Archive for the ‘Environmental politics and the law’ Category

San Joaquin Valley’s chemical pall not going anywhere, except inside peoples’ bodies

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Google at work on alternative energy

* Curious this issue doesn’t grab more mainstream media attention. It pits the demands of big Agriculture against the socioeconomics of migrant and poor workers subjected to a pretty ravaging environment – pesticides, old-fashioned smog, diesel particulates, infected water, etc. And we used to think Burbank, epicenter of water pollution, freeway fumebanks and toxic ground, was dispiriting. From California Watch:

If New Year’s resolutions could apply to places, perhaps no place is as worthy of concerted change as the San Joaquin Valley. Home to nearly 4 million people, the nation’s breadbasket is described as “a patchwork pattern of separate and unequal places” in a report by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. Titled “Land of Risk/Land of Opportunity,” the report confirms what community members and advocates have long suspected – that environmental hazards tend to be clustered around low-income populations with low levels of education and English literacy. These include urban neighborhoods like West Fresno, which has borne the brunt of slaughterhouses, waste dumps and other undesirable land uses, as well as unincorporated rural communities like Earlimart, where pesticide drift prompted years of citizen activism and ultimately new legislation. The report, linked here, is well worth reading. It’s chief finding may be that “one-third of the nearly 4 million people in the region face both high degrees of environmental risks and high degrees of social vulnerability.”

* Other news of note:

- The last word on the Solyndra controversy from the Washington Post.

- Wind-power as alternative energy is no longer just about tilting. It’s about practicality. Got a roof? Read about it here in Slate via MSNBC.

- Not everything that web juggernaut Google embarks on turns to gold … or even energy. Talking Points Memo nails it well with this piece.

- Finally, from the Department of We Already Knew That (Hereon referred to as the DWAKT) , this about America’s most gridlocked byways being in Los Angeles. Have you been on the Harbor Freeway lately, or noticed a hovering orange-brown film still clinging to the lower atmosphere? If you have, DWAKT is going to sound superfluous and gang-piling. Good old car culture. It begat smog, and smog begat environmentalism. If you doubt it, check out our acclaimed Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution of Los Angeles. We leave the obvious in the chemical dust to tell the full story.

Holiday Season first annual point – counterpoint babble

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

* POINT: The Ontario International Airport is worse than Los Angeles City Hall’s red-haired stepchild. It’s more akin to the deserted, forlorn cousin promised housing in a garden shed. Glad folks are just learning this.

- From the L.A. Times: “After three decades of steady growth and earning a Forbes magazine nod as one of the nation’s top “alternative airports,” Ontario International is now among the fastest-declining midsize airports in the country. A pillar of pride for the Inland Empire, which rode the housing boom to a colossal bust, the sprawling facility owned and operated by the city of Los Angeles lost a third of its 7.2 million annual passengers between 2007 and 2010. The airport is on track to lose an additional 200,000 this year — setting it back to 1987 levels, when Ronald Reagan was president and the Dow was below 3,000. Nationally, only Cincinnati is shedding travelers at a faster pace …”

* COUNTER-POINT: (A.K.A. first to the punch): my piece on this subject from way back when.

- “Thirty-six years ago, during the money-loathing Summer of Love, Los Angeles got control of the air at a bead-like price. For $1.2-million and future concessions, the city bought a postage-stamp airport in the dusty flatlands of the Inland Empire in the era before the subdivisions and chain-malls invaded. Though dry in detail, if not colonial in result, the 1967-transaction provided each side with something immediately useful. Los Angeles International Airport secured a backup landing strip for those nights coastal fog (or smog) socked in its runways. Ontario inherited a strapping big-city patriarch that could lure commercial jetliners to the scruffy, San Bernardino County outpost while chasing federal dollars to expand it. Ontario’s airfield was barely more than parched earth and booster dreams when L.A. came along. It had taken World War II training needs to convert the dirt runways there to concrete, and defense contractors after that to bulk up the facilities. The first passenger terminal, one converted from a hybrid chapel-theater-canteen, didn’t rise until the 1960s. It was bush league at best …”

* POINT: The cities of Glendale, Burbank and northwest Los Angeles have tried their level best to keep hexavalent chromium (chrome-six, “The Erin Brockovich chemical) under state standards by either diluting the tainted fluid with fresh suppies, shutting off compromised acquifers or just dumping the stuff into the Los Angeles River. Research in Glendale, meantime, is underway to figure out how to remove the industrial contaminant point blank. This is an enormous issue where the Cold War, environmental science, Superfund policies and municipal water management weave in and out of the water table pocked by decades of defense manufacturing (mainly Lockheed), chrome plating and other industrial work involving heavy metals. You just wouldn’t know it’s a crisis from the scant media coverage. Consider this short piece from the L.A. Times:

- “Although the City Council last week approved spending an additional $400,000 to continue research at two testing facilities — just two months after the council gave the green light to spend $550,000 in grant and state funding on more research — some city officials are getting antsy …”

* COUNTERPOINT: My article that launched a series and community hullaballoo about local chrome-six water contamination after I worked with the L.A. Times in the year-2000 exposing the problem. Sometimes, it seems like we all have dementia when it comes to remembering that there’s an unusually pernicious toxin infesting our water. Maybe it was the recession or terrorism that spurred us kick this can down the road? Or, environmental fatigue? Couldn’t be politics (insert laugh track) or the sheer magnitude of the issue.

(more…)

If we want to ditch fossil fuels, and all the smog and global warming that it manufactures in bulk, perhaps we should we get ourselves far beyond the clouds.

Monday, November 21st, 2011

* We love this type of story. Ingenuity meets necessity. Graps exceeds reach. A scientific revolution that might lubricate social harmony. Orbital power plants: a warming, exhaust-laden envivorment needs you.

From MSNBC:

“The sun’s abundant energy, if harvested in space, could provide a cost-effective way to meet global power needs in as little as 30 years with seed money from governments, according to a study by an international scientific group. Orbiting power plants capable of collecting solar energy and beaming it to Earth appear “technically feasible” within a decade or two based on technologies now in the laboratory, a study group of the Paris-headquartered International Academy of Astronautics said … ” Colonel Michael Smith, the U.S. Air Force’s chief futurist as director of the Center for Strategy and Technology at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, said the idea has the potential to send safe, clean electrical energy worldwide “if we can make it work. “Isn’t that what government and industry should be working to do?” he said in a telephone interview.

Sidebar: how realistic?

“The idea of beaming down power from outer space has surfaced in science-fiction stories and government studies for decades now. Commercial deals have been struck, prototype satellites have been proposed, international initiatives have been announced. But has any real progress been made toward developing space-based solar power systems? That’s what we’re talking about this Sunday on “Virtually Speaking Science.”

* In less inspiring news, check out this New York Times story detailing President Obama’s decision to pare back on anti-smog rules. We’re in 2011, but it’s the same story that it’s been for decades. When political fortunes go south and the economy sputters, hard-won environmental regulation is recast as reckless oversight so our government leaders can water them down, to hell wilth the consequences. Maybe some day Uncle Sam will, green-wise, grow up to the point it stops creating false choices. Maybe.

From the New York Times (with their standard picture of a polluted L.A. skyline):

“The summons from the president came without warning the Thursday before Labor Day. As she was driven the four blocks to the White House, Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, suspected that the news would not be good. What she did not see coming was a rare public rebuke the president was about to deliver by rejecting her proposal to tighten the national standard for smog. The half-hour meeting in the Oval Office was not a negotiation; the president had decided against ratcheting up the ozone rule because of the cost and the uncertainty it would impose on industry and local governments. He clearly understood the scientific, legal and political implications. He told Ms. Jackson that she would have an opportunity to revisit the Clean Air Act standard in 2013 — if they were still in office. We are just not going to do this now, he said … The full retreat on the smog standard was the first and most important environmental decision of the presidential campaign season that is now fully under way. An examination of that decision, based on interviews with lobbyists on both sides, former officials and policy makers at the upper reaches of the White House and the E.P.A., illustrates the new calculus on political and policy shifts as the White House sharpens its focus on the president’s re-election …”

Our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution, makes clear we are on history’s hamster wheel here.

Hold that drum roll! More green than greenhouse progress here.

Monday, September 26th, 2011

California’s big deal, carbon cap-and-trade auction program—you know, the one that put Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the front cover of Time in his elevator shoes—has boiled down to this: It’s going to be run by a consultant for the next two years for maximum compensation of $750,000. (See the California Air Resources Board’s recent presentation to interested consultants here.) CARB, which invented the program and has been rushing to finalize applicable rules, now even has to hire a consultant to train its own staff how to monitor and account for which companies hold which emissions rights allowing them to spew greenhouse gases into the air.

It all goes to show how Schwarzenegger’s big-muscle program has boiled down to little more than flab over the last five years.

It was 2006 when Arnie and former California Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez swaggered onto a stage to announce that the golden state planned to lead the nation in tackling the global warming problem under AB 32, its climate protection law. The former muscle-man envisioned a gleaming carbon trading market that other states in the West and provinces in Canada would join. Soon, Schwarzenegger even raised the prospect that Northeast and Midwest state would join in.

But the more other states looked and watched, the less inclined they became to partner with California. Eventually, it became apparent that Schwarzenegger’s pumped up dream of California being the new financial headquarters for carbon trading had collapsed, leaving the state on its own today.

 Even in the America’s eco-bellwether state, a lawsuit by environmental justice activists and the deepening economic recession have whittled down the grand policy scheme to the point where it’s a relatively minor player in the state’s plan to cut greenhouse gases. It’s been overtaken by new approaches like a 33-percent renewable energy standard for electric utilities; cars that are lightweight, fuel efficient and employ hybrid vehicles to get almost 55-miles per gallon in another five years; and investments in insulation, shade trees, modern lighting, and tighter windows and doors to make buildings use less energy.

 Other states are following California in such measures, seeing them as better and surer ways to cut greenhouse gases. Yet, California regulators remain stubborn as a dog with a bone about plunging ahead with a California-only carbon market. So on October 20, CARB plans to adopt final amendments to its cap-and-trade rules and to quickly hire consultants to run the first carbon emissions rights auction in 2012.

 One glaring fact about the program is that companies will be able to meet some half their emissions reductions through offset projects—such as planting trees in Indonesia to take carbon dioxide out of the air, or capturing methane emissions from hog farms in Latin America. CARB plans to rely on privately-funded, third party entities to police these operations (no doubt, with a wink and a nod) to make sure the resulting emissions reductions are real and permanent.

 Meanwhile, CARB’s staff will be trained by private industry consultants on how to fully carry out the program they’ve invented. Let’s just hope the consultants doing the training can get to Sacramento since the governor won’t let state employees travel to get training, much less to inspect forestry projects or hog farms along the equator. He’s even taken away their cell phones due to the state’s budget mess.

 In the end, CARB, no doubt, is being realistic. Since it can’t carry out the carbon market program it’s unleashing by itself—starved nearly to death by legislators and company lobbyists that prevent any tax increases—it’s got little choice but to hand most of it over to the private sector, sort of like toll roads and charter schools. Cap-and-trade: another capitalist idea.

(Shameless sales pitch, since we’re on the money theme. Many of these controversies and issues are covering in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.)

The Dirt on Bill Burke, the Man Who’d Buy the Dodgers on Behalf of China: a Smogtown editorial

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Where’s Walter O’Malley when you need him?

 The revered owner of the Dodgers—who moved the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and privately financed and built Dodger Stadium in the early-1960s —was a man of stature unknown today in Chavez Ravine. Former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley once called the patrician O’Malley “the epitome of class.”

But who would say that about Dr. William (“Bill”)  Burke, a connected local businessman and political figure, with his offer leading an investment group to acquire the Dodgers for $1.2 billion?

The chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the L.A.-region’s smog-control agency, and member of the California Coastal Commission, is simply carrying the money for Chinese interests seeking to buy the Dodgers from the bankrupt and disreputable McCourt family. And by Chinese interests, we’re talking the government of the People’s Republic, if initial news reports are accurate.

Burke is no O’Malley, that’s for sure. Here’s some background on him, with much more in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Where O’Malley built a top-notch baseball empire with private funds, Burke has made a career acting essentially as a high-class bagman carrying money from other people to politicians, with more than a little self-aggrandizement along the way.

Burke is well-known for his political action committees, which have delivered millions of dollars to legislators and city council members throughout his career and given him access and clout in L.A. City Hall and Sacramento.

Not surprisingly, he constructed his for-profit L.A. Marathon on public subsidies and then cut corners when it came to paying legitimate fees levied by the city. The L.A. council looked the other way in Burke’s case, particularly those to whom he doled out campaign contributions. Compare that situation to a more recent one, when the council pulled the plug on the popular Sunset Junction Music Festival because the promoters failed to pay fees. The cancellation, just days before the festival was scheduled, left musicians and vendors hung out to dry, a fate never visited upon Burke.

Beyond the hypocritical spectacle of the region’s top clean-air advocate representing as a private businessman a country where air pollution kills an estimated 655,000 people annually, according to this 2008 study, there’s also ground-level dirt in the district chair’s past.

In 1994, the L.A. City Ethics Commission, along with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, fined Burke’s corporation $436,250 for laundering campaign contributions. But at least that was out in the open. As we document in Smogtown, Burke quietly arranged a $53,000 AQMD public relations contract for Layne Bordenave, the mistress of former-California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, records and interviews show. Bordenave simply took the money and ran without providing any service. Burke bragged that in exchange for the money, Brown promised to block legislation trimming the district’s authority during a rough economic patch in the 1990s.

Burke was back to bidding again in 2001, helping to kill the first California electric car mandate as General Motors wanted. Burke argued it was unfair to require electric cars when working-class stiffs of color still had to breathe diesel fumes from trucks on freeways and at the ports. He said he’d brokered a deal with G.M. to deliver a half-billion dollars to end diesel pollution in Southern California, if only the state would release G.M. from its obligation to build electric cars. G.M. got rid of the obligation, but never delivered the money, leaving L.A. and the state with pollution from both cars and diesel soot from trucks. Today, the electric car is making a huge comeback.

Not too shrewd, Bill. But that’s what happens to those in public service who are willing to carry money for special interests to get ahead. Repping the Chinese, with their reputation for environmental lethality, and G.M., whose recalicitrance to install exhaust-trapping technology helped entomb Southern California in dangerous fumebanks of smog for decades, fits a pattern.

Let this cautionary tale about Burke’s attempt to buy the Dodgers with the investment group sink in. Once it does, it’s easy to imagine Walter O’Malley spinning in his grave at the notion that the team he loved could pass to such hands.

For more, read William’s L.A. Weekly feature about Burke’s stewardship at the district, and Chip’s Pasadena Weekly expose on cap-and-trade fraud there under his watch..)

AQMD chairman representing smog-smothered China in a deal with the Dodgers, Obama caving in on a critical ozone rule: just another jaded day in Smogtown

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

* Bill Burke, longtime chairman of Southern California’s regional smog-fighting agency, is leading a group that includes the Chinese government, to purchase the L.A. Dodgers for $1.2 billion from beleaguered owner Frank McCourt. Burke, who founded the L.A. Marathon and is the husband to former congresswoman and County Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, has given no official comments. But we have a couple: first, representing an ownership group with funding from China is incendiary, given Burke’s job with the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the fact that China has ghastly air pollution problems far beyond anything us current Westerners can imagine. (Folks who lived through the “great” L.A. smog crises might be about the only ones with damaged lungs and psyches who could relate). What message is Burke sending by aligning himself with a dirty, industrial powerhouse like that? That green (thimk dollars) counts more than brown, as in brown, crusty, noxious air pollution? Also, Burke has some questions to answer, and we’re not talking about the L.A. Marathon. In our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, we discover the smelly deal he cut with then state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. Let’s just say it involves political promises, a taxpayer-funded P.R. contract that produced no P.R. and a mistress.

- From the L.A. Times:

“In an international twist in the Dodgers’ ownership saga, Frank McCourt has been offered $1.2 billion to sell the team to a group indirectly financed by the government of China. The bid is headed by Los Angeles Marathon founder Bill Burke, according to a letter sent to McCourt on Tuesday. The letter was disclosed to The Times by two people familiar with its content but not authorized to discuss it publicly. The proposed sale price would set a record for a Major League Baseball team. However, the bid was received with skepticism within MLB, where executives wondered whether the proposal might be used by McCourt to stir negotiations with other potential buyers or to persuade a Bankruptcy Court judge to keep McCourt in charge of the team …”

Stay tuned.

* There’s a great bumper sticker out there that says, in effect, if you’re not cynical enough, you’re not paying attention. Optimists that we are, we’re also realists and pollution historians and we know that when the economy goes into the crapper, health-protecting environmental rules we all figured we’re mainstream and untouchable are suspended and put on ice. Well, one of the holy grails of enviromental protections against pernicious smog is about to spend time in regulatory purgatory. L.A. anti-smog crusaders like Ken Hahn must be rolling in their graves at the rollback built on so many people’s suffering. Then again, none of us are president of a hurting country. Ozone: what hath you done? We smell clusmy backpedal.

- The New York Times hits it on the head:

“The Obama administration is abandoning its plan to immediately tighten air-quality rules nationwide to reduce emissions of smog-causing chemicals after an intense lobbying campaign by industry, which said the new rule would cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs, officials said Friday. “If he continues to represent Republican interests, he should open the door for Democrats to choose a candidate who represents them, rather than the opposing party.” The Environmental Protection Agency, following the recommendation of its scientific advisers, had proposed lowering the so-called ozone standard from that set by the Bush administration to a new stricter standard that would have thrown hundreds of American counties out of compliance with the Clean Air Act. It would have required a major effort by state and local officials, as well as new emissions controls by industries and agriculture across the country. The more lenient Bush administration standard from 2008 will remain in place until a scheduled reconsideration of acceptable pollution limits in 2013, officials indicated Friday …”

- More about this from the L.A. Times:

“President Obama announced Friday that he has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to drop controversial rules to cut smog levels, a move welcomed by the business community that has long decried them as onerous but one sure to alienate the president’s environmental base even further as his administration backs away from key anti-pollution initiatives. In a statement issued by the White House, the president said: “I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover. With that in mind, and after careful consideration, I have requested that Administrator [Lisa] Jackson withdraw the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards at this time. Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013. Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered,” the statement concluded …

* As if this wasn’t demoralizing enough, here’s a story emblematic of the collossal missed opportunity to jump start an alternative enery industry in the face of global recession and global warming because politicas interfered. From ABC News

“Solyndra, a renewable energy firm that became the darling of the Obama Administration, shut the doors to its California headquarters today, raising sharp questions from the administration’s critics about political favoritism in the federal loan program. “We smelled a rat from the onset,” Republican House Energy and Commerce Committee members Rep. Cliff Stearns and Rep. Fred Upton said in a statement to ABC News of the the $535 million government loan guarantee awarded to Solyndra in 2009. The manufacturer of rooftop solar panels opened in 2005 and in 2009 became the Obama administration’s first recipient of an half-billion dollar energy loan guarantee meant to help minimize the risk to venture capital firms that were backing the solar start-up. Obama made a personal visit to the factory last year to herald its bright future.

* Lastly, not so Greenland anymore.

Save the EPA from Republican bomb-throwers with a Smogtown Op-Ed in the NY Times, and other green news

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

* A snippet from my editorial in today’s New York Times “Room for Debate” online roudtable about whether Republican presidential candidates calling for the EPA’s dissolution have a point or are just giving red-meat to a fatigued, job-hungry people:

” … In national politics, California may be seen as Exhibit A for over-regulating the environment. But anyone making that argument must ignore what the state was like before the Environmental Protection Agency. Its rules and enforcement have made California a livable, thriving state. Now, if you’re a Republican presidential candidate irate about America’s wheezy economy, it’s easy to go Red Queen and call for guillotining the E.P.A. Scapegoating regulators as job-killing obstructionists can pump up the faithful, but it doesn’t reflect well on America’s environmental maturity. None of the White House hopefuls mention the expected $2 trillion in health and environmental benefits from the Clean Air Act by 2020. Few of the greenhouse skeptics, in fact, even broach fresh air at all, perhaps because they hail from states where it was never toxic …”

Read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, and you’ll see just how instrumental California’s smog epidemic was in galvanizing an environmental ethos that led to creation of the EPA itself. The effects of those untamed, brown-exhaust-blowing tailpipes spawned a bureaucracy.

And now for something completely greener, we think.

* San Joaquin Valley toxic dump agrees to spend $1 million to better manage hazardous waste. From the L.A. Times:

“A toxic waste dump near a San Joaquin Valley community plagued by birth defects has agreed to pay $400,000 in fines and spend $600,000 on laboratory upgrades needed to properly manage hazardous materials at the facility, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday. The penalties were part of a consent decree that capped an 18-month investigation by the EPA and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control into the Chemical Waste Management landfill about 3 1/2 miles southwest of Kettleman City, a community of 1,500 mostly low-income Latino farmworkers. Company records revealed at least 18 instances over the last six years in which toxic waste had to be excavated from the landfill after it was learned that the laboratory had mistakenly concluded the material met treatment standards, EPA officials said …”

* The California-led greenhosue gas cap-and-trade was supposed to be a shiney achievement of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration. It’s turned out to be something much more complicated, divisive and legally perilious than anyone believed. Still, the state Air Resources Board remains behind it through the court challenges and liberal backlash. Having covered the Anne Sholtz caper with the smog cap and trade here in Southern California, color me skeptical about how much a green market will achieve. Then again, this is the West Coast where we build the future day by day. From the L.A. Times:

“The California Air Resources Board voted to reaffirm its cap-and-trade plan Wednesday, a decision that puts the nation’s first-ever state carbon trading program back on track, for now. The on-again, off-again rules have been years in the making and are meant to complement AB 32, California’s landmark climate change law that mandates a reduction in carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. The air board adopted a preliminary carbon trading plan in late 2008 but was sued by environmental justice groups in 2009. A San Francisco judge in March ordered the air board to more comprehensively analyze alternatives to the market-based trading system, such as a carbon tax or fee. In a unanimous vote in Sacramento on Wednesday, the board adopted the revised environmental analysis while still affirming its original decision. But the board’s vote may not forestall another legal challenge. The original plaintiffs argued in Wednesday’s hearing that the revised analysis still failed to adequately consider other options. UCLA law professor Cara Horowitz said “most assuredly” the matter would be back before the court. Board chief Mary Nichols said she has not always supported cap and trade in part because it would be difficult to administer. “I had my doubts,” she said, adding that many details remain to be hashed out. “It is a form of California leadership that involves some risk. This is still the most viable of the alternatives to achieve the goals of AB 32.” Originally scheduled for implementation next year, industry compliance with the cap-and-trade program will now take effect in 2013 …”

Smogtown set for e-book for Kindle and other mobile devices August 23. It’s a helluva, brown story for a warming age.

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Click here at amazon.com and let the journey begin

Some reasons to download it:

* Named one of 2008′s best environmental books by Booklist magazine

* Awarded silver medals at The Green Book Festival and Independent Book Publishers (IPPY) Awards. Winner of the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature from Santa Monica.

* Reviews

“[A] remarkably entertaining and informative chronicle of the birth and—so far—inexorable evolution of smog… This book is just amazing, a gripping story well told, with the requisite plucky scientists (including Arie Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist who was “the Elvis of his field”), hapless politicians, and a nebulous biochemical villain who just will not be stopped.” –Booklist (Starred review)

“The history of smog has never been so sexy” — Los Angeles Times

“Smog in all its hazy-and sometimes humorous-permutations … a zany and provocative cultural history.” — Kirkus

“Finished with a particularly powerful, forward-looking epilogue, this friendly, accessible history should appeal to any American environmentalist.”– Publishers Weekly

“… a meticulous chronicle of the city’s signature airborne grime and of the civic and social forces that emerged to stop it … … The story of Smogtown is that of a city vying against time to reconcile incommensurables … ” — Bookforum

“The narrative that emerges is more than a tale of a region and a populace besieged by smog; it is also a parable for a nation beset by environmental and social problems … (a) well-researched cultural history” — Slate

“Writing in a hip, lively style, …[An] intriguing social history of an environmental problem that won’t go away. Recommended.” – Library Journal

“A well-documented, highly engaging, and widely relevant account of southern California’s battle with “the beast,” as the authors lovingly refer to smog. … Smogtown is not your typical “green’s” diatribe against big business and weak government. No, Jacobs and Kelly are much smarter-and fairer-than that” — Sustainablog

* From the dust jacket description:

“The smog beast wafted into downtown Los Angeles on July 26, 1943. Nobody knew what it was. Secretaries rubbed their eyes. Traffic cops seemed to disappear in the mysterious haze. Were Japanese saboteurs responsible? A reckless factory? The truth was much worse–it came from within, from Southern California’s burgeoning car-addicted, suburban lifestyle. Smogtown is the story of pollution, progress, and how an optimistic people confronted the epic struggle against airborne poisons barraging their hometowns. With wit, verve, and a fresh look at history, California based journalists Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly highlight the bold personalities involved, the corporate- tainted science, the terrifying health costs, the attempts at cleanup, and how the smog battle helped mold the modern-day culture of Los Angeles. There are scofflaws aplenty and dirty deals, plus murders, suicides, spiritual despair, and an ever-present paranoia about mass disaster. Brimming with historic photographs, forgotten anecdotes, and new revelations about our environmentally precarious present, Smogtown is a journalistic classic for the modern age.”

Green groups accuse EPA of apathy monitoring L.A. ozone levels

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

* Over the years, environmental lawsuits have frequently sought to force pollution authorities to invoke regulatiions more intensely, explain their actions, audit their programs or put the heat to polluters. Sometimes they succeed, often they do not, because courts often prove a poor method of guarding the environment and the people who depend on it. Either way, the lawyers are back again, this time with acccsations that Washington hasn’t adequately determined whether ozone limits are being met.

- From the L.A. Times blog:

“Environmental and public health groups filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday, saying the agency has failed to force officials to crack down on smog in the Los Angeles Basin. The suit contends the EPA missed a May deadline to, in effect, determine whether the ozone level in the region is hazardous to public health. Such a determination could trigger tougher limits on pollution from cars, trucks, ships and refineries. The EPA did not comment on the lawsuit, which was filed by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Communities for a Better Environment and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among other groups. A similar suit challenging whether San Joaquin Valley had met the ozone standard was filed Monday on behalf of the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. The Los Angeles area has a long history of elevated ozone levels, and the American Lung Assn., in its annual State of the Air report, recently determined that the region has the highest ozone level in the nation. “Angelenos continue to breathe smoggy air that makes people sick, forcing mothers to question whether to allow children to play outside on dirty air days,” said Adrian Martinez, an attorney for the NRDC. “These are choices mothers should not have to make.” Under the federal Clean Air Act, Congress established a one-hour standard for ozone pollution, a principal contributor to smog, and the EPA was to certify no later than May whether air districts had met the standard. If the EPA were to determine that the region does not meet the national standard, then the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the basin’s regulatory agency, would have one year to submit a clean-up plan …”

Stay tuned for the dockets. And read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles for a smokestack more context and stories.

Cap and delay; the chromium tide. A mid-summer Smogtown roundup

Monday, July 18th, 2011

* California/West Coast greenhouse gas cap and trade on hold until 2013. Big surprise, here. The idea is controversial, poorly understood, largely unproven and being implemented during a historic election. Got juice?

- L.A. Times coverage:

“Facing continued litigation, California officials will delay enforcement of the state’s carbon-trading program until 2013, state Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols announced Wednesday. The delay in the cap-and-trade program, slated to take effect in January, is proposed because of the “need for all necessary elements to be in place and fully functional,” she said. But in testimony before a state Senate committee,Nichols said the postponement would not affect the stringency of the program or the amount of greenhouse gases that industries will be forced to cut by the end of the decade. Carbon-market executives mostly shrugged at the news. The air board “has given firms a breather, not a pass,” said Josh Margolis, chief executive of CantorCO2e, an emissions-trading company. “Companies will need to make the same reductions, but they will face a steeper slope.” The cap-and-trade program, championed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a centerpiece of the state’s landmark effort to cut planet-warming gases to 1990 levels by 2020. It accounts for a fifth of the planned cuts under the state’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act. Under the program, 600 industrial facilities, including cement manufacturers, electrical plants and oil refineries, would cap their emissions in 2012, with that limit gradually decreasing over eight years. Several neighborhood organizations and environmental justice groups that focus on local pollution are fighting the program in court, saying it would allow industrial plants to avoid installing the strictest pollution controls. A San Francisco judge ruled in March that the air board had not sufficiently analyzed alternatives to the trading program, as required under California’s Environmental Quality Act. The agency appealed the decision, and an appeals court ruled last week that officials could continue working on the regulation pending the court decision. The board is drafting an analysis of alternatives, which is to be considered for adoption Aug. 24, Nichols said … In the wake of the failure of national climate legislation in Congress last year, California’s program would be North America’s biggest carbon market, three times larger than a utility-only system in the northeastern U.S. By 2016, about $10 billion in carbon allowances are expected to be traded through the California market, which is slated to link to similar markets in several Canadian provinces …”

* Chromium-six polluting L.A. County’s wells in addition to local cities. No cause for panic, but one for focused alarm.

- From the L.A. Daily News:

“The tap water in at least four Los Angeles County facilities, including two in Lancaster, has levels of contaminants such as arsenic and lead that exceed federal and state recommendations, according to a new county report released Thursday. The study by the county Department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures looked at the drinking water in 765 county facilities, including county jails, fire stations and wells. While it found that several hundred facilities had detectable levels of contaminants such as chromium 6, arsenic and lead, four of them were above the “maximum contaminant level” set by state and federal agencies. Those sites included Challenger Memorial Youth Center and a county-owned well at a trailer park, both in Lancaster. The report was the first time in 10 years that such an evaluation of water quality at county facilities was undertaken. County officials said that while they take the findings seriously, they urged the public not to panic … Of the 765 county facilities that were tested, about 43 percent exceeded the state’s “public health goal” for hexavalent chromium, 84 percent exceeded the PHG for arsenic, while 31 percent exceeded the PHG for lead. But officials said that public health goal is a very conservative target and failing to meet it does not necessarily mean the water is dangerous. Of greater concern are the facilities that exceeded the “maximum contaminant level” for certain pollutants. The study detected concentrations of arsenic at 70.4 parts per billion – seven times the federal and state maximum contaminant level – in samples from a restroom faucet at Challenger. It also found that Challenger, and several other facilities, had high levels of hexavalent chromium — aka chromium 6 — a heavy metal that gained notoriety in the film “Erin Brockovich.” The juvenile facility was found to have 12.2 ppb of hexavalent chromium. State officials have yet to set a maximum contaminant level for that particular chemical, but they said the “public health goal” is 0.2 ppb … ”

* Speaking of pollution victims, few place can lay claim like Kettleman, California. Looks like the natives are taking matters into their own hands now, and there’s real parallels to anguished mother in the early days of L.A.’s smog fight.

- From the L.A. Times story:

“Central and Southern California community groups filed a complaint about toxic waste dumps with the Environmental Protection Agency 17 years ago and never received a response. Tired of waiting, they have filed a federal lawsuit … Kettleman City, Buttonwillow and rural areas of Imperial County are home to the only toxic waste dumps in the state. Grassroots community groups say that locating the dumps only in low-income and predominantly Latino areas violates Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any recipient of federal money from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin …”

MISC.

* Don’t even get us going on how disingenuous until now the state’s efforts at popularizing solar power has been with homeowners. Progress now, or perhaps the truth bubble emerging of people’s hunger to do more than themselves? You decide.

- From the L.A. Daily News:

“Due to public demand, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power canceled a single public meeting about its solar energy programs and replaced it with four workshops, the utility announced today …”

- The big boys are already reaping the savings, though. Thank God for Google. It just created a $280 pocket change fund. Link

* Some things never change: a conservative group trying to undercut hard-won environmental rules, state by state. They have fans, too. Link