In summary

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.

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Josh Becker

Josh Becker

State Senate, District 13 (Menlo Park)

Josh Becker

State Senate, District 13 (Menlo Park)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 13 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 54%
GOP 15%
No party 27%
Campaign Contributions

Sen. Josh Becker has taken at least $399,000 from the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 12% of his total campaign contributions.

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:

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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.

California has administered 53,607,002 vaccine doses, and 73.3% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1. Kaiser strike imminent as jobless claims rise

Hospital staffers and union organizers protest staffing shortages at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville on Oct. 14, 2021. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

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?

The Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro on Sept. 29, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake
The Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro on Sept. 29, 2021. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

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.

3. Inmate firefighters see delayed release dates

Inmate firefighters work after the Alisal fire burned the slope near Aguajito Canyon in Santa Barbara County on Oct. 13, 2021. REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci
Inmate firefighters work after the Alisal Fire burned near Aguajito Canyon in Santa Barbara County on Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Aude Guerrucci, Reuters

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.

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:

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CalMatters commentary

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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See you Monday.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...