carbon dioxide’s role in climate change, as the EPA’s as-yet unpurged website concludes, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

A group of Democratic senators earlier in the week urged the EPA not to change the emissions rules, saying in a letter, “These automobile emissions standards are economically feasible and technologically achievable for the auto industry.”

Car manufacturers disagree, and have lobbied the Trump Administration to revisit the standards and build in more flexibility.

“America should be putting cars that burn too much gasoline in the rear-view mirror,” said Anna Aurilio, Legislative Director for Environment America.“Unfortunately, EPA’s potential action may be a green light to keep making cars that dirty our air, endanger our health and threaten out children’s future.”

The complicated, litigated process of the interwoven regulations was consolidated under the Obama Administration. Both the EPA and California’s air board set their own greenhouse gas standards, while the U.S Department of Transportation sets the fuel efficiency rules, known as CAFE standards. Taken together, fuel economy and emissions are set out in what’s known as the National Program, which covers vehicle emissions and fuel economy from 2017-2025.

What might be afoot, according to Simon Mui, an analyst with the National Resources Defense Council, is both agencies working in concert to weaken both fuel efficiency and emissions rules at the same time “At that point,” he said, “the California standards would be the one shining star holding things up.”

That’s because the state has the right under the Clean Air Act to set its own emissions standards for new cars if it deems the federal guidelines insufficiently strict. (The law also allows other states to adopt California’s rules, which more than a dozen have done.) To do so, California’s air board must request a waiver from the EPA, which it has done for more than 50 years.

Such waivers have been the bedrock on which much of California’s climate change goals stand and are critical for the state to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals. The state’s emissions from passenger cars and light trucks have been reduced by more than 30 percent since 2009, when California expanded its use of the air quality waiver.

But after Pruitt refused to endorse California’s special waiver privilege, the state has girded itself for this sort of battle with federal officials, having hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to represent it.

Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the state air board, noted that the state has received more than 100 waiver in the last 50 years, adding, “California’s unique ability to set and enforce its own standards on mobile sources is critical for California to protect public health, and has benefitted the nation.”

Trio of state bills would keep federal environmental safeguards here even if feds drop them

published Feb 23, 2017

Fear has a way of focusing the mind.

Democrats in the California Legislature, wary of as-yet unknown environmental policies to come from the Trump White House, aim to preempt potential federal rollbacks by introducing a trio of bills maintaining existing state protections—both for the environment and for the scientists who study it.

“Californians can’t afford to go back to the days of unregulated pollution,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León of Los Angeles said at a press conference today. “So we’re not going to let this administration or any other undermine our progress.”

De León introduced SB 49, which instructs state and local agencies to at least maintain current standards for clean air, water and drinking water regardless of how federal policy may change. It also prohibits removing protections that are covered for now under the federal Endangered Species Act and worker safety rules.

Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica offered SB 50, which would revise state policy to make it more difficult to sell federal land to developers, instead requiring it to first be offered to the State Lands Commission.

The third bill, introduced by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, would help shield the right of environmental and climate change scientists—be they public employees or working for government contractors—to speak to the media and report agency wrongdoing. SB 51 protects them from losing their professional licenses or being brought before state boards for doing so. It also seeks to insulate scientific information from censorship or deletion by federal agencies.

State needs Trump administration to continue goosing clean energy with federal dollars

published Feb 19, 2017

President Trump is a big booster of the country’s fossil fuel sector, pledging to revive the coal industry and advance oil and gas drilling. But given his outspoken skepticism about the dangers of climate change, questions abound about whether he’ll be inclined to keep allocating federal dollars to either support large scale renewable energy projects or to incentives consumers to buy electric cars and install rooftop solar system.

Those federal programs have helped to make renewable energy more affordable to Americans and, in California, have been an impetus to propel the state toward its ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gases. But they also perpetuate what critics have labeled a nanny state, where government interjects itself into the market and tries to influence which products consumers buy.

Currently purchasers of electric vehicles are eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits—a critical incentive if California is to meet Gov. Brown’s intent to decarbonize transportation (he has decreed that 15 percent of the state’s new car fleet will be zero-emission by 2025.) Federal aid also helps homeowners make their homes more energy efficient, a critical component to achieving California’s goal that all buildings operate twice as efficiently by 2030.

Federal grants, loans and tax breaks have been fundamental to bootstrapping California’s robust utility-scale renewable energy industry. Even as some these Treasury and Energy Department programs phase out, the state’s clean energy developers will require subsidies to stay afloat. At the same time, experts parsing the president’s proposed tax overhaul have suggested that cutting corporate tax rates will lessen the need for write-off that drove investors to pour billions into solar companies.

Any lessening of investment in large scale wind, and especially solar, will be a blow to California renewable goals, in a state where legislators will be considering a new bill by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León that would mandate the state run on 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

Rains wash away drought desperation—but not pump plan for the Mojave

published Feb 9, 2017

The state’s years-long droughts has eased, with the latest measurements show that only 4 percent of California still experiencing severe drought—down from 82 percent a year ago. That takes the sting out of making tough decisions about who gets water when there’s more of it to go around. And as a result, the state may not need as much help from the federal government if water is flowing.

But the soggy state of the state today doesn’t mean that state officials to keep their hands in their pockets when it comes to seeking funding.

Included in President Trump’s proposed infrastructure priority list is $250 million for the Cadiz water project in the Mojave Desert—a project that would pipe water to a half-million customers in Southern California. The idea is opposed by conservationists who say aggressive pumping of groundwater would deplete the region’s already-tapped aquifers. It has so far been blocked by the federal Bureau of Land Management. That might change.`

 

 

State environmentalists dread thought of losing fed emissions waivers

published Jan 31, 2017

California officials have discerned a chilling signal that the Trump administration may be willing to halt the state’s unique authority to impose its own vehicle emission rules—a move that could undercut its pioneering effort to battle climate change.

The threat arose during the confirmation hearing for Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt was asked by California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris if he would pledge to continue the EPA’s decades-long policy of granting California waivers from the federal Clean Air Act, giving the state the right to set its own more stringent clean air standards. Pruitt—who as Oklahoma’s attorney general sued the EPA more than a dozen times—refused to commit to continuing California’s authority, instead saying he would have to study the issue.

The waivers have been the bedrock on which much of California’s climate change goals stand. The state’s emissions from passenger cars and light trucks have been reduced by more than 30 percent since 2009, when California expanded its use of the air quality waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The ability of the state to chart its own course has brought California to a place of national and international leadership in combating climate change, often without the partnership of recalcitrant elected officials in Washington. In many cases, California’s regulations have become the de facto federal standards.

Fran Pavley, the recently retired Democratic state senator who authored most of California’s climate change legislation, said in an interview that the state would “absolutely not” have been able to achieve the current greenhouse gas reductions without waivers. Losing that flexibility under the Trump administration would be a crushing blow to more than a decade of carefully crafted policies, which stitched together across multiple state and local agencies, aim to reduce California’s carbon footprint and dramatically reshape how the state generates and uses energy.

The clean air waivers also play a critical role in improving public health across California—and although they’ve helped clean pollutants from the air, large parts of the state still have air quality that violates federal ozone thresholds.

“There is no way that the 10 million Californians living in areas with smoggy air will be able to breathe healthy air without the state keeping (waiver) authority,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air. Read the full CALmatters story:

Obama left state vulnerable to coastal drilling

published Jan 22, 2017

Gov. Jerry Brown sent a letter to President Obama as he was leaving office,  asking him to permanently place California’s coast off limits to drilling.

“California is blessed with hundreds of miles of spectacular coastline; home to scenic state parks, beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife and thriving communities,” Brown wrote. “Clearly, large new oil and gas reserves would be inconsistent with our overriding imperative to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and combat the devastating impacts of climate change.”

The federal government already announced it would not auction federal leases until after 2022, if at all. But Obama declined to make that permanent, even as he ruled out energy exploration in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

Thus far the Trump administration has not signaled its intentions.

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