Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

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 …”

Japan’s nuclear crisis: get educated, not hysterical.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

* L.A. Times: Within days, nuclear radiation released from Japan’s damaged Fukushima reactors could reach California, but experts say the amount that makes its way across the ocean should pose no danger.

* Are the nuke plant workers on a suicide mission to cool the reactors before they all melt down? Chilling reading from the New York Times. ” … They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air. They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies …”

* America’s most vulnerable nuclear-energy plants are in places NOT named California. From MSNBC: ”What are the odds that a nuclear emergency like the one at Fukushima Dai-ichi could happen in the central or eastern United States? They’d have to be astronomical, right? As a pro-nuclear commenter on put it this weekend, “There’s a power plant just like these in Omaha. If it gets hit by a tsunami….” It turns out that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has calculated the odds of an earthquake causing catastrophic failure to a nuclear plant here. Each year, at the typical nuclear reactor in the U.S., there’s a 1 in 74,176 chance that the core could be damaged by an earthquake, exposing the public to radiation. No tsunami required. That’s 10 times more likely than you winning $10,000 by buying a ticket in the Powerball multistate lottery, where the chance is 1 in 723,145 …”

* Youtube clip on the after-effects of Chernobyl. So far, the situation in Japan is nowhere near as severe. Still, we must never forget what faulty design, human error and totalitarian rule conspired to ignite: the world’s worst atomic-energy disater. Caution: graphic images in this video.

On Earth Day, here’s my 2-cents on California’s false status as solar kingpin. In truth, the idea hasn’t caught on with homeowners, and all the rebates and rhetoric can’t obscure the depressing numbers. If this is true green, in the sense of mass acceptance, then we’re color blind out here on the West Coast. From the New York Times “room for debate” roundtable

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Here’s the tease to my Op-Ed on the subject.

“Californians: meet your sun. Or, rather, remember it.

Despite living in America’s premier green state, most of the state’s homeowners continue to rebuff solar power as a way to shrink their electricity bills, and simply plug into their local public utility much as their parents did.

The numbers paint the apathetic picture. Out of 7.7-million single family homes statewide, only about 50,000 have roof-mounted photovoltaic cells. In Los Angeles, the nation’s eighth sunniest city, only 1,627 homes boast solar hookups …”

There’s a lot more to say, and I will, but for now, I encourage you to read the opposing viewpoints and reader commentaries.

Right now, to reiterate, no matter California’s “status” as the greenest of greens, a meager 1 out of 154 homeowners currently use solar power. Does that sound like consumer acceptance to you? I fear we may learn how catastrophic this is as the environment continues to degrade and we experience an earthquake, terrorist attack or other awful event that knocks out power plants and leaves people with no way to electrify their lives and meet their needs until the juice is back on (and yeah, I know you need a fuel cell).

Anyway, here’s the link and I hope it proves a little thought-provoking. Just don’t buy into labels. Buy into the numbers and the big picture.

Around the green horn … Wednesday potpourri

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009


* From the L.A. Times story:

“A solar energy project proposed for development on public land in the Mojave Desert would create jobs mostly for Las Vegas and electricity for San Francisco at the expense of the relatively pristine area of east San Bernardino County where it would be built, San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said …

‘Obviously, there is a lot of political pressure to get this project expedited and under construction,” Mitzelfelt said. “But its impacts in San Bernardino County and sensitive and scenic Mojave Desert environment are not worth the benefits.’ … ”

* Hmm, does this sound familiar – a green Ponzi scheme that slipped past the regulatory watchdogs? Not that many honest politicians want to discuss this. From the New York Times post

“Federal regulators have accused four people and two companies of using bogus claims about “green initiatives” to entice more than 300 investors into what was really a $30 million Ponzi scheme.”

* Power to … ummm, the windmills. Sorry, that’s politically incorrect green jabber. Power to the windturbines, micro or massive, whether they spin horizontally or merry-go-round style. Interesting story about this in the L.A. Times (link). Stay tuned on this subject.

* In a scene straight from our book, Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, comes this latest effort to beat back global warming with “geo-engineering.” Anyone have an air pollution sewer blueprint ready to roll. What I find interesting isn’t the scientific bravado and ingenuity that some might otherwise tab hubris but a discussion of the unintended consequences of messing with Mother Nature.

From the L.A. Times piece:

“If there were some kind of panic button to stop global warming, what would it look like?

How about billions of tiny mirrors, launched into orbit to deflect solar rays away from Earth? Or big, fluffy clouds, artificially whitened so they reflect more sunlight back into space? Or maybe mechanical trees, ugly but effective at sucking carbon dioxide from the air along busy highways?

Outlandish as some of these proposals may seem, scientists and engineers are paying increasing attention to such ideas amid mounting evidence that human-caused climate change is wreaking havoc in some parts of the world.

The proposals belong to a field known as geo-engineering, or manipulation of the environment on a grand scale …”

* Think we’re too cynical here. Read on about what’s happened in China here.

* If that doesn’t depress you about what’s happening in Asia, you always have super-duper dirty L.A. Break out the bubbly – we’re the 7th most toxic city in America (depending on how you calculate that.) Link.

Debate over the price of President Obama’s proposed greenhouse-gas market – a.k.a. “cap and trade” – heating up

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009


From acclaimed economist columnist Paul Krugman in the New York Times:

“A while back I wrote about anti-green economics — the insistence, by opponents of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that the economic cost of cap-and-trade would be immense and unsupportable. I cited Robert Samuelson, who ridiculed the Environmental Defense Fund for suggesting that major action on greenhouse gases would only cost a dime a day per person …”

Congressional Budget Office assessment of the costs of President Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade:

“… The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the net nnual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion—or about $175 per household. That figure includes the cost of restructuring the production and use of energy and of payments made to foreign entities under the program, but it does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in GHG emissions and the associated slowing of climate change. CBO could not determine the incidence of certain pieces (including both costs and benefits) that represent, on net, about 8 percent of the total. For the remaining portion of the net cost, households in the lowest income quintile would see an average net benefit of about $40 in 2020, while households in the highest income quintile would see a net cost of $245. Added costs for households in the second lowest quintile would be about $40 that year; in the middle quintile, about $235; and in the fourth quintile, about $340. Overall net costs would average 0.2 percent of households’ after-tax income …”

An energy revolution is coming to America. It’s important to bone up on it, and here is a summary of the plan Obama wants in the form of the so-called “Waxman-Markey” legislation.

Lastly, a terrific Op-Ed in the L.A. Times by local writer Greg Critser about “inhaling a heart attack,” a subject we cover in detail our social history of the “great” Southern California air pollution crisis, Smogtown

A big day for California, an immense one for the atmosphere (and those carbon-based units on Earth)!

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009


New federal standards for m.p.g. and carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions grounded in California’s efforts.

L.A. Times story

“The agreement that the Obama administration will announce today forcing dramatic reductions in vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and improvements in auto mileage marks a potentially pivotal shift in the battle over global warming — and a vindication of California’s long battle to toughen standards.

After decades of political sparring, legal challenges and scientific arguments over climate change, three of the central players — the federal government, major U.S. automakers and California — have found that the time has come to suspend hostilities and make a deal.
For cars and trucks, the agreement would establish a single nationwide standard that would require a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide and other emissions from vehicles sold in the United States by 2016.

The new limits are projected to reduce U.S. oil consumption by about 5% a year. The nation currently uses about 7.1 billion barrels a year.

For its part, California will essentially accept the national standard as a substitute for the state’s own tough emission requirements. The Obama standard is designed to achieve the same level of emission cutbacks as the California rule, but automakers will be given more time to adapt.

Completing the three-way deal, automakers will pledge to drop their effort to block the California rules through legal challenges.

“Everybody wins,” said David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate center. “It’s going to cut carbon pollution. The drivers of these cars are going to save money at the pump. It’s going to cut our national oil dependence …”

New York Times story

In much less important news, here’s us talking about smog, global warming, pollution victims and LA dystopia during our Youtubed appearance at the Authors@Google program (a.k.a. “AtGoogleTalks”). Click here. Man, pretty harsh lights and angle, but a great crowd and a terrific platform.

California waiver here we come. It’s no dream.

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

After years of getting the cold shoulder from the Bush Administration, President Obama instead nudged the environmental world toward the intersection of common sense and desperately needed. California and other states now likely will have the right to set their own greenhouse-gas tailpipe standards. Los Angeles Times story link here for your reading pleasure. It’s deja vu for longtimers who wheezed through decades of searing, eye-charring, life-shortening L.A. smog, and saw a ray of sunshine, if not the MIA West Coast sun, when Congress in Novemember 1967 voted to allow the state to establish its own thresholds and limits on smog borne from millions of car tailpipes.

The parallels were so striking that the New York Times asked us to knock out a little something. When the gray lady calls, you get the door. Our book, Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, is not just a local tale of color and chaos. More importantly, when a White House up to its neck in bubble crises makes global warming a priority, perhaps it’s time to savor the achievement and wonder what else might be possible.

From Chip’s Op-ed on the New York Times blog:

“Despite the drumbeat of grim economic news up and down the state, Californians today no doubt are celebrating President Obama’s decision to allow states to enact anti-global warming auto emission standards stricter than federal rules. They’re also in a befuddled state of what-took-so-long deja vu.

For those who don’t remember, thick, noxious, russet-hued air pollution from the 1940s on used to blanket a good part of the Los Angeles area a goodly part of the year. When it dawned on desperate environmental officials here in the late 1960s that California needed to drop the hammer on the politically powerful, sales-oriented car companies by forcing them to slash ozone-forming compounds with regulations far sterner than the national limits, the industry rolled out the same arguments we’ve seen on the greenhouse gas front. “It’s not fair to do this state by state.” “It’ll cost too much.” “It’s technologically infeasible.” “Production chaos isn’t good for consumers.”

No matter how much southern Californians adored their cars, they began seeing the speciousness of these arguments, and that what the automakers seemed to care most about was the yearly sales ledger, not technological improvements that supposedly would drive certain models out of people’s price range. So in 1967, aided by some plucky California politicians, a young Ralph Nader and a well-timed radio documentary titled “A Breath of Death,” about smog’s pernicious stranglehold on the L.A. dream, the state built a congressional coalition with other increasingly polluted states and resisted efforts, primarily led by Representative John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat, to put so-called emission standards on the shelf.

And yes, it’s the same John Dingell! Not that it was easy. Not that the then Big Four automakers and their lobbyists didn’t try everything they could to blunt the attack on their tailpipe waste. Yet when 500,000 pro-waiver letters were dumped on the Capitol steps and dreary pictures of skyline-obliterated Los Angeles went up in the Rotunda, the tide began changing …”

Overlook Press notation.

With all excuses to the 1960s’s feel-good, free-love reveries, the Mamas and the Papas I’m sure they’d be amenable to me using this Youtube blast from the past. Listen closely to the words. What an important day it was. Maybe the Artic, in about 1,000 years, will send us a thank you note as it refrosts.