The gap between California climate change policy and daily reality becomes clear as state regulators expand Aliso Canyon during U.N. summit.
The gap between California’s environmental ambitions and its residents’ daily needs was evident Thursday, when state regulators unanimously voted to increase the amount of natural gas stored in a facility that six years ago became the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history.
The California Public Utilities Commission said it approved expanding storage at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility in Los Angeles County “to meet the existing needs and maintain energy reliability” — a concern that intensified after last summer’s rolling blackouts. In August, when Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a cash for energy conservation program, he warned that California could face a deficit of 5,000 megawatts by next summer — enough to power 5.2 million homes.
At the United Nations climate change conference in Scotland this week, more than 100 countries pledged to slash methane pollution and end deforestation — two major problems that California has tried but struggled to address, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker and Julie Cart report.
Also in Scotland, state Sen. Josh Becker held a Thursday press conference to emphasize that California needs to move a lot faster to meet its climate goals. The Menlo Park Democrat also unveiled two bills he plans to introduce at the start of the legislative session in January: one that would require the state government to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 and another that would accelerate the development of clean-energy projects by cutting “red tape.”
I asked Becker by phone Thursday if he believes that some of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent executive orders — such as banning the production of new gas-powered cars by 2035 and phasing out fracking by 2045 — address climate change with enough urgency.
- Becker: “The governor’s been bold with his executive orders, and those are great. But a lot of this has to still be turned into legislation. (Former Gov. Jerry) Brown had an executive order on carbon neutrality by 2045, and then we were not as a Legislature able to turn that and codify that this year. So executive orders are really great and they help set the direction for the state, but we need legislation in many of these areas.”
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Becker also told me about a travel snarl that rivals Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis’: More than two days after his arrival in Scotland, his suitcase is nowhere to be found, forcing him to buy “a suit, two shirts, a bunch of ties, shoes, the whole thing. … I had to get my pants tailored this morning.” He added he was “swapping stories” with the head of Southern California Edison, whose bag was apparently also lost, sending him to the tailor’s as well.
In other environment-related news:
- In the latest setback for PG&E, the beleaguered utility announced that it will pay $125 million for igniting the destructive Kincade Fire that tore through Sonoma County in 2019.
- State officials confirmed Thursday that rising river temperatures likely killed 98% of endangered winter-run Chinook juvenile salmon in the Sacramento River.
- Advocacy groups are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the nasty odor that has plagued the city of Carson for a month.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 4,680,273 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 71,759 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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Other stories you should know
1. Kaiser strike imminent as jobless claims rise
From CalMatters health reporter Kristen Hwang: More than 28,000 nurses and other health care workers employed by Kaiser Permanente Southern California delivered a 10-day strike notice to the industry giant Thursday, signaling the start of what could be the country’s largest work stoppage this year. The issues that workers say could push them onto the picket line as early as Nov. 15: a proposed two-tier wage structure and pandemic-exacerbated worker shortfalls that saw nearly one-third of all California hospitals report critical staffing shortages last month. Hundreds of hospital engineers at Northern California Kaiser facilities have been on strike since mid-September, and hundreds of nurses at other California hospitals — including USC’s Keck Hospital, San Francisco’s Chinese Hospital and Riverside Community Hospital — staged strikes over the summer due to inadequate staffing and safety concerns.
Meanwhile, California’s new unemployment claims continue to skyrocket higher, with more than 62,000 residents filing new jobless claims for the week ending Oct. 30 — an increase of nearly 2,500 from the week before, according to federal data released Thursday. The trend is especially concerning when compared with the country as a whole: Nationally, new unemployment claims for the week ending Oct. 30 fell to their lowest level since the pandemic hit. But things may be even worse in California than they seem: A new study from the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity found that a whopping 26% of California workers are functionally unemployed — meaning they’re seeking, but unable to find, full-time employment paying above the poverty level, the Mercury News’ Jesse Bedayn reports for CalMatters’ California Divide project.
- LISEP chairman Gene Ludwig: “We are headed down a path that, if we don’t deal with these problems, we will see serious social unrest.”
2. Can California unclog its ports?
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, still crowing over Elon Musk’s decision to relocate Tesla’s headquarters from Menlo Park to Austin, wants to rub salt even deeper in California’s wound by rerouting container ships stuck in record backlogs at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports to Houston. “Choose a state that doesn’t see inflation and America’s supply-chain backlog as a good thing,” he tweeted this week. “Escape California, everyone is doing it!” But how much can California actually do to unsnarl the global supply chain and clear the logjam of cargo ships at its ports? As it turns out, not much, CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports. And some of the possible solutions within its power — such as growing the truck driving workforce or developing an inland port — could take years.
- Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, a Long Beach Democrat: “It has become clear that this is a multifaceted problem, and it will require multifaceted action. There is not one switch you can flip.”
3. Inmate firefighters see delayed release dates
Some California prison inmates who work in fire camps are seeing their release dates pushed back — prompting them to believe that the state is trying to keep them incarcerated longer so they can fight more wildfires, the Sacramento Bee reports. Some inmate firefighters — who are paid between $2.90 and $5.12 per day plus another $1 for each hour they’re working a blaze — say they’re stuck in prison despite documents showing they have zero days left to serve.
- Sean McGivern, an inmate at the Fenner Canyon Conservation Camp in Los Angeles County: “My release date was supposed to be Sept. 20. But they absolutely will not talk to us. They will not talk to our families. … Had they calculated this the way they were supposed to, all the fire camps would be empty.”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said McGivern’s claim is “categorically false” and that release date calculations have been complicated by a controversial May rule change that could speed up the release of 76,000 inmates. Inmate firefighters will ultimately see a “sooner release date,” the prison department said.
In other prison-related news:
- A new state law will funnel $10 million annually into assisting formerly incarcerated students attending community colleges. But will it make a difference? Emily Forschen of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network reports.
- Meet the 37 freed and formerly incarcerated men who just became the first inmates to earn a bachelor’s degree from a California public university. “Hurt people hurt people. But healed people help people,” said Allen Burnett, 48, who graduated magna cum laude from CSU Los Angeles.
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Stop greenwashing California: Policymakers need to scrutinize companies trying to greenwash polluting technologies and market fossil fuels as something cleaner than they are, writes Sara Gersen of Earthjustice’s Right to Zero campaign.
Don’t resort to desalination: California needs to regulate Big Ag to ensure water supply is equitably distributed. Desalination is a harmful distraction from the real issue, argues Elizabeth Reid-Wainscoat of the Center for Biological Diversity.
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