Last Week: Feb. 3 - 9, 2013




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We begin our review of last week’s California’s environmental news by including a complete article by three past governors, drooling in support of the present governor’s intent to gut the California Environmental Quality Act.


Viewpoints: Preserve CEQA's goals, end its abuses… George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis. Former Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis are members of the Southern California Leadership Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy partnership...2-3-13
During his State of the State address, Gov. Jerry Brown laid out his vision of investing in public infrastructure, reinvesting in public schools and universities, assuring a safe and reliable water supply, and shifting toward cleaner energy. To accomplish these goals, the governor called on state leaders to engage in a number of necessary actions including meaningful regulatory reform, with particular focus on modernizing the 40-year-old California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
As three former California governors who often have differing views, on this point we wholeheartedly agree, and join with Gov. Brown in his call to modernize CEQA. While CEQA's original intent must remain intact, now is the time to end reckless abuses of this important law – abuses that are threatening California's economic vitality, costing jobs and wasting valuable taxpayer dollars.
Yes, CEQA has been an important law that for 40 years has protected our environment, resulted in better informed planning and assured more public input and involvement in community growth decisions. These aspects of CEQA must be preserved.

But over time, CEQA has also become the favorite tool of those who seek to stop economic growth and progress for reasons that have little to do with the environment. Today, CEQA is too often abused by those seeking to gain a competitive edge, to leverage concessions from a project or by neighbors who simply don't want any new growth in their community – no matter how worthy or environmentally beneficial a project may be.


Sadly, documented cases of CEQA abuse include examples where CEQA has stood in the way of renewable energy projects, infill housing, schools, hospitals, universities, public transit and needed infrastructure. In fact, CEQA is often a direct barrier to the sustainable and environmentally friendly growth that California aspires to achieve.

Done right, CEQA modernization will not only end abuses, but will also help quicken our state's economic recovery and work to protect taxpayer resources.
Along these lines, data presented during a recent economic summit of the Southern California Association of Governments illustrate just how impactful CEQA modernization could be in preventing lengthy project delays. For example, Caltrans reports that currently the average major transportation project in our state takes 17 years to complete – one of the longest timelines in the country – and CEQA is often a major cause of such delays.
Looking at this issue, economists for the Southern California Association of Governments took five years' worth of projects contained in their recently adopted Regional Transportation Plan and calculated the economic benefit of completing those projects just five years sooner. They found that accelerating the projects would annually save taxpayers more than $1.25 billion on construction costs and create an additional 102,000 construction jobs and more than 200,000 non-construction jobs each year for five years. These 300,000 new jobs would be particularly significant given that California currently has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country. Further, by accelerating these transportation projects, new jobs and economic activity are created sooner, rather than later, resulting in an overall economic benefit of $156 billion in positive impact to the region's GDP over five years.
These findings impacting Southern California are impressive. Imagine applying these benefits to all projects statewide and you can see just how powerful CEQA and regulatory reform could be in expediting economic recovery, creating jobs and saving significant taxpayer dollars throughout California.
While there have been past efforts at CEQA reform, most of these have ultimately resulted in various exemptions. Although helpful, CEQA exemptions tend to work around the underlying problems without fixing them. Modernization addresses this by making smart adjustments to CEQA standards and practices such as requiring petitioners to disclose their economic interests; adding certainty to the CEQA timeline; avoiding duplicative CEQA reviews; and lessening opportunities for unjustified litigation and delay.
We must update this 40-year-old law so that it better integrates and coordinates with the hundreds of newer environmental protection mandates adopted since CEQA's passage, instead of requiring redundant and inconsistent reviews, as present law requires.
For example, today a project could meet all of the Clean Air Act mandates required of it and still be challenged under CEQA over the project's air impacts. In this way CEQA leaves even the best intended and environmentally friendly projects that have complied with the extensive body of environmental laws and regulation vulnerable to litigation.
We must tackle this important issue now. Reforming is never easy. But with leadership, reason and determination we can bring CEQA into the 21st century, and in doing so accelerate California's economic recovery, end abusive litigation, obstruction and delay, and restore California's environmental and economic balance so that our state can remain both green and golden. In the words of Gov. Brown, "Let's go out and get it done."
A child could refute this article and judging from the absence of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, at least one did.  The very same idiotic faith in growth expressed and fomented by these three former “leaders" is what got us in the economic mess California is in today. The growth form that animated that bubble boom in housing that popped with such devastating consequences was the belief that housing prices could continue to increase rapidly. At the highest reaches of power and influence in the land, not too far from the office of the governor of the largest state (which ultimately had the most foreclosures), the belief was carefully cultivated by their closest friends and donors that Wall Street had invented financial black boxes that assured continually rising real estate prices so that investment in real estate, especially in California real estate with its comparatively low property tax rates, could not fail.
It failed. Ironic as a twisting knife, if the cities and counties that permitted growth, so much of which lies incompletely built and full of empty houses, had paid closer attention to environmental law and regulation except to devise ways around them not so much ruinous growth would have occurred and the economic damage would not have been so severe in areas like the north San Joaquin Valley and the Inland Empire, whose corrupt local governments and gullible public are magnets for all kinds of swindlers.
As for the authoritative figures produced by the Southern California Association of Governments, you are welcome to believe them; we don’t. Associations of governments exist to apply for road funds to the state, which prioritizes them and passes on the applications to the Federal Highway Administration. The associations are nothing but groups of elected officials who meet in order to whine for federal highway funds and conspire to get to the top of the state’s pile of applications. Without the road pork, it is more difficult for the rooftops to come. Without the rooftops, the big box retail doesn’t come. Without the big box retail, the sales taxes do not flow into the land-use authorities’ treasuries.
We can say as Northern Californians that as a matter of the Common Good, we are against the proposals of the aptly named SCAG, since most of the water Southern California lives on comes from the North at the expense of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
But, the SCAGers will say: Nonsense. Look at how much water we now conserve. It is your farmers who are to blame.
We reply with a passage from Foster, Clark and York’s The Ecological Rift on the topic of efficiencies like water conservation:
William Stanley Jevons, in The Coal Question, explained that improved efficiency in the use of coal made it more cost effective as an energy source and therefore more desirable to consumers. Thus, he argued (in 1865), greater efficiency in resource use often leads to increased consumption of resources. This relationship has become known as the Jevons Paradox.
More water conservation, particularly when coupled with tunnels intended to bypass the Delta from the Sacramento River to the great north-south canals, also coupled with more new highways and expressways as well as cheap, abundant natural gas can only end by consuming more total water than before the conservation, the tunnels and the roads.
CALInc, the consortium of finance, insurance and real estate special interests that are our permanent rulers here, are planning for the next real estate bubble because, pathetic plutocratic dolts that they are, all they know how to do is rip off the environment and the people for the best return on investment.
While plunging hard for gutting CEQA (any further weakening of the act as every environmental issue grows increasingly critical we consider gutting), Gov. Brown is simultaneously jawboning Fresno and Madera county governments to look critically at sprawling projects like Tesoro Viejo and Friant Ranch. Yet, in his own county, Sacramento, the board of supervisors approved a 2,700-acre development called Cordova Hills that spits in the face of the famous “Valley Blueprint,” a planning process led by such disinterested luminaries as Fritz Grupe, premier developer of Stockton and beyond, who, in the height of the real estate boom, perfected bipartisan bribery with a fundraising luncheon for the Republican chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, and his Blue Dog Democrat understudy, Dennis Cardoza. The duo was known locally as the “Pomboza.”

On Tuesday evening, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors all but shredded the Blueprint. Against the warnings of the architect of this regional plan – Mike McKeever, executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments – four of five supervisors approved Cordova Hills, a 2,700-acre development that violates both the spirit and letter of the region's planning principles.


Hydraulic fracking for oil and gas in the Monterey Shale area.
From Badlands Journal, December 29, 2012
“New tools for grave digging”

…We were informed two weeks ago that the US Bureau of Land Management held an oil lease auction on 18,000 acres in Fresno, San Benito and Monterey counties in the Diablo Range that separates the San Joaquin Valley from San Benito and Salinas valleys.

In this area the Hayward, Calaveras and San Andreas earthquake faults meet.
The technique that will be used for extraction of the heavy oil and shale oil in the auction area is fracking.

"Two new papers tie a recent increase in significant earthquakes to reinjection of wastewater fluids from unconventional oil and gas drilling. The first study notes “significant earthquakes are increasingly occurring within the United States midcontinent.” In the specific case of Oklahoma, a Magnitude “5.7 earthquake and a prolific sequence of related events … were likely triggered by fluid injection.”

"The second study, of the Raton Basin of Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico by a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team, concludes “the majority, if not all of the earthquakes since August 2001 have been triggered by the deep injection of wastewater related to the production of natural gas from the coal-bed methane field here.” (Joe Romm,, Dec. 4, 2012)

The lease area is the most active part of the Diablo Range earthquake zone.

Fracking is simply more of the nation's murderous energy policy, collateral damage at home as well as abroad.

The other problem that will occur (already observed in established areas of agricultural and oil interface) is that fracking liquids will contaminate groundwater for agriculture. Given the impacts from salts steadily rising in the regions on both sides of the Diablo Range, hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland could be at risk, including a few thousand acres in new almond orchards…


Last week the Fresno Bee reported that the Monterey Shale formation contains two-thirds of the nation’s supply of shale oil. And the federal Bureau of Land Management announced another sale of 17,832 acres in the formation in the near future.  


The United States dreams of becoming the world’s largest oil producer by 2020 and a natural gas exporter.
Hot diggity dog.
All the major oil companies are involved and have already bribed the state Legislature into dropping an ambitious fracking regulation scheme. Meanwhile, Haliburton announced a new fracking liquid composed completely of “non-toxic … food industry substances.” Possibly, it is something like the cheese wastes Hilmar Cheese Co. is deep injecting because it ran out of juice in Sacramento to continue to conceal its mismanagement of the wastes. Industry’s claims that there are no instances of groundwater pollution from fracking are countered by an $8-million settlement between an oil company and a farmer for well pollution in Kern County.
The Pew Center is plunging heavily for fracking by showing how much revenue it could mean for states, using North Dakota and Texas as examples of how to do it. Texas is an old oil state and has learned how to do it. North Dakota is new to the gas and oil industry but rather than attribute all its recent budget surpluses to the new industry, the Pew Center on the States should have recognized the North Dakota State Bank’s contribution since 1919. North Dakota doesn’t borrow from the people US Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, calls the “financiers” currently menacing the federal government’s debt. North Dakota borrows from itself, using state properties as collateral.
One way of thinking about public debt v. deficits is to think of debt as accumulated deficits. By law, states are not permitted to operate with deficits. To achieve a “balanced budget” they often resort to elaborate accounting gimmicks, like Sarah Palin’s Alaska, and accumulate debt from the concealed deficits.
A remedy for this is not to be found in all of the Pew Center’s cogitations, but rather from Ellen Brown, author of Web of Debt.
“The key is to look at the large-scale banks as public utilities for managing debt, not as for-profit private enterprises.”
So, instead of countenancing a bill in the last legislative session to establish a state bank in California, to take us out of the jaws of the financiers who sunk their teeth in during the Energy Crisis of 2001, brought about by the energy deregulation bill championed by former Gov. Wilson and that sunk the political career of former Gov. Davis, authors of the philosophy of growth above, Jerry let his moonbeams shine on higher taxes, cuts in services, gutting CEQA and promoting the oil and gas industry.
While J. Winston Porter, an “energy and environmental consultant” in Savannah GA and a former EPA official under Clinton, opines in the Fresno Bee that “Fresno is ready for oil boom.”
Although industry sources claim it less than 2 million gallons of water to frack a well, independent sources have discovered that the figures are more like 4.5-13 million gallons.
Porter’s description of fracking should make any Californian aware of what damage earthquakes cause to cringe:
“The technology of hydraulic fracturing involves forcing a high-pressure mixture of 99% water, along with sand and chemicals, into oil or gas wells to create paper-thin cracks in energy-bearing rock, thus freeing trapped oil or natural gas.”
Nevertheless, none of the national environmental groups that have taken the lead in the political battle  have yet mentioned earthquakes as an environmental hazard. Perhaps political pressure on them is extreme. There are certainly politicians from oil and gas states, including our own, that would regard their criticism as close to treasonous because, of course, didn't we go to war, bankrupt our nation and kill hundreds of thousands of people, including our own, to seize an oil supply that didn't belong to us for the same oil companies that are swarming around the Monterey Shale formation?
Meanwhile, on the poor west side of the San Joaquin Valley, dumping ground for every kind of toxic pesticide, heavy metal and salt concentration, caused by agribusiness, Waste Management, Inc. wants to reopen the Kettleman City hazardous landfill and expand it. The citizens of the town assert that cancer and birth defects are abnormally high due to the landfill. “Investigators,” according to the Fresno Bee, found no connection. El Pueblo para el aire y agua limpio continues the local resistance.
In other local pollution news:

In January, the State Water Resources Control Board released a report that looks at contamination in all of California. It shows small water systems in Kern County alone had 55 violations of standards between 2002 and 2010 — the highest number in the state.
Tulare County followed with 31. Madera County had 22, Fresno County 15 and Stanislaus County 14. Very few other counties in California even had 10 violations.
Fresno Bee, Mark Grossi, February 5, 2013

"It's a frackin' bonanza" coming soon to this site.