12-11-08Merced Sun-StarBuilder agrees to complete leg of bike pathBellevue Ranch neighborhood will be linked to existing trail...SCOTT JASONhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/589219.htmlPlans to build a North Merced bike path may finally go from paper to pavement.A long-delayed creekside route through Bellevue Ranch may be built this spring and finished by October. That's because the city has come to a tentative agreement with one of the massive subdivision's developers.The bike path is estimated to cost just less than $500,000.The City Council on Monday will consider a contract with Woodside Homes that would force the developer to build the mile-and-a-half path and put off other improvements, such as landscaping, for a year."We felt it was important to work with them, but also give the community what was promised," acting Development Services Director Dave Gonzalves said Wednesday.For the city, it may be the most prudent choice financially.The fund of homeowner fees that pays to keep grass and bushes in common areas trimmed is running a deficit. Forcing Woodside Homes to landscape along the path would just add to the city's difficulty in maintaining the neighborhood."We feel it's the best for everybody," Gonzalves said.Woodside was set to build 714 homes in the city's first master-planned community. To date, 186 of those have been finished.City Attorney Greg Diaz said the talks, which began in October, were complicated by Woodside Homes declaring bankruptcy in September.The city has been working with the one division of the company, Walnut Creek Development, that has not gone belly up.It plans to pay for the project out-of-pocket, though the improvements are secured by bonds.A court hearing Monday will clarify whether it's free from bankruptcy rules. What happens could affect the city's tentative agreement.In 2007, the City Council gave Woodside an 18-month extension on building the path, which will follow Cottonwood and Fahrens creeks.Jared Stanley, a member of the Merced Bike Coalition, said he'll be pleased if the plans go forward because the path will be important for UC Merced students biking to campus. "Smart bicycle planning is crucial to the development of the city," he said. "(The path) will be useful to people even if the development is halted.Our View: 'Scoping' plan too optimisticAir Resources Board votes today to implement state's new global warming law.http://www.mercedsunstar.com/181/v-print/story/589195.htmlEver since he signed California's 2006 law to reduce emissions linked to global warming, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has made the transition sound startlingly easy.A 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020? No problem. Bring on the hydrogen-powered Hummers, the geothermal-powered Jacuzzis and the solar-powered plasma televisions.There is no need for sacrifice or higher energy prices in Schwarzenegger's vision of a low-carbon future."It's all about technology, because we all know that the guilt trip that we have put on people has not worked, to tell them that they should not use the Jacuzzi, or the big, large plasma TV," the governor said in a speech last month.Sadly, this overly optimistic view of the world has crept into the "scoping plan" that the California Air Resources Board is expected to vote on today to implement the state's global warming law.The plan, a mixture of regulations and market mechanisms aimed at reducing emissions to 1990 levels in a mere 12 years, underestimates the possible costs involved in transforming the state's modes of transportation, its energy sources and its industries, according to several economists who peer-reviewed the document."The economic analysis is terribly deficient in critical ways," wrote Robert Stavins, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University."The net dollar cost of each of these regulations is likely to be much larger than what is reported," wrote Matthew E. Kahn, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.We remain convinced that California must aggressively implement programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The law requires it (and requires the air board to have a scoping plan approved by 2009).In addition, the threat of climate change is arguably the worst long-term threat to the state's economy. If other governments see California weakening its climate crusade, it likely will undermine the growing international effort to bring emissions under control.That said, the California air board must be candid about the real costs of the transition it is contemplating. Energy prices will rise, and major capital investment will be needed in public transit, energy-efficient buildings and new transmission lines. Industries that are energy-intensive will move elsewhere. Industries that are building the green grid of the future will flock here, as they are already doing.Unfortunately, the current scoping plan doesn't adequately acknowledge these realities or establish a clear funding mechanism to mitigate the possible costs. Any final plan must strongly advocate for fees on polluting vehicles and a cap-and-trade system in which allowances are auctioned, with revenues plowed back to industries and communities to ease the transition.Major reductions in emissions should be expected from more efficient planning of new communities. Neighborhoods burdened by toxic pollution need assurances that those problems won't worsen under a market trading system.This is huge undertaking for California, and while we sympathize with the tight deadlines the air board has faced, it may need to take a little more time to do the job right.One thing's for sure: If the air board approves a deficient plan, the courts or the Legislature could derail all progress to date. That would be truly be a climatic disaster. Merced County TimesMID board members object to water sale...Beverly Barelahttp://www.mercedcountytimes.net/content/2008-12-11/00378Whether to sell 10,000 acre-feet of surface water or groundwater out of the district to the State’s Drought Water Bank for $3 million is a hotly debated issue which will be the subject of a vote during the Merced Irrigation District (MID) Board meeting at 9 a.m. on Dec.16 at the Merced City Council Chambers at City Hall. Two of the five MID Board members, Wil Hunter and Suzy Hultgren, object to the proposal to sell the water out of the area, and are hoping community members will show up at the meeting to add their concerns.“I’m here for the long haul," said Suzy Hultgren, a third generation Merced County farmer who owns an organic dairy in Cressey. "We can’t farm without water.”Wil Hunter, a local farmer since the early 1970s with 1,400 acres of almonds, explained why he objects to the proposed sale of water:“This is the third year of a drought. 2009 could be a worse year, since already there is only 40 percent of last year’s rainfall, and the amount of rainfall was disastrous last year. It is unprecedented to sell water out of the area in a drought year. There are five divisions, and indications are that the Board is split 3 to 2. The majority wants to sell, but there has been no formal vote. That is supposed to come on Dec. 16.” By way of background, he said, “The irrigation system was built by farmers starting in the 1870s. The majority of the snowpack flows into Lake McClure. There are 750 miles of canals which service agricultural growers in the Central Valley who grow almonds, row crops, potatoes, alfalfa and corn for dairies and have pasture. Lake McClure holds 1,024,600 acre-feet of water. Right now, there are only 256,000 acre-feet in the lake. We’re at 25 percent of capacity right now.”He added, “The majority of the water proposed to be sold would come from groundwater. Nature normally replenishes it, but we’re in a drought. The San Joaquin Valley is the food basket of the nation. Without water, it would go back to desert. Water is our most precious resource and should not be sold to anyone out of the district.”Explaining the serious effect of the drought on farming, he said, “In a normal year, you get to irrigate as much as you want. But because we’re in a drought, we were only allowed 2.5 acre-feet of water per acre. You could use it in a month or space it out, but that’s all you could have. So much land lay fallow. This affects crop production. If you’re not growing as much, you can’t supply as much. They’re proposing the same curtailment right now, depending on the rainfall through March. Growers are already going to be short of their normal allotments. During curtailment, they’ve never sold water out of the district.” On the subject of the drought, the State’s Department of Water Resources website states: “California is facing the most significant water crisis in its history. After experiencing two years of drought and the driest spring in recorded history, water reserves are extremely low. . . . In June 2008, the Governor issued Executive Order S-06-08 declaring a statewide drought . . . He also issued a Central Valley State of Emergency Proclamation for nine Central Valley counties (Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern) to address urgent water needs.”According to the website, the Department of Water Resources has set up a 2009 Drought Water Bank to facilitate the exchange of water throughout the State. The section entitled “2009 Drought Water Bank” states that the Department “will purchase water from willing sellers primarily from water suppliers upstream of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.” It appears from the website that the San Joaquin Valley was intended to be a recipient of water from willing sellers, not a seller itself.About the role of the MID Advisory Committee [MIDAC], Hunter said, “On Dec. 1, MIDAC was asked to review the budget proposal and make a recommendation to the Board. It was presented as an option, and the vote was not to sell the water out of the district, 10 to 1.”He said, “MIDAC will meet again on Dec. 10, and the Board will have a meeting Dec. 12 where whatever the Committee members said will be presented. With MIDAC, we could get some directors to change their opinion. MIDAC should have a tremendous influence because the Committee members are appointed by the Board, and the Board asked for their opinion.”Suzy Hultgren explained, “Each Director in each of the five divisions appoints two members of the Advisory Committee, and two alternates. Then there are at-large appointments from the community — the general public, the Farm Bureau, the Ag Commissioner’s office.”She continued, “At the MIDAC meeting on Dec. 1 , there were over 50 farmers. The most poignant comment was: The Board is accountable to the constituents. The farming community growing the crop should be a priority to the Irrigation District. The value of farmers is there is no Irrigation District without irrigators.” She said, “MIDAC gives us the opportunity to hear from the most innovative, adaptable people I know. Farmers can adjust to weather and governmental regulations, such as regulations on environment, water quality, air quality and chemicals. They are fantastic businessmen to survive in 2008.”Hunter added, “They’re always being asked to do more with less.”He said, “We’re really encouraged that there is constituent involvement, and that they are part of this process. With the right information, they can make decisions on budget options to balance the budget. They can look for other ways to cut expenses, like streamlining the District and making it more efficient.”Urging community members to attend the Dec. 16 meeting, Hultgren said, “Water affects everyone, jobs, everything. Water is life to all of us. Each person uses 200 gallons a day. The more people you put in an area, you have to have water.”She concluded, “The people can speak at the meeting during the public comment period. We represent all the people, not just the farmers.”Modesto BeeUC Merced med school finding its focus...Deborah Schoch, Center for California Health Care Journalism and Danielle Gaines, Merced Sun-Starhttp://www.modbee.com/local/v-print/story/529484.htmlThe medical school would rise like a mirage from the cow pastures and almond groves of Merced County. It would be powered by one of the world's great research universities to serve one of the most doctor-poor regions in the state."We're going to be different from the other UC medical schools," said biochemist Maria Pallavicini, founding dean of the University of California at Merced's School of Natural Sciences and the point person in the proposed medical school's planning process. "Our structure's going to be different. We're not going to own a research hospital."Despite new delays and mounting financial challenges, Pallavicini and others remain determined to craft a school of medicine that eventually would enroll nearly 400 students.Those students would train in existing local medical centers and clinics. Specialists from other UC schools would rotate through the Merced campus or employ new technologies to teach students far from their classrooms. Students would be encouraged to train as primary care physicians as well as specialists and to remain in the San Joaquin Valley.Storm clouds dim the vision"Nobody denies that we need a medical school. But where's the money going to come from? " said UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang in an interview recently at the 104-acre campus seven miles from downtown Merced. Already, officials have moved back the projected year of the medical school's first entering class from 2013 to an undetermined date. Kang acknowledged that he is "not as optimistic as before as (to) when we can make it happen." The weakening economy is sapping money from stock portfolios of would-be donors and from UC's endowment, which lost $1 billion, or 15 percent of its value, in the first nine months of 2008.Ever-darkening projections of state revenue are wreaking massive cuts on state campuses. Potential medical students probably will find dwindling loan and fellowship money. Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a "fiscal emergency," saying that without legislative action the state would run out of cash by early spring.Some UC educators wonder whether planting a medical school at a new rural campus -- even one with the UC label -- can attract the best and the brightest faculty and students.Kang, Pallavicini and other project proponents remain undeterred."If you don't have a vision and a plan for the future, then it is never going to happen," Pallavicini said.She insists that the San Joaquin Valley deserves more than appendages of UC medical schools in San Francisco and Davis, which sponsor a host of residency programs in the valley for medical school graduates.Doctors in short supplyThe nation is facing a physician shortage so severe that the Association of American Medical Colleges has called for a 30 percent increase in medical school enrollment by 2015.In California, the eight-county San Joaquin Valley boasts fewer physicians per capita than any other region -- only 173 physicians per 100,000 people, compared with 415 in the greater Bay Area, 294 in Southern California and 302 statewide, according to a 2006 report from the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno.Its share of specialists is even smaller. Patients with major medical problems often must travel to Fresno, Palo Alto, San Francisco or Los Angeles for surgery or long-term treatment."For years, it's been, 'Don't get sick in Merced. If you have cancer or health stuff, get the heck out of here,' " said Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau.Wide-ranging supportThe medical establishment, local politicians, advocacy groups for the poor and the area business community all give the plan their enthusiastic support. One champion, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced,says he's working to win support from Capitol Hill colleagues. He's also meeting with representatives of several prominent foundations that are potential donors."Nearly $1 billion goes out of the valley for specialty care. Those are jobs and dollars that need to stay in the valley," Cardoza said. Rural medical school modelTraditionally, most medical schools are built in metropolitan areas, even those tied to rural universities. The University of Kansas is in Lawrence, but its medical school is in Kansas City, Kan. Indiana University is in Bloomington; its medical school is in Indianapolis. Cornell University is in Ithaca, N.Y., but its medical school is in New York City. The five UC medical schools are in the state's major population areas: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Orange County and San Diego.Now, the university is considering two new medical schools with a rural emphasis, in Merced and at UC Riverside. California is not the first state to launch programs aimed at shoring up the ranks of rural physicians.For decades, states such as Minnesota, Illinois, Washington and Kansas have been doing exactly that. But even the most established schools in rural areas find that their graduates will migrate to the city, and experts elsewhere warn that UC Merced faces the same scenario."That's a problem. If you look at the national statistics, you probably have to train 10 or 15 to get one or two to go back to a small community," said Dr. Paul M. Paulman, assistant dean for clinical skills and quality at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in Omaha.Recruitment and admission of students from rural areas could be paramount to the school's success, Paulman said."If they recruit people from Los Angeles to go into rural medicine, guess what? They'll go back to Los Angeles." So UC Merced officials have designed into their plans an intensive effort to seek potential students from the valley who are more likely to stay after earning their medical degrees. They plan to work with local school districts to improve science education and track young people who might be candidates for the new medical school.Dr. Silvia Diego wants to see third- and fourth-year students working at Merced-based Golden Valley Health Centers, a network of 26 clinics where she is chief medical officer."We are hopeful," she said, "that the medical students will develop a passion for what we do here, and stay with us. We don't expect all of them. But if we get 50 percent or 75 percent to stay, that would be wonderful."Hard times bring needed reality checks to the Central Valley...Eric Cainehttp://www.modbee.com/opinion/community/v-print/story/529406.htmlWhen Vintage Faire Mall opened in Modesto nearly 30 years ago, some merchants imagined they had found a recession-proof place to do business. With a solid agricultural base and the promise of steady growth, prosperity seemed certain.Few remember the retail stores that came and went in the interim, each one as certain as the last that it would reap a bountiful harvest in the Valley of Plenty. Over time though, Vintage Faire fulfilled its promise and became a thriving shopping destination for customers from miles around. While it initially hurt businesses in downtown Modesto, in recent years successful restaurants and a lively night club scene brought about a downtown renaissance.Renovation of the State Theatre and the opening of the Gallo Center for the Arts promised things would get even better. And then ... the crash. The bottom dropped out of the real estate market and almost without warning the nation itself fell into an economic sinkhole that seems to have no bottom.While some pundits and commentators have been eager to point fingers and assign blame for our economic woes, others have been more interested in digging out of the hole than in throwing dirt on the survivors. Some hope that our new president will bring with him an economic turnaround, but the most realistic realize we are probably in for an extended period of difficult times.While Central Valley cities have been especially battered by the crashing real estate market, there's reason to hope we will recover faster than the rest of the country. Our economy is still based on agriculture, and agriculture will weather this storm better than many other markets. The growth that fueled the real estate boom brought with it hidden expenses and poorly anticipated problems. Central Valley cities and counties have already begun a blueprint process that features better planning and more efficient growth management.Amid much criticism and controversy we have at last begun to recognize the need to protect our rivers and the delta. Water has long been the least appreciated of Great Valley resources, but every day brings greater awareness of its essential role in our future economic success. Had we not had an economic slowdown from other factors, we'd have eventually had an even more serious one due to lack of water. Perhaps now we will plan to use it more efficiently and wisely.One benefit of difficult times is that they bring about creativity and innovation. We entered the 21st century with 20th-century expectations. World events have challenged all we thought certain, but they have not altered the essential nature of the American enterprise. Our people will prove as resilient as ever and we will respond to new problems with new solutions. Central Valley residents will go back to basics and relearn the eternal lessons our farmers have never forgotten: We are dependent on nature's gifts of earth, air and water. The better we manage these basic elements, the more promising our future.Valley homeowners still playing catch-up...J.N. Sbrantihttp://www.modbee.com/local/v-print/story/529447.htmlForeclosure filings fell nationwide in November, but they spiked dramatically in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, statistics released today by RealtyTrac show.Lenders repossessed 1,641 homes last month in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties, and they warned 2,727 additional homeowners that foreclosure was imminent if they didn't pay up.The three counties placed among the five worst in the nation on RealtyTrac's foreclosure rankings. That's been true for nearly every month for the past two years.What's new, however, is that U.S. foreclosure filings overall dropped 7 percent in November. Unfortunately, the decline isn't because more homeowners have started paying their mortgages on time. "Recently enacted laws have extended the foreclosure process in some states, along with more aggressive loan modification programs and self-imposed holiday foreclosure moratoriums introduced by some lenders," explained James Saccacio, RealtyTrac's chief executive officer. "There are several indications, however, that this lower activity is simply a temporary lull before another foreclosure storm hits in the coming months."That's likely in Stanislaus County, judging by the legal filings. Nearly five pages of foreclosure notices were printed Wednesday in The Modesto Bee, most of which notified homeowners when their property would be sold to the highest bidder.During November, 728 such "notices of trustee sale" were filed in Stanislaus, according to RealtyTrac. That was up from 544 in October. Since trustee sale notices are about a month ahead of auctions, expect foreclosure sales to rise again in December.Homeowners aren't the only ones who suffer when homes are repossessed. Last month in Stanislaus, lenders that foreclosed got stuck with more than $197 million worth of unpaid mortgages, according to figures released Wednesday by ForeclosureRadar.Lenders that renegotiated mortgages rather than foreclose aren't doing so well either."More than half of the homeowners (nationwide) who received loan modifications to reduce monthly mortgage payments in the first half of 2008 are already delinquent on their loans again, according to the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision," RealtyTrac's Saccacio said. "Many of these delinquencies could turn into foreclosures next year."Fed: household debt, net worth post declines...MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writerhttp://www.modbee.com/2020/v-print/story/530009.htmlU.S. households, hit by declining home values and stock market losses, have cut back on their debt levels for the first time on record as loans remain scarce amid what appears to be a deepening recession.The Federal Reserve on Thursday released it latest quarterly look at consumer and business finances showing that households reduced their debt levels by 0.8 percent at an annual rate in the July-September period, the first drop on records that go back more than 50 years.The decline in household debt levels is evidence of the severe credit squeeze that is occurring as banks, saddled by billions of dollars of losses in mortgage debt, have tightened lending standards and made it harder for people to get loans.Mortgage debt fell at an annual rate of 2.4 percent in the third quarter, the largest decline on record. Mortgage debt had fallen at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the second quarter. Those two quarterly declines are the first such drops in the Fed survey that dates back to 1952.In past periods of tight credit, mortgage and total household debt have never declined, although the debt growth usually slowed.The Fed report also showed that households' net worth fell by 4.7 percent in the third quarter to $56.5 trillion, reflecting the hit Americans are taking as the value of their homes and investments decline.The drop in household net worth - total assets such as homes and checking accounts minus liabilities like mortgages and credit-card debt - marked the fourth straight quarterly decline since total family net worth hit an all-time high of $63.6 trillion in the July-September quarter of 2007.Forbes publisher tells Modesto audience he's hopeful of bounce-back...John Hollandhttp://www.modbee.com/business/v-print/story/529441.htmlThe economy appears to be in a "mini-depression" but could start growing again by mid-2009, the publisher of Forbes magazine told a Modesto audience Wednesday.Rich Karlgaard, speaking at the annual conference of the Almond Board of California, said dropping fuel prices and mortgage rates will help consumers turn the economy around."I'm beginning to see the seeds of recovery," he said. "It won't be a great recovery till the second half of the year, but it will at least pull us out of this ditch."The two-day conference, ending today, drew several hundred growers, suppliers and other people in the almond industry to Modesto Centre Plaza. They are spending most of their time in sessions on growing and marketing the nuts, which like many crops are a bright spot in the economy these days.Karlgaard, who lives in Los Altos, oversees a New York-based business and finance magazine read by 4.5 million people.He said the fourth quarter of 2008 could be the worst of the downturn, with a decline of as much as 6 percent in the nation's economic output. The jobless rate, which hit a 14-year high of 6.5 percent in October, could go as high as 10 percent by spring, he said. Karlgaard said the current conditions have been wrongly likened to the Depression of the 1930s. Employment and stock prices dropped far more then than now, he said, and the Federal Reserve today is quick to boost the money supply.The current downturn is more like that of 1973 and 1974, Karlgaard said. He noted several parallels -- a spike in fuel prices (now easing), a roughly 45 percent drop in the stock market, an unpopular president (Nixon then, Bush now) and strong Democratic majorities in Congress.Karlgaard said the recovery from the 1973-74 recession was undermined by high inflation, which could happen in 2009. That could be kept in check if energy prices continue to dip, he said.Karlgaard also said the housing market, especially depressed in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, is starting to turn around as buyers bid up underpriced homes.And he said the recent stock gains have been impressive because they are spread among a large number of small companies, not just the big players on Wall Street.Karlgaard was booked to speak because of his insights into the economy in general, not just the current troubles, said Richard Waycott, chief executive officer of the Almond Board."I think we all enjoy a good shot of balanced optimism and reality," Waycott said.Fresno BeeDo some truckers face the end of the road?Once hit by high fuel prices, California companies now struggle with proposed pollution rules...Bethany Cloughhttp://www.fresnobee.com/local/v-print/story/1068295.htmlThis is a bad year for trucking companies. First, it was fuel prices. Next, the economy collapsed.Now, state regulations threaten to make matters even worse, requiring them to add costly smog controls or buy new rigs. Quite a few say they can afford neither.State regulators plan to vote on new diesel truck emissions rules Friday. The California Air Resources Board's proposed rules, which have been under development since 2000, are aimed at cutting toxins that cause cancer, heart disease and asthma and account for 4,500 premature deaths per year, according to supporters.If adopted, the rules would require that, starting in 2011, older heavy-duty trucks have filters that capture 85% of particulate matter, according to the air board. Beginning in 2013, truck owners would have to begin replacing older trucks with 2010 or newer models or purchase engines that meet the stricter standards.All trucks subject to the regulation on California roads would be required to have the cleaner-burning engines by 2023.The law applies to most trucks being driven through California, with some exemptions for farm and other vehicles.The air board estimates the changes will cost the industry about $5.5 billion over 12 years in California.With more than 50 trucks in his fleet, Fresno-based Quali-T-ruck Service Inc. owner Dale Mendoza estimated his bill for upgrading or buying new ones will be at least $700,000 over the 12 years.And times are tough. While diesel prices have dropped, past months of pricey fuel and the recession have pummeled the industry, truckers say."We haven't made a dime since September of last year," Mendoza said.The emission filters cost between $12,000 and $15,000 each, while a new truck with a cleaner-burning engine costs more than $100,000.The new rule "increases everybody's debt load so much, it's really difficult to do," said Jim Ganduglia, owner of Ganduglia Trucking, a Fresno freight hauler.Mendoza said it's hard to imagine how to pay for it.One of the biggest glass carriers in the state, the company normally hauls 1,200 loads of glass a month. Lately, it's been shipping less than 300, he said.Fresno-based steel distributor Valley Iron Inc. has 18 trucks, and President Noel Briscoe said it makes more sense to buy new trucks than to spend thousands of dollars upgrading older trucks with little value. He said he anticipates the changes, if passed, will cost his company up to a couple of million dollars.If the regulations pass, he said some companies could shut down."If you're not financially strong, it's going to push people out of business," he said.And Ganduglia said passing along the cost of the changes to the customer wouldn't work, as it could push up the cost of California products so high no one would buy them."If that happens, then it's goodbye to California," he said. "This is not just an air quality issue, it's a world-market competitiveness issue."But health advocates say the benefits of the rule far outweigh the cost. The move will save $48 billion to $68 billion in health-care costs statewide, in addition to thousands of lives, according to the air board.The air resources board says diesel-truck pollution is responsible for a litany of problems, including 620 hospital admissions for heart disease, 71,000 cases of asthma and other lower respiratory problems. They blame 450,000 lost workdays on air-related illnesses.The American Lung Association of California supports the rule, said senior policy director Bonnie Holmes-Gen."Truck and bus pollution is a huge public health threat," she said. "This regulation is a very, very small cost in order to produce billions of dollars in public health benefits."Air resources board spokeswoman Karen Caesar said some companies, particularly larger ones, are ahead of the game in complying with the rule.The diesel regulations have been in the works since the air resources board adopted a diesel-risk reduction plan in 2000."There are no surprises here," Holmes-Gen said.The state has several programs to help truckers pay for the changes. The assistance amounts to more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans, but trucking company executives say it's not enough -- and some doubt they will ever see a penny.California Trucking Association President Bob Ramorino said trucking companies will probably need to get commercial loans to comply. And right now -- they say they need to start ordering trucks now to spread out the cost -- the country's financial problems are making it difficult to get loans, he said."For the first time in 20 years, I'm having trouble renewing my lines of credit," he said.A coalition of truckers and community leaders called Driving Toward a Cleaner California advocates a plan that would push some deadlines back a few years.Ganduglia said the alternative proposal would make it easier for companies to spread out the cost.Caesar said the air resources board has studied the plan and determined it does not reduce pollution enough to meet deadlines required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.Not meeting that deadline could lose the region billions of dollars of federal highway funding, she said.New rules already have been placed on garbage trucks, numerous types of boats and trucks that service the state's ports, Caesar said."This last big piece of this diesel emissions puzzle are these heavy-duty diesel trucks," she said. Groups Urge Office of Management and Budget to Stop Last Minute Rush to Finalize Environmental Rules...Earthjustice...12-10-08http://www.fresnobee.com/556/v-print/story/1067279.htmlEndangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act Impacted WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ A coalition of national environmental groups today urged the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the agency responsible for overseeing the federal rulemaking process, to stop finalizing rules that would significantly weaken bedrock environmental protections that the agency classifies as not "economically significant.""The issues at hand - environmental protections that have taken a generation to secure through tremendous hard work and bipartisan consensus - are too precious to be treated so lightly," said Lee Crockett, director of Federal Fisheries Policy for the Pew Environment Group. "These issues require full consideration and due process."As the agency that grants final approval for all federal rules, OMB has the authority to declare whether a rule is "economically significant" or not. This designation is non-reviewable and is based on a complex set of economic and policy criteria including whether the rule is considered to have an annual impact of greater or less than $100 million. OMB does not disclose how such decisions are made. "Economically significant" rules become effective 60 days after being published in the Federal Register, while rules that are classified as not "economically significant" become effective in just 30 days. In order for rules to be in effect when President-elect Obama takes office on January 20, 2008, they must be finalized by December 19, 2008. Rules that meet this deadline can only be overturned by a new rulemaking process, court order or intervention by Congress and the president. Rules that OMB does not finalize by December 19, 2008 can be immediately suspended and eventually modified or withdrawn by the new administration. By failing to categorize far-reaching environmental rules as "economically significant," OMB has given federal agencies 30 more days to cement the current administration's environmental policies and limit the options of the new administration. As the December 19, 2008 deadline approaches, the impacts of this time reprieve have already been felt. Just last week, the EPA paved the way for the Office of Surface Mining to finalize a rule under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to weaken stream protections from mining waste.What OMB does, or does not finalize in the next few days will have an enduring impact on the environment. "The outgoing administration successfully stymied the implementation of the Clinton administration midnight rules," said Martin Hayden, Vice President of Earthjustice. "On Inauguration Day 2001, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card issued a memo that broadly delayed the implementation of rules issued by the Clinton administration that had yet to take effect. Now, they are attempting to prevent a similar fate from happening to them."Some of the proposals considered not "economically significant" by OMB will directly impact: * The Endangered Species Act, a landmark piece of environmental protection legislation that has saved scores of endangered species from extinction* The National Environmental Policy Act, the nation's pre-eminent environmental protection law that requires the Federal government to publicly evaluate environmental impacts of its actions before proceeding* A Clean Air Act program that protects our national parks with common-sense pollution limits from nearby power plants* The Environmental Protection Agency's regulations that provide federal, state and local agencies and the public with information about air releases of hazardous substances at factory farms"Despite serious concerns raised by every regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, Congress, and tens of thousands of Americans, the final power plant pollution rule would threaten scenic vistas, wildlife, and public health by allowing more air pollution in our treasured national parks and wilderness areas," said Mark Wenzler, director of Clean Air and Climate Programs for the National Parks Conservation Association. "It is 'significant' to the millions of Americans who value our national parks and expect them to be protected.""Study after study has found that releases of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia from decomposing manure at factory farms can threaten people's health," said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program. "When the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry finds that a Minnesota dairy's air pollution, which was so severe it drove neighbors from their homes, constitutes a 'public health hazard,' that's not a 'minor' issue. The EPA's rule exempting livestock and poultry operations from toxic release notification requirements is a major special interest giveaway.""The proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act would cut the safety net for imperiled fish, wildlife and plants, allowing destructive projects to move forward without scientific review," said Bob Irvin, senior vice president of conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife. "That's not a minor change - that's a major step backwards in our nation's commitment to our rarest and most vulnerable wildlife resources. If this rule is finalized it would mean that consideration of the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on polar bears or other wildlife affected by global warming is completely off limits."Contacts:Dave Bard - Pew Environment Group, 202.486.4426Cat Lazaroff - Defenders of Wildlife, 202.772.3270Andrea Keller Helsel - National Parks Conservation Association, 202.454.3332Raviya Ismail - Earthjustice, 202.667.4500Ed Hopkins - Sierra Club, 202.675.790822 Environmental and Sporting Groups Announce Stimulus Plan to Create 20,000 Green Jobs on Wildlife Refuges...Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement http://www.fresnobee.com/556/v-print/story/1068725.htmlHistoric Opportunity Modeled After Depression-Era Public Lands Jobs Program WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ The Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement (C.A.R.E.), a coalition of 22 diverse environmental, sporting and scientific organizations representing more than 14 million Americans, released a plan today that would create nearly 20,000 green jobs on national wildlife refuges in all 50 states within 90 days.The jobs creation program would help a beleaguered National Wildlife Refuge System, which receives just 57 percent of necessary funding and has a $3.5 billion backlog of high-priority projects. In recent years, the System has been forced to close numerous refuges, allow the unchecked spread of invasive species over millions of acres, and spend millions of dollars on inefficient sources of energy.The refuge job-creation plan includes calls for investing:  --  $443 million in combating invasive species and restoring native habitat, creating 5,644 jobs --  $243 million in improving energy efficiency, creating 5,103 jobs --  $201 million in new green construction, creating 5,025 jobs --  $60 million in renewable energy, creating 1,260 jobs"Since Refuges can put people to work on shovel-ready projects almost immediately, we urge Congress to include at least $1 billion for Green Jobs for Refuges in the 2009 economic recovery package," said Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) and Chair of CARE. "These projects will keep local construction, electrical, landscaping and other companies working throughout 2009."The Refuge System, created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, put thousands of Americans to work as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan to pull the nation out of the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was responsible for much-needed conservation and construction projects on refuges all over the nation.Refuges are economic engines: for every $1 appropriated by Congress, refuges return at least $4 in economic activity. The plan to invest $1 billion in refuges would not only strengthen local economies, but would strengthen ecosystems, giving wildlife greater adaptability in face of climate change.C.A.R.E. (http://www.fundrefuges.org/CARE/carehome.html) was created in 1995 as a loose coalition of diverse organizations concerned about the ability of our National Wildlife Refuges to fulfill their missions. Committee to urge inventory of nation's levees...JIM SALTER - Associated Press Writerhttp://www.fresnobee.com/641/story/1068464.htmlST. LOUIS - The United States needs a complete inventory of all levees and a national safety standard for the last line of defense against floods, say members of the National Committee on Levee Safety."The flooding this year in the Midwest provided a good reminder to committee members of the importance of the task before us and the importance of getting a handle on our levee system," committee member Les Harder said Wednesday during a teleconference with the media.This summer, heavy rains led to record flooding in parts of Iowa and floods in Missouri and Illinois that approached record levels of 1993. Hundreds of private levees were breached or overtopped. While the Army Corps of Engineers completed an inventory of levees it maintains or helps fund, there is no such inventory of the thousands of private levees. Officials don't know how many there are or what shape they are in.Committee member Mike Stankiewicz, who is chief of flood control projects for the New York Department of Environment Conservation, said the task of inventorying every levee is daunting. For example, California alone has 14,000 miles of levees, and 80 percent of them are privately owned, he said.The committee wants levees placed into one of three risk categories - high, significant or low - depending upon factors like the number of people that could be flooded if the levee fails or is overtopped, the critical structures behind the levee and the depth of the potential flooding.The committee also sees a need for improvement in the way risk is defined. For example, a levee offering "100-year" protection means that there's a statistical 1-in-100 chance each year that floodwaters could exceed the levee's height. But some so-called 100-year levees in Missouri alone have been threatened or overtopped three times since 1993."There is significant risk of flooding even at 100-year levels," Harder said. "We want to communicate all of the risks. We want to get away from the perception that some people have that if you have 100-year protection, you're not in a flood plain."The committee, which formed in 2007 and is chaired by the corps, will make recommendations to Congress in January.How quickly the levee inventory happens depends on how much money Congress approves and how fast it does it, said Eric Halpin, vice chairman of the committee. Lisa Jackson in line to be first black EPA chief...DINA CAPPIELLOhttp://www.fresnobee.com/news/national-politics/story/1067953.htmlWASHINGTON - Lisa Jackson is in line to become the first African-American to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.President-elect Barack Obama intends to announce Jackson as EPA administrator in the coming weeks, barring unforeseen circumstances that derail his plans, according to Democratic officials close to the transition.Jackson, a Princeton University-educated chemical engineer, would take the helm at the agency at a time of record-low morale and when it is still grappling with how to respond to a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said it could regulate the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. During the Bush administration, the White House has at times overruled the advice of the EPA's scientific advisers and the agency's staff on issues ranging from air pollution to global warming.Supporters say Jackson, 46, has the experience to steer the agency down a new path.She spent 16 years at the EPA in Washington and in New York before being hired at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2002, an agency that has been riddled by budget cuts and personnel shortages. Jackson was named the head of the department in 2006 by Gov. Jon Corzine, overseeing environmental regulation in a state plagued by pollution problems and home to the most hazardous waste sites in the country. She left earlier this month to take a job as Corzine's chief of staff.In her short tenure, Jackson has worked to pass mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases, to reform the state's cleanup of contaminated sites and to establish a scientific advisory board to review agency decisions."In New Jersey, you're working on contaminated sites, you're working on open space, endangered species, clean water. New Jersey is the laboratory for environmental protection. Whatever bad happens in the environment, it happens in New Jersey first. It is a good proving ground," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.Another New Jersey woman, former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, headed the EPA for 2 1/2 years during President George W. Bush's first term.Whitman, a moderate Republican, found herself occasionally at odds with the Bush White House over environmental issues and became a lightning rod for the administration's critics.Jackson also has her detractors.A small but vocal contingent of environmental advocacy groups came out against Jackson last week, asking President-elect Barack Obama to drop her as a candidate.In a letter to the transition team, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a group that represents environmentally-minded state and federal employees, said it was "distressed" that Jackson was under consideration.The group said that while Jackson had "a compelling biography" - she grew up in New Orleans' gritty Lower Ninth Ward - her record at the Department of Environmental Protection did not warrant a promotion. As evidence, they cited an EPA inspector general report that found that New Jersey failed to use its authority to expedite cleanups at seven hazardous waste sites. The state also has been criticized by federal wildlife officials for failing to adopt standards for pesticides and other toxic chemicals that protect wildlife and for delays in meeting its greenhouse gas emissions targets.DEP officials, in response to those allegations, said Jackson inherited many of the problems, and that in the case of global warming the state was getting back on track.Other environmental groups who support her nomination but criticize some of her actions say that in those cases she was overruled by the governor."She is the best possible choice that President Obama could make," said Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey. "She has had a lot of situations where protections needed for the environment were politically difficult, and sometimes she didn't prevail and sometimes she did prevail."Calls to Jackson were not returned Wednesday. Corzine's office declined comment. Calif. adopts tough greenhouse gas restrictions...SAMANTHA YOUNGhttp://www.fresnobee.com/641/v-print/story/1068351.htmlSACRAMENTO, Calif. California air regulators adopted a sweeping new climate plan Thursday that would require the state's utilities, refineries and large factories to transform their operations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.The California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to adopt the nation's most comprehensive global warming plan, outlining for the first time how individuals and businesses would meet a landmark 2006 law that made the state a leader on global climate change.The plan would hold California's worst polluters accountable for the heat-trapping emissions they produce - transforming how people travel, how utilities generate power and how businesses use electricity. At the heart of the plan is the creation of a carbon-credit market designed to give the state's major polluters cheaper ways to cut the amount of their emissions. That market and the many other strategies referenced in the plan will be fleshed out and adopted over the next few years.California's plan comes at a time when governments around the world are struggling with a financial crisis that threatens to undermine efforts to fight climate change. California itself is facing a forecast budget gap of $41.8 billion through June 2010.Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said the state's climate law will stimulate the economy, said Thursday that California was providing a roadmap for the rest of the country."Today is the day we help unleash the full force of California's innovation and technology for a healthier planet, a stronger and more robust economy and a safer and more secure energy future," Schwarzenegger said in a statement released after the board's vote.His sentiments echo those of President-elect Barack Obama, who also has promoted investments in energy efficiency and green technology to help spur the country out of recession. Last month, Obama said he hoped Congress would adopt California's targets for the entire country, essentially reversing eight years of U.S. policy against mandated emission cuts.California's 2006 law, called the Global Warming Solutions Act but commonly referred to as AB32, mandates the state cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.The strategy chosen by air regulators relies on 31 new rules affecting all facets of life, from the fuels Californians put in their vehicles to the air conditioners businesses install in their buildings.The average Californian, for example, could see more fuel-efficient cars at dealerships, better public transportation, housing near schools and businesses and utility rebates to equip their homes to be more energy efficient.But there will also be costs.California drivers will see more expensive cars on showroom floors and should expect to pay higher power bills as utilities increase their use of renewable energy.Republicans, small businesses and major industries that will be forced to transform operations beginning in 2012 say jobs will be lost, companies might leave the state and energy prices will skyrocket. Many demanded the board perform more economic analysis before committing to policies they warned could worsen the economy."The deepening recession has affected businesses throughout the state," Amisha Patel, a policy advocate at the California Chamber of Commerce, told the board. "The reality of climate regulation is there will be costs."The air board's background work has been criticized in reviews by California's nonpartisan legislative analyst and independent scientists, with both groups saying the costs to the state could be greater than projected.Republican state lawmaker Roger Niello of Fair Oaks has asked the board to postpone its vote and complete a more thorough economic review.An air board analysis published in September projected California's economy would grow at a faster rate by cutting emissions. It also estimated 100,000 more jobs would be created and the average California household would save $400 a year by driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and living in more energy-efficient homes.Nichols said her board had done a thorough job of assessing the plan but vowed Thursday the board would conduct more studies as the regulations are developed over the next few years.Most of the reductions in California's emissions will come from more detailed regulations that will be written over the next few years, including rules governing a cap-and-trade program that launches in 2012 to help the largest polluters achieve emission cuts.But allowing businesses to buy their way out of the problem is another contentious part of the plan. Representatives of California's poor communities say the polluting power plants, refineries and factories in their neighborhoods could write a check rather than cut emissions. Valley VoiceTulare Racetrack Project Clears First Hurdle...Julie Fernandezhttp://www.valleyvoicenewspaper.com/vv/stories/2008/raccetrackhurdle.htmThe mammoth 711-acre Tulare Motor Sports Complex proposal comfortably cleared its first major hurdle this week when the Planning Commission supported the project in a series of six votes.Each vote was 5-2 with Chairman Richard Miller, Vice Chairman Jeff Killion and Commissioners Chuck Miguel, Deanne Rocha and Sandi Miller in favor of the project. Commissioners Richard Nunes and David Kinard were opposed. The actions came after a 90-minute public hearing attended by about 150 people.The Tulare City Council, which will make the final decisions, has scheduled a special meeting for 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 29, at the Tulare Senior Center to consider the project, which is proposed for property adjacent to the International Agri-Center.Four of the commission's votes were recommendations to the city council to adopt the final environmental impact report (EIR) and related documents, approve land-use designations and pre-zoning for the properties and adopt a 20-year development agreement between the city and developer. Requests for a conditional use permit and height variances were granted, contingent on the council approving the EIR.The project, which includes construction of a speedway, drag strip, hotels, retail commercial and professional office buildings, an RV Park and a new city fire station, is projected to bring thousands of new jobs to the area — a key factor in the commission's votes.“I'm for [economic] diversity and I am for jobs,” Commissioner Chuck Miguel said. “Our town is wonderful, but it is poor.” He disagreed with a comment of one speaker during the public hearing who said the jobs are not important, because most will pay only minimum wage. “If someone has the audacity to say a minimum wage job isn't good enough, they need to talk to the woman who has to choose between feeding her children and paying the rent,” Miguel said.He also said that in Tulare there are “a lot of people who have no future in agriculture” and the project will offer them other options in the technology or business arenas. “This isn't just a track,” he said.Commissioner Sandi Miller, who works for the Tulare County Workforce Investment Board (WIB), reported her office sees 5,000 people a month looking for jobs. “I think it's just too big of an opportunity for us to miss,” she said.WIB colleagues, who work in communities where similar projects have been built, reported some jobs are minimum wage, but many involve technological skills and local community colleges, and adults schools are able to train residents to successfully compete for the higher paying positions, Miller said.Rocha said that for every job created by the project, the money earned will turn over three to four times, helping to create even more jobs.Killion said a comment from a citizen helped him make up his mind. “Do you have the right to tell somebody in this free county, 'you don't have a right to go into business?'” he recalled the man saying. Killion said the creation of new jobs was an important factor in his decision.Chairman Richard Miller said he believes the project stands on its own merit. He also addressed concerns raised about the project's viability.“If someone wants to spend money — a lot of money — who am I to say, 'you've spent a lot of money but you don't know what you're talking about,'” Miller said.Developers already have spent $1 million on the environmental impact report alone, city officials said.Although asked twice, Kinard did not state his reasons for opposing the project. Nunes said he was opposed because there were just too many things that concerned him, including the viability of the project — an issue raised by several people including Ron Clark, a Tulare farmer who wrote a 13-page report based on his personal investigation of facts and figures in the economic analysis of the project. (See page one of the Tulare Voice.)Nunes also mentioned possible impacts on nearby residents in Sunrise Estates. “They don't have mansions out there, but it's their home,” he said. Tulare VoiceReport: Developer Point of Controversyhttp://www.valleyvoicenewspaper.com/tv/stories/2008/developercontroversy.htmTulare - A citizens' advisory committee that studied the potential impacts of the proposed Tulare Motor Sports Complex on the community for three months has issued its findings on 13 issues, including land, water, air quality, traffic and other matters.The report did not produce an overall recommendation for the Planning Commission, which was scheduled to consider the 711-acre project this week, or the City Council, which will hold its public hearing Dec. 29.“Many of the committee members support the project, while others remain undecided,” the report said. “Several individuals on the committee expressed explicit opposition to the project.”The report indicates the development corporation headed by Fresno developer Bud Long was the committee's most controversial topic. Almost from the start, Long, who pled guilty to federal tax fraud in 2001, has been a focus of concern by project opponents. “Although the committee held various opinions of the development corporation's reputation, to the committee's knowledge the developers have fulfilled their obligations for this project and funded all of its known obligations at this time,” the citizens' report said.The report in its appendices also includes a 13-page review by committee member and farmer Ron Clark that sharply calls into question the economic impact analysis the Ramsay Group did for the project. Clark notes the analysis relies on the developers' projections regarding number of events, visitors and visitor spending.His review was based on interviews with track managers for Infineon Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Auto Club Famosa Raceway, NASCAR and National Hot Rod Association staff members, and The Goodguys Rod and Custom Association event coordinator and nationally known racers and racing industry executives, Clark said.'Wishful Thinking'“The unanimous consensus of this group is clear,” he wrote. “The numbers that were provided by the developer regarding number of events and visitors, and visitor spending profile, are based on wishful thinking, not reality. All agree that without participation and cooperation of either International Speedway Corporation (ISC) or Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) a project of this size is doomed from the start.”Long has said racing corporations won't commit to hold races at a site before a developer takes control of the property, which in this case is still in escrow. Clark also said most of those interviewed had not heard of either Long or the project. The Ramsay Group also notes a variety of reputable sources were used for its study, but Clark contends the firm lists no reputable sources regarding “the critical racing component” for the project. In addition to a speedway and drag strip, the project also includes retail commercial projects such as hotels and shops, offices, condominiums and a recreational vehicle park. Natural WaterwayThe citizens' report also gives considerable attention to the idea of preserving and protecting Elk Bayou, given the fact the motorsports complex's proposed RV Park is to be built within 100 feet of it.“A natural aesthetic transition between campsites and the bayou habitat should be studied and planned before the project is approved,” the report said.Members also called for formation of a citizens committee to manage the waterway and for a plan to protect the bayou from off-road vehicle use.What follows are summaries of the committee's findings regarding other environmental concerns and the issues the committee wants the Planning Commission and City Council to consider.Land Use Findings:· The project would take approximately 600 acres now farmed for corn, cotton and winter crops out of production. The land is considered “prime” for agriculture, which means it's among the best in the county for growing crops.· The city already has identified the land for future commercial and entertainment development in its 2030 General Land Use Plan. Issues:The loss of prime agricultural land remains a concern because agriculture is the county's number one industry and the matter remained unresolved with the committee. Committee findings suggest it is possible to mitigate this land loss through measures identified in the environmental impact report. (One of those measures calls upon the developer to take steps to “conserve one acre of equally good, equally at-risk farmland for every acre of farmland converted by the project.”) “However, the loss of prime farmland that is currently under Williamson Act contract for farm land conservation is an ongoing and unresolved concern for the Tulare County Farm Bureau and some of the committee members.”Air Quality Findings:· Impacts on air quality during construction would be no different than with any other commercial project and mitigation measures in the EIR appear “thorough and comprehensive.”· Mitigation measures relating to operation of the complex are inadequate. “We believe the most effective measure to offset the pollution generated by racing activity, and resulting spectator vehicle traffic, would be an investment in large-scale photovoltaic solar energy technology.” It was also suggested “green” building and solar energy techniques be used during construction.· A residential housing development would impact air quality more than the racetrack project, because there would be more vehicles and more people on a daily basis, excluding the six major racetrack events expected each year.Issues:Asthma, which is affected by air quality, pollen, mold, dust and infection, is a concern among South Valley children. Scientific studies have found children living near busy roads may have more asthma and bronchitis incidents.A recent study shows more premature deaths related to air quality occur each year than previously thought. One of the worse pollutants is PM 2.5, which are particles that result largely from internal combustion engines associated with the increasing number of vehicles in the Central Valley.Water Findings:· The racetrack project would result in a 75 percent savings from current water usage. The committee did its own calculations and concluded the EIR's estimates that the current average annual groundwater use for 700 acres of ag land is 2,080 acre feet and that the projected annual use by the racetrack would be considerably less — about 670 acre feet — are “reasonable.”· If the city allowed housing on the site instead of the proposed project, as much or more water would be required as is currently used by agriculture.· Rainwater would be diverted to two ponding basins that are part of the project.· A “gray water” system would be used for landscaping.Issues:“California is currently facing unprecedented demand for water for urban, residential and agricultural needs. All new development must have a reasonable supply of water assuredness, while not impacting existing uses…”Noise Findings:· There may be more traffic, but the noise from it will remain the same.· As for the impact of the noise on milk production, committee members researching on their own found: dairies themselves can be noisy inside and outside the milk parlors; county dairies operate near busy roads/highways and train tracks with no apparent adverse conditions; no definitive studies on racetrack noise and milk production have been done; three dairies operate about a mile from the Lemoore Naval Air Station and experience jet engine testing noise without problem. · Speedway noise may or may not be an issue with residents of Sunrise Estates to the north or the dairies to the south. Races last from 30 minutes to four hours and the sound level would be equal to that of heavy traffic. These types of events may occur two to six times per year, according to the developer.Issues:Drag strip (as opposed to speedway) noise generated by 6,000-plus horsepower Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars is going to be heard. The total time these cars would be on the racetrack is about two hours spread over the race day. The developer anticipates these types of vehicles would appear once a year.Capitol AlertMary Nichols doesn't get the nod...Shane Goldmacherhttp://www.sacbee.com/static/weblogs/capitolalertlatest/017729.htmlMary Nichols, the chair of California's Air Resources Board, will not be President-elect Barack Obama's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.Lisa Jackson of New Jersey will, according to numerous news reports.Geography might have played a role, as The Bee's Rob Hotakainen reported in today's paper:If Nichols gets the post, she would add to California's growing clout in crafting a national response to global warming. As powerful committee chairs, California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of Los Angeles are already positioned to take leading roles when the new Congress begins tackling the issue in January.If Nichols loses out, it could be a result of geographic considerations. While officials with Obama's transition team have not given any public indication of who will be chosen, some environmental groups say that Jackson may have the upper hand because she would help balance California's power.Sacramento BeeCalifornia air board to vote on plan to slash emissions...Chris Bowmanhttp://www.sacbee.com/378/v-print/story/1465231.htmlToday and Friday are expected to be monumental in California's fight against global warming and air pollution.The state Air Resources Board is set to vote today on a sweeping 12-year strategy for slashing climate-altering emissions that would affect the type of cars Californians drive, the electricity they use to light their homes and even the location of future homes and jobs.Then on Friday, the governor-appointed air board is expected to approve regulations requiring owners of nearly 1 million heavy-duty trucks to thoroughly clean up diesel exhaust, which is believed responsible for as many as 9,000 deaths a year statewide. "It is probably the most significant board meeting we have had in decades," said Thomas Cackette, the board's deputy executive officer.The voting comes at a politically good time from the view of state regulators, public health advocates and others seeking to influence a national response to global warming.President-elect Barack Obama has said he intends to quickly reverse the Bush administration's decision last December to deny California authority to curb heat-trapping carbon emissions from automobiles.Obama on Wednesday reportedly was ready to name two officials from California – Steven Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment – to top energy and environmental posts. Those appointments would add to California's growing clout in crafting federal climate change regulations.Continuing business as usual in other states and nations would overwhelm any progress California makes in cutting global warming gases.The California air board's impending actions also come at an economically bad time, with heavy opposition from the trucking industry, which is struggling under the slowdown in movement of goods.Independent truckers and owners of small fleets are among the louder opponents."What gives you the authority to tell me that not only do I have to junk my truck, but that I also lose the capital investment that I already have in it?" Mark Binkley, a Southern California trucker, said in an e-mail to the board."If you want to purchase my truck for what I paid for it, then fine," said Binkley, who bought a 1989 Peterbilt rig two years ago for $75,000.State air regulators point out that the requirements to install soot traps on older rigs or switch to cleaner-burning engines don't take effect until 2010 and allow up to 13 more years for compliance, depending on the model year and size of the fleet.A coalition of truck owners, grocers and construction contractors has proposed an alternative that phases in the requirements over a longer period at less cost.Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said the truckers' plan would put Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley in violation of federal clean-air standards by 2014, resulting in more heart attacks, lung disease and deaths."The health impacts are so staggering," Nichols said, pointing out the estimated 9,000 deaths that would occur under business as usual."The numbers are just hard to argue with, and nobody is arguing with them," Nichols said. "The only argument is that we shouldn't be doing this in hard economic times."Exhaust filters cost $10,000 or more, new engines several times that, and a new truck well over $100,000. Trucks built since 2005 already are equipped with the soot traps.The big-rig trucks, large delivery trucks and airport shuttle buses are the last of the diesel-powered vehicles and equipment to come under the soot-cutting knife of the air board, following similar rules for garbage trucks, municipal buses and off-road construction and farming vehicles and equipment.But the number of these heavy-duty vehicles, along with their heavy weight, high mileage and longevity, makes them the single-largest source of toxic air pollution in California, air board officials said.The regulations would dramatically cut emissions of tiny diesel exhaust particles and smog-forming nitrogen oxides from more than 400,000 diesel vehicles registered in the state and another 500,000 out-of-state trucks that pass through California each year.In 1998, the board declared the particles in diesel exhaust a "toxic air contaminant" because of their potential to cause cancer and premature heart- and lung-related deaths in adults.The particles are small enough to evade the lung's defenses and enter the bloodstream, raising the risk of heart disease as well as respiratory illness.Numerous studies since then have strengthened the link between lung cancer and heart disease and diesel exhaust, particularly among truckers and dock workers. White House backs down on easing air-pollution rules...RENEE SCHOOFhttp://www.sacbee.com/702/story/1464690.htmlWASHINGTON - The Bush administration on Wednesday abandoned efforts to relax pollution controls on coal-fired power plants and industries it started with Vice President Dick Cheney's energy plan in 2001, bringing to a sudden end a long White House fight with environmental groups.However, the Environmental Protection Agency also finalized a third rule that would allow for more polluted dust from mines, animal farms and other sources.Environmental and health groups and state and local air quality officials opposed the two rules that the administration dropped. One of them would have permitted coal-fired power plants and industries to increase their emissions without adding pollution controls. The other would've made it easier to build power plants and factories near national parks and other pristine protected areas. Utilities had argued for the changes for years, saying that they needed to be able to increase their efficiency at the lowest possible cost.The EPA didn't issue a news release to explain the decision, but spokesman Jonathan Shradar confirmed it. He said there wasn't enough time to complete the action on relaxing the rules before the Bush administration ended.John Walke, a former EPA attorney who's now with the Natural Resources Defense Council and who'd argued that the two rules would have been unlawful and destructive, said in a statement that he was glad they were dropped."We can look forward as a civilized society to tackling the critical problems of global warming, smog and soot pollution that continues to damage our health, and toxic mercury that contaminates our waters," Walke said.The rule that the EPA announced that it would finalize was "nasty," but not as destructive as the other two, Walke said. It was designed so that what the EPA calls "fugitive emissions" - those that don't flow through smokestacks - could be excluded from consideration in decisions about whether a facility is big enough to be regulated under the Clean Air Act, he said. "It's designed to exempt mines and factory farms, by and large, from Clean Air permitting programs."It was the two rules, however, that were dropped that were among some of the most significant changes the administration had been seeking of environmental regulations. Some EPA officials had argued privately within the agency against them. Environmental, public health and state and local air quality officials had sent comments to the EPA urging it to drop them. Even so, lawmakers and nonprofit groups who opposed them didn't expect they'd be suddenly abandoned.Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, welcomed the decision. "Our children and families can breathe easier now that the EPA has abandoned two controversial plans to undermine clean air protections through midnight regulations," she said in a statement.One of the abandoned rules would have changed the way pollution is measured from annually to hourly. The Clean Air Act requires older plants that have their lives extended with new equipment to install pollution-control technology if their emissions increase.Environmentalists said the rule change would have allowed plants to run for more hours without triggering the requirement for additional pollution controls.Jeffrey Holmstead, who headed the EPA's air program from 2001 to 2005, said it wasn't true that overall pollution would have increased if the rules had gone into effect because an existing regulation sets a declining cap."I think it's disappointing that they didn't go forward with these rules, and unfortunately it really means that there is going to be continued uncertainty. What it really means as a practical matter is that power plants, rather than just having engineers who are trying to figure out how to make them as efficient as possible, they're going to continue to have teams of lawyers look at every project to make sure they don't run afoul of the EPA's regulations," he said.The power industry would shut down some smaller plants because they're not used enough to justify an investment in new equipment, Holmstead said.Frank O'Donnell, head of the watchdog group Clean Air Watch, which opposed the rule changes the administration and utilities were seeking, said the news was mixed."The Bush administration saw the handwriting on the wall - realizing the Obama administration would throw those two high-profile rules into the regulatory trash can. But they still put out a rule that will mean more dirty air."Mark Wenzler of the National Parks Conservation Association said citizens, members of Congress, the National Park Service and EPA scientists all were "expressing outrage" about the rule change that would have eased the way for power plants near national parks and wilderness areas. Wenzler's group had fought the rule for two years.A bipartisan group of senators planned to introduce a resolution of disapproval on Thursday, he said. "We believe this was the last straw that caused (the White House's Office of Management and Budget) to pull the rule just days before it was to be finalized." EPA won't loosen air-pollution standards for coal plants...RENEE SCHOOFhttp://www.sacbee.com/702/story/1464395.htmlWASHINGTON -- The Bush administration Wednesday abandoned two rule changes that would have weakened controls on pollution from coal-fired power plants and industry, but it finalized a third to allow for more polluted dust from mines, animal farms and other sources.Environmental and health groups and state and local air-quality officials opposed the two rules that the administration dropped. One of them would have permitted coal-fired power plants and industries to increase their emissions without adding pollution controls. The other would have made it easier to build power plants and factories near national parks and other pristine protected areas.Utilities had argued for the changes for years, saying that they needed to be able to increase their efficiency at the lowest possible cost. EPA officials said they opted not to loosen the regulations because they didn't have sufficient time to complete the action before the Bush administration ended.John Walke, a former EPA attorney who's now with the Natural Resources Defense Council and who'd argued that the two rules would have been unlawful and destructive, said he was encouraged that the administration wasn't going to push them through at the end of President George W. Bush's term."With the barbarians at the gate having pulled up their tents and headed for the hills, we can look forward as a civilized society to tackling the critical problems of global warming, smog and soot pollution that continues to damage our health, and toxic mercury that contaminates our waters," Walke said in a statement.The rule the EPA announced that it would finalize was "nasty" but not as destructive as the other two, Walke said. It was designed so that what the EPA calls "fugitive emissions" - those that don't flow through smokestacks - could be excluded from consideration in decisions about whether a facility is big enough to be regulated under the Clean Air Act, he said. "It's designed to exempt mines and factory farms, by and large, from Clean Air permitting programs." Lodi gives Wal-Mart Supercenter the go-ahead...Loretta Kalb http://www.sacbee.com/latest/story/1465974.htmlThe Lodi City Council gave a green light early this morning to a proposal for a Wal-Mart Supercenter, voting to approve a revised environmental impact report on the project after a nearly seven-hour hearing.The council voted 3-2 in support of the project, a move that overturned the Planning Commission's rejection of it in October."Tonight is not the finish line," Mayor Larry Hansen said shortly before voting to support the measure. He repeated his previous warnings that the matter likely would be challenged again, as it was in 2005, and end up in court. "If I were Wal-Mart," Hansen said, "I'd say what does it take to get our project dealt with the same way Lowe's and Target and other projects are handled?"The Planning Commission still must act on two related issues, including a use permit for the 216,710-square-foot Supercenter and the proposed 36-acre Lodi Shopping Center that would house it.The vote followed nearly three hours of testimony from members of the public who were divided on the issue and nearly four hours of council discussion and presentations by leading opponents and advocates.A Wal-Mart supercenter would benefit a population of poor and sick people who can't easily lobby for the retail store proposed in west Lodi, a resident told the City Council on Wednesday night.Jack Gorton, describing himself as "sick" and "poor," was the first member of the public to speak on the proposed supercenter after the mayor said he had received nearly 300 e-mails and voicemails all evenly divided on the issue."You certainly didn't get very many e-mails from people who are poor, people who can't afford a computer," Gorton told Hansen.Opponents of the project, council members Susan Hitchcock and JoAnne Mounce, lamented the loss of Lodi's unique character with the opening of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.Resident Rick Cropper told the council the proposed supercenter was a bad idea."You are putting a huge warehouse on the newest, cleanest side of town," Cropper said. "Why in the world do you want to … ? It doesn't make sense."Darryl Browman of Browman Development Co. in Oakland, who has appealed the planning commission decision, told the council it was time to move forward. The project has been studied to death, Browman said."There has been a lot of speculation and fear and all kinds of crazy comments," Browman said.The City Council previously approved the environmental impact report in February 2005. Later that year, a San Joaquin Superior Court judge rejected the document as deficient because it failed to adequately address the question of whether urban decay would result and the effects of the project's energy use.Brett Jolley, who represented project opponents Lodi First, urged the council to deny the appeal, saying that the environmental document still falls short.Last week, the retailer issued a study showing that 21 supercenters in California resulted in more sales tax revenue and an overall increase in business permits. Stockton RecordLodi Supercenter inches closer after marathon meeting (6:39 a.m.)...Daniel Thigpenhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081211/A_NEWS/81211003/-1/A_NEWSLODI – Wal-Mart inched closer to the finish line early today in its marathon effort to build a Supercenter in west Lodi, but it still must wait to do any victory laps.After a nearly seven-hour long public hearing that more than 200 people attended, a divided City Council overruled its appointed Planning Commission and certified a revised environmental analysis of the Supercenter proposal.The 3-2 vote was key to keeping the project moving through Lodi’s bureaucratic gauntlet, but it was not the final say. The project now heads back to the Planning Commission, which will consider other approval elements to the Supercenter, such as its land-use permit.And some suspect the six-year-ordeal will land in court again through lawsuits.“I believe no matter what way we decide, this could end up in court,” Lodi Mayor Larry Hansen said just before 1 a.m., after dozens of people spoke in support or opposition to the retailer’s project.The project calls for a 216,710-square-foot retail and grocery store at the southwest corner of the intersection of Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane. The Supercenter would anchor a 40- acre shopping center.The Supercenter proposal was last approved three years ago, but shot down in court after opponents sued and a judge said portions of the original environmental report were inadequate.A revised environmental impact report for the project, released last year, provided a mixed assessment. It concluded a Supercenter might stunt the growth and rehabilitation of business downtown and that other local retailers could lose sales or close. But the study also concluded that closures were unlikely and, even if stores shuttered, their vacancies would not cause urban decay.Planning commissioners denied the report with a 5-1 vote in October, saying it did not go far enough. Wal-Mart and developer Darryl Browman appealed the decision to the council.Councilwomen JoAnne Mounce and Susan Hitchock opposed certifying the environmental report, saying they believed its assessments on urban decay were wrong. Flood map update 'early Christmas' for many...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081211/A_NEWS/812110337/-1/A_NEWSSTOCKTON - Yet another update of draft federal flood maps is good news indeed for 6,000-plus central Stockton homeowners who would no longer be required to buy insurance starting in October.Maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have changed dramatically since they were first released nearly one year ago. At that point, more than 18,000 parcels were mapped into high-risk zones requiring insurance. After two revisions, the number of parcels requiring insurance has dropped to 4,000, said Steve Winkler, deputy director of the San Joaquin County Department of Public Works."It was an early Christmas gift," Winkler said Wednesday.In the beginning, homes as far east as the Stockton Diverting Canal were in the flood zone; today the proposed zone extends no farther east than Pershing Avenue.Also, most neighborhoods south of Smith Canal have been removed, as has the Twin Creeks neighborhood in far northwest Stockton, south of Bear Creek and west of Interstate 5.The maps changed because FEMA decided to give the county more time to prove that levees guarding the Calaveras River and Bear Creek are adequate. This means more time to deal with encroachments such as neighbors' boat docks, fences and patios, some of which put those levees at risk of decertification.The major remaining hurdle is Smith Canal. And it's the biggest.On Wednesday, the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency delayed approving further studies on a $25 million to $30 million gate at the head of Smith Canal. The gate might make the canal's levees acceptable in the eyes of the federal government and remove the remaining homes from the flood zone.FEMA has agreed to at least consider the gate concept. But SJAFCA and one of two reclamation districts that will help fund the new studies disagree on how much each should pay.SJAFCA directors, including members of the City Council and county Board of Supervisors, agreed to allow one more month for negotiation but said they want to move forward quickly on the gate study.Even if the studies show that a gate will be acceptable to FEMA, it would take several years to permit, fund and construct. That means that unless FEMA alters the maps yet again, residents who still are in the flood zone will be required to purchase flood insurance at least until the gate is built.Insurance could range from $1,200 to $2,000 per year. It will be more expensive if residents wait until the maps are final to purchase insurance.Engineers and residents have said they believe Smith Canal's levees are perfectly sound. But in some places, houses have been built virtually on top of levees, and it's impossible to prove the levees' strength.While many homes have been taken out of the preliminary flood zone, it's too soon to declare victory, officials said.The county still must demonstrate to FEMA sooner or later that the Calaveras and Bear Creek levees, as well as others, are strong.Otherwise, the maps could be changed once again.The county is waiting for the results of drilling tests by the state on a number of levees, Winkler said."If that finds stuff we can't see, all bets are off," he said.To check out the latest version of the FEMA flood maps, visit www.sjgov.org/pubworks and click on Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps.Foreclosures take a breather...Staff and wire reportshttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081211/A_BIZ/812110320The number of American homeowners dragged into the housing crisis fell last month to the lowest level since June as new state laws lengthened the foreclosure process, RealtyTrac is reporting today."We're going to have a pretty significant spike in January," said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's vice president for marketing. Plus, as job losses mount, "increases in foreclosure activity follow that pretty directly," he added.Nationwide, more than 259,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice in November, down 7 percent from October but 28 percent higher than a year ago, RealtyTrac said.Nevada, Florida and Arizona had the nation's top foreclosure rates. In Nevada, one in every 76 homes received a foreclosure filing last month. Florida saw one in every 173 properties receive a foreclosure filing, and in Arizona, it was one in every 198 homes. Rounding out the top 10 were California, Michigan, Georgia, Ohio, Colorado, Utah and Idaho.Among metro areas, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area in Florida was first, with one in every 59 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing. It was followed by Las Vegas, and the cities of Merced, Modesto and Stockton.In sheer numbers of houses repossessed by banks and mortgage companies, the Stockton metro area has seen the pace quicken from the first half of the year, according to RealtyTrac data.In the first six months of this year, a total of 5,643 houses were repossessed in San Joaquin County, RealtyTrac said, compared with 10,478 from January through October. That means the monthly average of repossessed homes is up from about 940 per month in the first six months of the year to more than 1,200 per month so far in the second half of the year - a nearly 28 percent jump.The report comes as Democrats, including President-elect Barack Obama, insist that the government use some of the bailout funds to halt rising foreclosures.Last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that a record one in 10 American homeowners with a mortgage was either at least one month behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of September.RealtyTrac monitors default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. More than 78,000 properties were repossessed by lenders last month, the Irvine-based company said.The worst recession in decades, falling home values and stricter lending standards have ensnared millions of U.S. households. The Federal Reserve predicts that new foreclosures this year will reach about 2.25 million, more than double pre-crisis levels.New unemployment claims surge unexpectedly (8:12 a.m.)http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081211/A_NEWS/81211006WASHINGTON (AP) — New claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected last week, exceeding even gloomy expectations for an economy stuck in a recession that seems to be deepening. The Labor Department reported today that initial applications for jobless benefits in the week ending Dec. 6 rose to a seasonally adjusted 573,000 from an upwardly revised figure of 515,000 in the previous week. That was far more than the 525,000 claims Wall Street economists expected. Elsewhere, the U.S. trade deficit rose unexpectedly in October as a spreading global recession dampened the once-strong sales of American exports and the volume of oil imports surged by a record amount, the Commerce Department said. More layoffs were announced today. New Britain, Conn.-based tool maker Stanley Works said it plans to cut 2,000 jobs and close three manufacturing facilities, while Sara Lee Corp., known for food brands such as Jimmy Dean and Hillshire Farm, said it will cut 700 jobs as the Downers Grove, Ill.-based company outsources parts of its business. New jobless claims last week reached their highest level since November 1982, though the labor force has grown by about half since then. The trade deficit rose to $57.2 billion in October, from an imbalance of $56.6 billion in September. Analysts had been looking for the deficit to decline to $53.5 billion on lower oil prices. Oil prices did drop by a record amount, but that was offset by a record surge in the volume of oil imports. The reports, along with investor concerns that an auto bailout bill may not pass the Senate, sent stock markets slightly lower. The Dow Jones industrial average fell about 15 points in morning trading. The jump in initial jobless claims is partly due to a rebound in claims from the previous week, which included the Thanksgiving holiday, a Labor Department analyst said. Government offices were open for fewer days that week. Still, the four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations, was a seasonally-adjusted 540,500, the highest since December 1982, when the economy was emerging from a steep recession. “Stepping back from the short-term noise ... it is very clear that the underlying trend in claims is still rocketing, as companies throw in the towel and prepare for a long, deep recession,” Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, wrote in a note to clients. The number of people continuing to claim jobless benefits also jumped much more than expected, increasing by 338,000 to 4.4 million, the Labor Department said. Economists expected a small increase to 4.1 million. The figure for continuing claims lags initial claims by one week. As a proportion of the work force, the number of people continuing to receive benefits is the highest since August 1992, when the U.S. was recovering from a relatively mild recession. The increase in continuing claims was the largest jump since November 1974, the department said. Economists consider jobless claims a timely, if volatile, indicator of the health of the labor markets and broader economy. Last year, initial claims were 337,000. The figures come a day after the Treasury Department reported a record budget deficit for November, driven by lower tax revenues and higher spending on programs such as unemployment insurance and food stamps.In just the first two months of the budget year that started Oct. 1, the budget deficit totaled $401.6 billion, nearly matching the record gap of $455 billion posted for all of last year, the department said Wednesday. Economists expect the deficit will top $1 trillion in the current budget year, which would be a post-World War II high when measured as a percentage of the economy. The economy has been hit hard by the ongoing housing slump and financial crisis, which have sharply reduced household wealth as stock prices and home values have declined. Consumers and businesses have dramatically cut back their spending. The National Bureau of Economic Research said this month that the economy fell into a recession in December 2007. The Labor Department said last week that employers cut a net total of 533,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate reached 6.7 percent, a 15-year high. The rate would have been higher, except that more than 400,000 Americans gave up looking for a new job and weren’t counted in the labor force. The latest jobless claims figures indicate that the December unemployment report could be at least as bad as November’s, Abiel Reinhart, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase Bank, wrote in a client note. Companies have eliminated a net total of 1.9 million jobs this year, and some economists project the total cuts could reach 3 million by the spring of 2010. A number of large U.S. employers announced layoffs this week, including Dow Chemical Co., 3M Co., Anheuser-Busch InBev, National Public Radio and the National Football League.Central Valley Business TimesSmelt are center of second suitLOS ANGELES...12-9-08http://www.centralvalleybusinesstimes.com/stories/001/?ID=10572•  State water contractors challenge decision on longfin smelt •  Claims state commission violates state law The humble delta smelt, a minnow-like fish that has quietly enjoyed the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta’s waters for eons, is now the center of yet another lawsuit. Today’s legal action is by the State Water Contractors, a statewide organization of 27 public water agencies. It’s suing the California Fish and Game Commission and the California Department of Fish and Game, challenging the commission's recent decision to potentially impose substantial cuts in State Water Project water deliveries to much of the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California in an effort to protect the longfin smelt. The lawsuit asserts that the commission's Nov. 14 decision opens the door for dramatic new restrictions on SWP and Central Valley Project water pumping operations out of the delta without any significant corresponding benefit to the fish and, in so doing, violates key elements of the California Endangered Species Act. Last month, the Commission approved the regulations as a precautionary measure in its desire to protect the longfin smelt, a fish species found in estuaries from Monterey Bay to Alaska. The latest lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday, contends that: • Project operations do not have a significant impact on the longfin smelt; • The water supply impact of the regulation is grossly disproportional to any potential benefit the regulation will provide to the longfin smelt; • That it fails to maintain the purpose of the SWP to the maximum extent possible as required by the terms of the California Endangered Species Act; • That the regulations are not supported by credible, scientific information demonstrating that project operations are having a significant impact on the longfin smelt. The regulation could reduce water deliveries by the SWP and federal CVP by more than a million acre feet in the face of the ongoing drought currently impacting California, the water contractors claim. The SWP and CVP supply the fresh water used by 25 million residents and millions of acres of farmland. Less than two weeks ago, the smelt was the center of another lawsuit. Fled in Sacramento County Superior Court, it would not merely restrict pumping but actually shut down the massive pumps that send water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta to the Central Valley and Southern California. “California has regulated its waters like the feds have regulated Wall Street and the result has been a collapse of fisheries and aquatic ecosystems,” says Bill Jennings of Stockton, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, which, along with the California Water Impact Network, filed the lawsuit. “Given bureaucratic paralysis, we have little alternative but to turn to the courts to prevent the extinction of our historic fisheries,” says Mr. Jennings. The suit names as defendants the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). Specifically, the seven-count lawsuit charges that the huge export pumps near Tracy in the south Delta kill thousands of smelt and small salmon fry every year, at different times of year, and are the main threats to public trust resources in the Delta. San Francisco ChronicleBush relaxes protections for endangered species...DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/12/11/national/w120512S24.DTL&type=printableThe Bush administration is reducing protections for endangered animals and plants.Just six weeks before Democratic President-elect Barack Obama takes office, the current Republican administration is changing endangered species regulations.Some mandatory, independent reviews that government scientists have performed for 35 years are being eliminated. The scientists' advice from such reviews can delay or block dams, highways and other projects.The new rules will take effect in about 30 days. The rules also prohibit federal agencies from evaluating the effect on endangered species and the places they live from a project's contribution to increased global warming.Obama has promised to reverse the new rules. Congress also could overturn them.Officials: Obama chooses Chu for energy secretary...LIZ SIDOTI and DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/12/10/national/w064012S41.DTL&type=printablePresident-elect Barack Obama intends to round out his environmental and natural resources team with a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and three former Environmental Protection Agency officials from the Clinton administration.The president-elect has selected Steven Chu for energy secretary, Lisa Jackson for EPA administrator, Carol Browner as his energy "czar," and Nancy Sutley to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Democratic officials with knowledge of the decisions said Wednesday.Obama plans to name the four to the posts in the coming weeks, barring unforeseen developments.Still unclear is whom Obama will tap for interior secretary.Officials close to the transition said support for John Berry, the director of the National Zoo and a former assistant secretary at the Interior Department, was growing. But these officials also said Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and California Rep. Mike Thompson were still in the running.The Democratic officials who disclosed the selections spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal names that have not been made public.Among these posts, Browner's stands out because it's a new White House position.She is expected to coordinate the various agencies that play a role in energy and environmental policy, especially on issues such as climate change that don't fit nicely in the silos of the federal government. Those agencies could include the EPA and the Transportation, Energy and Interior departments.Six weeks before his Jan. 20 inauguration and little more than a month since his election, Obama has chosen much of his Cabinet and top White House staff. He has only a few key posts left to fill: national intelligence director, the secretaries of housing, labor, education, transportation and agriculture and the U.S. trade representative.Obama scheduled a news conference on Thursday in Chicago to name former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle as his secretary of health and human services. That choice has been known for some time.On Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has been mentioned as a possible labor secretary, was in Washington meeting with Obama's transition team. Her spokeswoman, Liz Boyd, would say only that the governor discussed the president-elect's economic stimulus plan.As for his environment and natural resources team:_ Chu was one of three scientists who shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1997 for work in cooling and trapping atoms with laser light. He's a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and has been the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004, where he has pushed for research into alternative energy as a way to combat global warming. It is the oldest of the Energy Department's national laboratories, doing only unclassified work, and in recent years under Chu has been at the center of research into biofuels and solar technologies._ Jackson, who would be the first black person to lead the EPA, is a former New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection commissioner who worked at the federal agency for 16 years, including under Browner when she was Bill Clinton's EPA chief. Jackson is a co-chairman of Obama's EPA transition team, and currently serves as chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine. A New Orleans native, she grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward, the area stricken by Hurricane Katrina. She holds chemical engineering degrees from Tulane University and Princeton University._ Browner, who served as EPA chief for eight years under Clinton, will become Obama's go-to person in the White House overseeing energy issues, an area expected to include the environment and climate matters. Now chair of the National Audubon Society and on the boards of several other environmental groups, Browner has been leading the Obama transition's working group on energy and environment._ Sutley, the deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles and the mayor's representative on the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is the first prominent gay to earn a senior role in Obama's new administration. She was an EPA official during the Clinton administration, including being a special assistant to the EPA administrator in Washington. She also previously served on the California State Water Resources Control Board and was an energy adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis.Browner: strong environmental resume...H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/12/11/national/w010731S93.DTL&type=printableIt hit Carol Browner in the final weeks of the Clinton administration: She had been head of the Environmental Protection Agency for eight years, nearly a quarter of the agency's existence, far longer than any other administrator.And they had been tumultuous years. Conservative Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America, were pushing to reduce government regulations and — as Browner said at the time — had her agency "front and center in its cross hairs."Now, nearly eight years later, Browner will soon return to the center of the political battles over environment and energy — this time as a powerful voice within the White House of President-elect Barack Obama.Browner brings a strong environmental resume to the White House, having worked as an attorney and management consultant on a wide range of environmental issues, from clean air regulations to climate change.She has made her views clear, calling for a shift in the nation's environmental agenda away from that of President George W. Bush, whose tenure she has described as "the worst environmental administration ever." She has blamed the Bush White House with undermining scientists, stalling and in some cases reversing clean air improvements, and refusing to address climate change.While it's unclear what role Browner will play as head of Obama's White House energy and environment council, she is certain to have the ear of the new president, who has promised to make energy — including a push toward more renewable sources — and tackling climate change priorities.During her days at EPA, Browner argued repeatedly that environmental protection and economic development can coexist. She sought to bring in business interests to reach compromises on environmental regulations. When defending tough new regulations, she frequently has argued that businesses can find ways to meet tougher standards without undue costs."Time and time again ... naysayers have warned that it will cost too much, that it will impose an enormous economic burden," Browner told a congressional hearing last September. "But once we have set those standards, American ingenuity and innovation have found a solution at a far lower costs than predicted."Before her stint at the EPA, Browner headed Florida's department of environmental regulation from 1991 to 1993. Earlier she worked for then-Sen. Lawton Chiles of Florida and later as legislative director for then-Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee. Over the years she has kept close ties with Gore, and her appointment was almost certainly a topic of discussions when Gore met with Obama on Tuesday.Since leaving the EPA in 2000, Browner has been a principal of the Albright Group, a consulting firm, and Albright Capital Management, an investment adviser, where she specialized in areas of environmental protection, energy conservation and climate change. She is a senior adviser on the Obama transition team.Browner has both her supporters and her detractors.Within hours of word of her new role in the Obama administration, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a longtime antagonist, called her "a proud liberal who has long advocated an environmental agenda that would drive up energy costs on families and put thousands of Americans out of jobs."In 1997, while she headed the EPA, Browner was named "mother of the year" by the National Mothers Day Committee and in 1998 "Woman of the Year" by Glamour Magazine. She is married to Thomas Downey, a former New York Democratic congressman, and has a son from a previous marriage.Energy secretary pick argues for new fuel sources...H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/12/10/national/w160247S90.DTL&type=printableSteven Chu, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who is President-elect Barack Obama's choice for energy secretary, has been a vocal advocate for more research into alternative energy, arguing that a shift away from fossil fuels is essential to combat global warming.Chu, a Chinese-American who currently is director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, has in recent years campaigned to bring together a cross-section of scientific disciplines to find ways to counter climate change.If action is not taken now to stop global warming, it may be too late, he argues.Since 2004, Chu has been director of the Berkeley lab, the oldest of the Energy Department's national laboratories, with its 4,000 employees and a budget of $650 million. The laboratory does only unclassified work and under Chu has been a center of research into biofuels and solar energy technologies. He is a former head of the physics department at Stanford University.Chu, 60, brings additional diversity to the Obama cabinet.Born to Chinese parents in St. Louis, he grew up in the Queens borough of New York City. His father, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and professor of chemical engineering, and mother came to the United States in 1943 and two years later decided to stay because of the political turmoil in China.One of the country's most renowned scientists, Chu in 1997 shared the Nobel Prize in physics with two other scientists for his research into ways to cool and trap atoms using laser light. By cooling atoms to minus-273 degrees Celsius, they found the movement of atoms can be slowed to a point where they could be trapped and manipulated.More recently, Chu's scientific interests have centered on energy and finding ways to replace fossil fuels with other energy sources such as biofuels from plants and converting energy from the sun into a fuel. He has spoken frequently about the need to link the physical and biological sciences with engineering to rally independent-thinking scientists in the fight against climate change."Steve Chu is a world-class intellectual," said Stanford University environmental scientist Steve Schneider, who knows Chu. "When I heard that name (for energy secretary), I smiled." Schneider said Chu will push hard within the Obama administration for reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.Obama has promised to move quickly on energy issues, including a push for more alternative fuels and to get Congress to address climate change.Chu frequently has used the bully pulpit in a campaign against global warming and the need for alternative energy and greater energy efficiency. During a lecture last summer in Washington he bemoaned the fact that people too often prefer to spend $1,000 on a granite kitchen counter top instead of improving their home's energy efficiency.A few years ago he was one of six Nobel Prize-winning scientists who expressed their concern about global warming by sitting against and climbing into a massive tree on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley for a photograph that appeared in a special environmental issue of Vanity Fair magazine.Despite his broad scientific credentials, Chu has little experience inside Washington or in what occupies much of the Energy Department's business — maintaining the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons and weapons research. Nor has he had much involvement in nuclear energy. He has shown little support for building a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, one of the major issues facing the department. Obama also has expressed dislike for the Yucca project.Chu as energy secretary would head a department with a $25 billion budget and 14,000 employees and more than 193,000 contract workers. Two-thirds of its budget involves activities related to nuclear weapons research and maintenance.Ironically, the department Chu would lead also has been a target of Chinese-American activists who in the late 1990s became incensed over its pursuit of Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese-American computer engineer, over allegations of spying at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.Lee was fired and prosecuted for security violations, but has never been charged or linked to spying activities. Eventually a federal judge apologized for the way Lee was treated.EPA scraps effort to ease pollution rules...Dina Cappiello, Associated Presshttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/11/MNDO14LL5K.DTL&type=printableSix weeks before leaving office, the Bush administration is giving up on an eight-year effort to ease restrictions on pollution from coal-burning power plants, a key plank of its original energy agenda and one that put the president at odds with environmentalists his entire tenure in the White House.President Bush had hoped to make two changes to air pollution regulations final before leaving office on Jan. 20. In the midst of a coal-fired power plant construction boom, the rules would have made it easier for energy companies to expand existing facilities and to erect new power plants in areas of the country that meet air quality standards.But the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday conceded that it doesn't have enough time to complete the rules changes, which were undermined by a federal court decision earlier this year that scrapped a signature component of Bush's clean air policies.The EPA, in a statement, said it "will continue to advocate for the important health benefits" the initiatives would have achieved.Environmentalists, however, said the decision will leave intact for the incoming Obama administration the strongest tools under the law for dealing with power plant pollution."It's stunning. This is the most high-profile prize sought by the utility industry," said John Walke, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It would have entangled the incoming administration up in a new rule-making process while causing harm in many parts of the country."The proposal would have changed how existing coal-fired power plants calculate emissions increases to determine whether they need to install pollution control equipment. The Bush administration wanted to base the calculation on an hourly rate, rather than an annual average. Environmentalists and governors of Northeastern states said such a change would have resulted in more of the pollution that causes acid rain and smog problems in the region.The second rule would have made it easier for power plants to be built in areas with some of the cleanest air in the country by changing how states, the EPA and others assess how the new source would affect air quality. That proposal was opposed by the National Park Service and some the agency's own regional air quality experts.EPA reveals its own 'most-wanted' list...Dina Cappiello, Associated Presshttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/11/MNRV14LIBJ.DTL&type=printableThe government is starting a different kind of most-wanted list - for environmental fugitives accused of assaulting nature.These fugitives allegedly smuggled chemicals that eat away the Earth's protective ozone layer, dumped hazardous waste into oceans and rivers and trafficked in polluting cars.And now the government wants help in tracking them down.In its own version of the FBI most-wanted list, and the first to focus on environmental crimes, the Environmental Protection Agency is unveiling a roster of 23 fugitives, complete with mug shots and descriptions of the charges on its Web site at www.epa.gov/fugitives.A top EPA enforcement official said the people on the list represent the "brazen universe of people that are evading the law." Many face years in prison and some charges could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines."They are charged with environmental crimes, and they should be brought before the criminal justice system and have their day in court," said Pete Rosenberg, a director in the agency's criminal enforcement division.On display will be John Karayannides, who allegedly helped orchestrate the dumping of 487 tons of wheat tainted with diesel fuel into the South China Sea in 1998. Karayannides is believed to have fled to Athens.Also at large are the father and son team of Carlos and Allesandro Giordano, who were arrested in 2003 as the owners of Autodelta USA, a company that was illegally importing and selling Alfa Romeos that did not meet U.S. emission or safety standards. The two men are believed to be hiding out in Italy.Raul Chavez-Beltran, another fugitive on the list, ran an environmental cleanup company in El Paso, Texas, that is accused of transporting hazardous waste from factories along the Mexican border and improperly disposing and storing it in the United States. In one case, he allegedly stockpiled mercury-laced soil from an environmental spill in a warehouse.The launch of the most-wanted list comes as EPA's criminal enforcement has ebbed. In fiscal 2008, the EPA opened 319 criminal enforcement cases, down from 425 in fiscal 2004. And criminal prosecutors charged only 176 defendants with environmental crimes, the fewest in five years.EPA officials defend the agency's record, saying the agency has focused on bigger cases with larger environmental benefits.But Walter James III, an environmental attorney in Grapevine, Texas, says the EPA is critically understaffed to investigate environmental crimes. While the budget for the division has increased by $11 million since 2000, there are still only 185 criminal investigators. Congress authorized the EPA to hire 200 investigators in 1990.James said that while the list could prompt the public to turn people in, he questioned whether it would deter others from committing environmental crimes."It's like telling John Gotti he is a bad man," James said. "Is that going to matter to John Gotti?"EPA Fugitives...San Francisco Chronicle...Criminal Enforcement...U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyhttp://www.epa.gov/fugitives/Defendants charged with environmental crimes or violations of the U.S. Federal Criminal Code sometimes flee the court’s jurisdiction and/or the USA rather than face prosecution or to serve a sentence. When these circumstances occur, the defendants become fugitives from justice. The following wanted posters identify fugitives sought by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division. Each one provides a brief case summary and instructions on how to report information related to their identity and/or current location. You may also report the information to your local police or if you are outside the United States, to the nearest U.S. Embassy. Current FugitivesTo read each fugitive profile, click the image or scroll down the page...                                           California air board must crack down on diesel pollution...Editorialhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/11/ED8D14LJ0M.DTL&type=printableRumbling down California roads is a workhorse fleet of a million diesel trucks and buses. It's a mainstay industry that hauls produce from Central Valley farms, machinery to coastal ports and commuters to work. But these vehicles are also the largest unchecked source of lung-damaging soot and a key chemical that forms smog. The state clean-air board is duty-bound to enact rules to minimize the harm to the public's health and California's skies. It won't be pain free or simple when the board votes on Friday. The cost of the control equipment is estimated at $5.5 billion. But consider the do-nothing option: 9,400 deaths from soot and smog over the next decade and health care costs estimated at $48 billion. Also, the state stands to lose billions more in federal highway money if its notoriously dirty air in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley isn't cleaned up. The trucking industry doesn't quarrel with the health impacts. It contends the extra pollution controls (up to $12,000 per truck) impose an unfair burden in a weak economy.The air board's answer is reasonable and straightforward. After working out tailpipe controls on cars, construction equipment and port trucks, it's time for heavy-duty highway diesels to do their part. The rules will be phased in beginning in 2010 and $1 billion in subsidies will be available.The diesel decision should also send a powerful - and reassuring - message that California isn't backing off its pledge to clean its air. "It's a test of our commitment," air board director Mary Nichols said in a meeting with The Chronicle editorial board.The state's long fight to reduce pollution has taken on an added dimension that the air board will also address this week: the continuing efforts to carry out a landmark global warming law that requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a drop of 30 percent. The blueprint maps out the general strategies in a huge state with a broad economy. Power plant controls, solar panels, new green-tech savings, lower car and truck emissions, and future changes in building designs and household appliances - all these will be part of reaching the greenhouse gas reductions in 12 years. Added to this list is a new ingredient that is drawing fire from developers and local government: the notion of limiting sprawl and the extra driving it requires. By insisting on emission reductions from land use policies, the air board can play an important role in guiding growth and limiting the major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, that comes from car trips in spread-out subdivisions. The global warming package features another debate. What will the future bill be? A staff-commissioned study suggests overall job growth and a savings of $400 per household per year by 2020. But a second report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said these rosy projections aren't supportable. The dueling studies are a warning sign that stopping global warming will be controversial. But California is right to take on the challenge and begin the hard work. "Trout War" continues over fish planting...Tom Stienstrahttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/11/SPUJ14K8B0.DTL&type=printableLake managers fired a blast of their own this week in California's "Trout War," the fight over planting rainbow trout in lakes and streams to provide fishing - and whether or not those plants harm anything.Four lake managers said they will defy the threat of a lawsuit from an environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, and announced they will keep planting trout at their respective lakes.The four are the concessionaires at San Pablo and Lafayette reservoirs in the East Bay hills, and at Lake Amador and Collins Lake in the foothills east of the Sacramento Valley. The Department of Fish and Game was forced to halt trout stocks abruptly two weeks ago at all four of these lakes as part of a legal settlement to stop plants at 175 lakes and streams, mostly in Northern California."What a bunch of bull," said Bruce Lockhart, the manager of Lake Amador, the No. 1 trout lake in the Sacramento Valley foothills. "I don't see how planting trout hurts anything."Planting trout at lakes could put the lake managers at risk of lawsuit, just as Fish and Game found itself.The Center for Biological Diversity forced Fish and Game to stop trout plants at 175 locations until it completes a court-approved Environmental Impact Report on the effects of the plants. Using the California Environmental Quality Act as legal backing, the environmentalists argued that environmental papers must be filed before trout plants are allowed.Noah Greenwald, who spearheaded the lawsuit for the center did not return multiple phone calls to the organization's San Francisco district office or to his number in Portland, Ore. But I'd like to know if his organization paid for the lawsuit against Fish and Game, which was filed by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, and if Greenwald has actually been to any of the lakes where stocks will be stopped.Word from Greenwald has been limited to a statement he issued that read: "Interim measures limiting stocking are needed to help save California's native fish and frogs from extinction." In 2006, Greenwald was the key player in an attempt to get the California spotted owl listed as an endangered species, in an effort to ban or reduce logging in the Sierra Nevada. (The attempt was rejected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)Anglers believe that the lawsuit has little to do with saving the frogs (which face a greater threat from fungus than fish, according to some scientists), but is part of a larger battle by environmentalists against any species that is not born in the wild or is non-native.Jordan Traverso, Fish and Game deputy director, said the agency hopes to complete an environmental document that satisfies court requirements within two years and then resume trout stocks. She said this is the hottest issue she's seen in her DFG career. "I've had more than 1,000 e-mails and phone calls in two weeks," she said, "and I'm just one person."In the Bay Area and Santa Cruz County, stocks were banned at 12 lakes in the settlement negotiated between Fish and Game and the Center for Biological Diversity. They are San Pablo and Lafayette in the East Bay hills; Lagunitas, Bon Tempe, Alpine, Solano and Hennessey in North Bay counties; and Cottonwood, Coyote, Lexington, Stevens Creek and Loch Lomond in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.San Pablo and Lafayette are among the best fishing lakes in the Bay Area, where lake managers add their own plants of larger fish and charge a daily trout fee."We can't operate without trout stocks," said Sean Senti of the California Parks Company, which runs concessions at San Pablo Reservoir. "We're going forward with our plants and will reopen for the season on Feb. 13. Most important to us is that there is still a place for anglers to come and fish."He doesn't believe that trout are causing frogs to go extinct. "In 14 years here, I've cleaned a lot of trout, and I've never seen one in a trout's stomach," Senti said.Neither has Lockhart in 36 years at Amador. "Trout are bug and minnow eaters," he said. "That's what we see." "What a waste," Lockhart said of the lawsuit. "What else are the people going to have to fish for? Bluegill? Maybe some bass? The lakes will die if we don't plant fish. Fishing is the No. 1 sport. People spend money on fishing. Without fishing, it is an amazing economic loss that we would see, to stores, boats, restaurants, gas station owners, all the tourist trade. It would just be staggering."Lockhart said he wasn't about to stop planting trout at Amador because of the risk of a lawsuit filed by environmentalists.At Collins Lake near Marysville, general manager Lincoln Young said he filed an appeal with Fish and Game and the Center for Biological Diversity for Collins to be taken off the no-plant list. "Our plan is to continue, like normal, for 2009," Young said. "We've been here 36 years, I don't think the trout stocking have affected the balance of nature at Collins Lake."Something's fishyThe Outdoors column on Nov. 30 about the ban on fish plants at 175 lakes and streams elicited a flood of e-mails. Here's a sampling:"When I bought my lifetime fishing license from DFG, they did not tell me they were going to run out of fish."- Kim K. Yamaguchi"This action is an outrage. The 'settlement' removes major nearby recreational opportunities (San Pablo and Lafayette Reservoirs, and Putah Creek) as well as many others throughout the state for all of us, but especially our young trout fishers. The ultimate aim of this crowd is to exclude from the outdoors everyone but the 'anointed few' who belong to their particular environmental religion. ... The politicians need to change CEQA and fix this travesty."- Joe Wagda"Places that depend on fishing, like Kernville, are going to die in the next year waiting for fishermen to return. This is ludicrous and needs to be addressed." - Vicci Snyder"Well, Plumas County really didn't need this. The Children's Trout Derby at Spanish Creek is shot. The fish stocked at Belden on the North Fork was a tourist draw and a fun place to stop for a few hours when passing through the canyon. The Middle Fork? ... The businesses have suffered enough."- Roy Carter-- For a list of waters stocked or not-stocked, go to dfg.ca.gov, then click on fish-stock link in far right column.Inside Bay AreaCal State East Bay continues to gather feedback for master plan...Kristofer Noceda, The Daily Reviewhttp://www.insidebayarea.com/dailyreview/localnews/ci_11192290HAYWARD — Traffic remained a major concern for residents during a forum held Tuesday evening to gather community feedback on Cal State East Bay's master plan.Neighbors are worried future growth on campus would translate into more congestion on narrow streets that surround the university."(The plan) is inadequate on transportation," said Sherman Lewis, president of the Hayward Area Planning Association. "The plan would require auto dependency. I believe that it would be more efficient and sustainable to provide more public transit access to campus."Linda Dalton, vice president of planning and enrollment development for the school, said the university is looking into such concerns and "will do everything we can to increase transit use."Expected growth in the coming years prompted the university to revise its master plan, which was last updated in 1963. A draft of the plan — which provides an outline for long-term planning on land use, student and employee housing, traffic, parking, student services and other future development — and its required environmental impact report was unveiled during Tuesday's forum."This is a major opportunity to look at our future," Dalton said during the forum. About 30 residents, faculty, staff and students attended the meeting.Much of the past two years has been spent on creating meetings. The plan was also formed with the help of the city of Hayward and other community and campus stakeholders, and would take about 20 years to complete.At that time, the university is expected to be a "vibrant university village" boasting 18,000 students and additional student-housing neighborhoods. Cal State East Bay currently enrolls more than 13,500 students.Cal State East Bay's Associated Students, Inc., supports the plan."The master plan is going in the right direction and foresees the right plan in terms of expansion and growth," said Udeepto Maheshwari, ASI president. "The general student body is very excited about the fact the university plans to put in more housing."In addition, officials are proposing to build another main entrance into campus.Carlos Bee Boulevard and Harder Road currently are the only two entry points that feed into the Hayward university, and the plan calls for a third and "more dramatic" entrance off Hayward Boulevard on the eastern edge of campus, with distinctive landscaping.Creating a more "memorable impression of the campus" is also a goal in the plan, which has identified sections of campus where "special identity" buildings could be constructed.The master plan is expected to go before the CSU board of trustees in early 2009.Cal State East Bay officials will continue to gather community feedback up to Dec. 24. For more information, visit www.aba.csueastbay.edu/FACPLAN/default.htm, or contact Jim Zavagno at 510-885-4149 or jim.zavagno@csueastbay.edu. Letters can be sent to Zavagno at California State University, East Bay, Facilities Planning & Operations, Room Number ST 170, 25800 Carlos Bee Blvd., Hayward, CA 94542.Contra Costa TimesFeinstein: Delay new water restrictions for fish...Mike Taugherhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/environment/ci_11192173?nclick_check=1Sen. Dianne Feinstein is seeking a delay in a long-anticipated permit, due Monday, that will dictate how much water is available to Californians and how part of the Delta environment will be protected.The request, sent in a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, comes as the specter of a potentially severe drought looms over a state that has weathered two dry years in a row and is facing dry conditions so far heading into 2009.A delay is needed to "minimize the potentially devastating economic impacts to my State from significant further cutbacks to our water supply," Feinstein wrote in the Dec. 5 letter.She warned of widespread water rationing, steep economic costs and job losses.At issue is a permit meant to protect a tiny fish, Delta smelt. U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger last year threw out the existing permit after concluding it was not strict enough to prevent the fish from going extinct.Wanger ordered a replacement permit by Dec. 15 and a near-final draft was delivered last month to state and federal water agencies.Feinstein asked Kempthorne to seek a delay from the court so it could be melded with another permit to protect salmon. Both are being rewritten because their conditions were ruled insufficient to prevent extinctions.Of particular concern is a requirement in the draft Delta smelt permit that more water be released from reservoirs in the fall to make the region less salty to maintain more habitat for the fish, said Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow. But that requirement could conflict with conditions in the upcoming salmon permit because a major consideration for salmon is that enough water be stored in the fall to ensure cold water can be released the following year.That kind of conflict can exact a heavy price on water availability."We just think there might be less conflict by trying to align those two (permits)," Snow said.It was unclear Wednesday whether Kempthorne would ask for the extension."We are working to meet the court's schedule," said Al Donner, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that is writing the permit.The collapse of the Delta's ecology is compounding the drought threat because the rapid decline of fish is being blamed in large part on the state's major water delivery systems and weak environmental protections.Courts have mandated stronger environmental protections, which further restrict the flow of water from the Delta to East Bay neighborhoods, San Joaquin Valley farms and Southern California. Two in three state residents get at least some water from massive Delta water projects.With time running out, Snow expressed some pessimism a delay would be requested and granted. "This should have been done some time ago," said Snow. "I don't know at this point if this is going to happen."One of the environmental groups that sued over the permits, meanwhile, is asking that it be issued on time.Barry Nelson, a water policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the two permits are already being coordinated between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service"The senator's request that these two (permits) be coordinated is completely reasonable, and that is what is happening now," Nelson said.A water industry official said it makes sense to deal with all fish species at once."We just have to get away from this species by species, death by a thousand lawsuits approach," said Laura King Moon, assistant general manager for State Water Contractors, an association of water agencies that depend on Delta water.Chico News and ReviewScientific research or dangerous plan?Distrust is rampant toward studies of Lower Tuscan Aquifer...Robert Speer http://www.newsreview.com/chico/Content?oid=886974Thad Bettner has a trust problem.Bettner is the general manager of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, and some people think the district has something up its sleeve. That distrust was evident Monday evening (Dec. 8), during a public meeting attended by about 200 people at the Durham Memorial Hall.It was the latest in a series of meetings the GCID has held regarding a two-year state- and federally funded program to study the Lower Tuscan Aquifer, the groundwater basin underlying much of the Sacramento Valley. The study is part of a larger effort to develop a plan for managing surface water in conjunction with groundwater so as to maximize the amount of available water.The GCID’s project includes drilling seven big wells to test what happens to nearby streams and the aquifer itself when large amounts of water are pumped out.Both farmers in the Durham area and environmentalists are distrustful of the program. The farmers vividly recall how their wells “sucked air” in 1994 when a local water district—not GCID—pumped huge amounts of groundwater to replace water it had sold south. And the environmentalists—led by the Butte Environmental Council—are convinced that GCID’s study, as well as one being done by Butte County, is part of a larger plan to transfer local water to points south.BEC has sued both GCID and Butte County to compel them to do full environmental reviews of their projects. On Aug. 13, a Glenn County Superior Court judge upheld GCID’s claim that its project was strictly for research and dismissed the case against the district; the Butte County suit, filed Oct. 27, has yet to be heard.In a phone interview Tuesday, Barbara Vlamis, BEC’s executive director, said a careful reading of the Sacramento Valley Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, which the county signed onto earlier this year, shows clearly “how Butte County is woven into the fabric of this plan. … Its major goal is to ship water out of here, and Butte County is integral to this.”BEC’s litigation, she said in a subsequent e-mail message, asserts the county “failed to disclose, as required by law, the entire scope of the project, all its dependent parts, as well as the cumulative impacts from this and the combined projects that are moving forward. Adequate analysis should not be feared, but endorsed by a government that seeks to protect its citizens.”The aquifer study, in other words, cannot be considered separate from the larger plan of which it is a part.Interviewed after the Durham meeting, Paul Gosselin, director of the county’s Water and Resource Conservation department, said adamantly that “the idea that the county wants to move water out of the area is ludicrous. … This county has made every effort to protect its water and to avoid a repeat of what happened in 1994.”He said he was “dumbfounded and dismayed” by BEC’s suit, adding that, instead of protecting the area’s water, it was putting it at risk. “People outside the region are pleased that we’re being stymied in our efforts” to study the aquifer, he said.Bettner, also interviewed separately, said GCID had absolutely no intention of profiting off the test wells. The goal is simply to understand the aquifer in order to manage the area’s water better—and protect it—in response to challenges.Those challenges are several. One is Delta Vision, the state’s new plan to protect the endangered Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It foresees needing more water for the Delta, and that water will come mainly from Northern California.Other challenges include urban growth, with its increased use of groundwater, and changes in farming practices. Grant Davis, an engineering consultant to the GCID, used PowerPoint charts to show how water demand was going up, the result of increasing irrigated acreage and a turn to more water-intensive (and permanent) orchard crops, most of which are served by groundwater.Without data about the aquifer, we can’t know what impact such changes will have, Davis said.The part of the presentation that generated the most concern, however, was the “Conjunctive Operations Strategy,” a model for increasing use of surface water to create a more reliable supply, relying on groundwater as “backup.”Currently, releases from Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville are limited in order to keep enough water in the reservoirs to offset a possible dry next year. But if groundwater could be used as backup during those occasional dry years, Davis said, more water could be released all the other years, providing a more reliable supply and, potentially, meeting Delta demands.The problem, as farmers in the audience quickly noted, is that as much as 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater could be needed to replace surface water during a single dry year. What will happen to their wells when so much water is sucked up elsewhere in the aquifer?Nobody really knows, Davis replied. That’s why they’re doing the study.Audience members, including Vlamis, suggested a better step would be to shut down the “toxic farming” in the massive Westlands Water District in the San Joaquin Valley that relies on Northern California water. Bettner didn’t disagree, but he replied that there was nothing the GCID—and by implication anyone else in Northern California—could do about that.One thing is for sure, Bettner said: The Delta needs more water. “If the Legislature comes and says, ‘We want your water,’ what are we going to do? Changes are coming, and we have to be proactive about it.”Los Angeles TimesState could get tough on dirty dieselsState's Air Resources Board will vote on costly measures to limit big-rig pollution…Margot Roosevelthttp://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-diesel11-2008dec11,0,4977409,print.storyTwo decades ago, Rosa Vielmas, young and hopeful, moved to Riverside County for cleaner air. Goodbye to smoggy East Los Angeles. Hello to Mira Loma, an unincorporated speck of a village, and a one-story stucco bungalow with a yard. "We could see the stars," she recalled.But that was before Mira Loma became one of Southern California's "diesel death zones," as activists call the truck-choked freeways and distribution hubs that fan out from the massive ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.Today, a blanket of smog and dust smothers Mira Loma's grimy subdivisions. "You think the warehouses will bring work and money," said Vielmas, 44, who became a community organizer after her two grandsons developed asthma, which she blames on diesel pollution. "The cost of industrialization -- we are paying for it with our health."This week, a decades-long struggle between California regulators and the national trucking industry will come to a head in Sacramento when the Air Resources Board votes on whether to require owners to fit about 230,000 heavy-duty trucks with diesel exhaust traps and replace about 350,000 older, dirty engines over the next 15 years.Big-rig crackdownThe crackdown is unprecedented: No other state requires existing trucks to be retrofitted or retired. And it raises thorny interstate commerce issues: Any big rig that travels through California, no matter where it is registered, would be affected.At a cost of $5.5 billion, the diesel rule, which covers trucks and buses, would be the most expensive air pollution regulation ever adopted in California.Regulators say, however, that the cost of failing to act would be far higher. Heavy-duty rigs are responsible for a third of all the smog in California. State officials project that the new rule would save 9,400 lives between 2010, when it takes effect, and 2025. With tens of thousands of hospital admissions linked to air pollution, Californians would save up to $68 billion in healthcare costs in the first 15 years, according to economists for the air board.Last week, 17 national and state health groups, including the American Heart Assn., the American Cancer Society and the California Medical Assn., called for passage of the rule, noting that half of all Californians live within a mile of a freeway."These pollutants are taking a serious toll on California's public health," they wrote to the air board, adding that diesel exhaust can cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death.But with the nation spiraling into recession, employment plunging and credit scarce, is this the time to impose a costly regulation on a vital industry?Fleet owners have held news conferences in Ontario, Bakersfield, Fresno and other cities, demanding that the rule be relaxed and postponed.Diesel traps cost up to $15,000, a stiff burden for small operators, many of whom are struggling to meet payments on trucks worth up to $130,000 each. And big rigs can be driven for as long as 25 years, so replacing them early would be expensive."This rule will likely put me out of business and over 60 people out of work," Ron Silva, chief executive of Westar Transport in Fresno County, told the Air Resources Board. "This rule can cripple the California economy as we know it. . . . Farmers will not be able to afford to have the crops hauled out of the field."If shipping fees rise, Southern California ports, which handle 40% of the nation's containerized imports, could lose business to Canadian and East Coast terminals. Out-of-state truckers are already threatening to stay away. "As you regulate more, the more we will refuse your freight," warned Nathan Peaslee, a Michigan driver who hauls potato chips and televisions.The state is promising truckers more than $1 billion in subsidies to make the transition. Nonetheless, the American Trucking Assn. is expected to fight the rule in court. Air board lawyers are confident the state can fend off a legal challenge. Judges, they say, will take into account the fact that California cannot meet a federal mandate to clean its air without a tough diesel rule.In Mira Loma, the trade-offs are etched in stark relief.Stop by the one-bedroom cottage where Vielmas' daughter, Ana Gomez, 23, cares for her 2-year-old son Julio. Gomez's husband has a job painting buses at a nearby depot.But Julio pays the price of pollution. On the kitchen table is a bill for asthma drugs and a nebulizer that sprays a mist of medication through a face mask. "Sometimes he chokes and turns purple," Gomez said. "I have to take him to the hospital."There is no history of asthma in the family. Vielmas and Gomez blame the trucks. Pollution is known to aggravate asthma symptoms although the causes of asthma remain a subject of debate."We're known as the 'Warehouse Capital of Southern California,' " said Vielmas, speaking Spanish. A five-minute drive from home, acres of shipping terminals surround a Union Pacific rail yard. Stacks of steel containers roll along the tracks.Trucks stream in and out of vast parking lots: Wal-Mart, Costco, Sears, Thomson, Hyundai. Imported goods are unloaded, repacked and hauled out. Across from fast-food joints, tractor-trailers idle -- illegally -- running their air conditioning."When we moved here, my husband milked cows at a dairy," Vielmas said. The dairies have been crowded out by warehouses, and now her husband operates a forklift at one of them.Pollution studyVielmas steers through an intersection off California 60 where, two years ago, she and Gomez were trained to count vehicles and measure emissions for a USC air pollution study. In one hour, they counted 445 trucks and 2,125 cars. Other teams tallied up to 800 trucks an hour on nearby streets.Unlike gasoline-powered cars, which feature catalytic converters, today's diesel trucks are mostly unregulated. Federal standards will require clean engines in new models as of 2010, but Mira Loma residents say they cannot wait decades for hundreds of thousands of trucks to be retired. The USC study of 12 Central and Southern California communities found that Mira Loma children had the lowest lung capacity compared with other areas -- a handicap likely to affect them for life.The findings infuriated the community. A local group, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, where Vielmas first volunteered and recently began to work full-time, mounted a billboard over the freeway. It read "Welcome to Riverside County! We're #1: Dirtiest Air in the Nation; Deadly Health Impacts."School affectedAcross from the rail yard, where tens of thousands of imported cars are loaded on to tractor-trailers, Vielmas gestures toward Jurupa Valley High School, where students are exercising on the fields."When they played games here, they had to use inhalers. When they played at other schools, they didn't have to use them," Vielmas recalled.Eventually, parents concluded that the rail yard exit across the street was a major cause. After three years of demonstrations and political pressure, truckers were required to switch to a different gate, said Vielmas, whose four children attended the school.Now community activists are demanding 1,500-foot buffer zones between homes and warehouses. And they are battling a proposed 425-home subdivision near a planned six-lane truck route, saying that health risks should be disclosed to buyers.Would Vielmas and Gomez think of moving away? They hesitate. In Mira Loma, most everyone is related to everyone else, or at least acquainted. "This community was here first, and then the warehouses came," Vielmas said.They see no contradiction between their husbands' jobs -- dependent on the truck-hauling economy -- and their activism. Truckers experience higher lung cancer rates than the general population, according to health authorities. During the election, Vielmas, born in Mexico and now an American citizen, knocked on 200 doors for a voter-registration drive."I hear their stories," she said. "Many people are suffering."So Vielmas and her family won't leave. This week, they are looking to Sacramento for relief. "We want regulations," she said. "We want them enforced. I want to keep fighting."Economic stimulus doesn't have to mean ecological disasterJump-starting old construction projects to create jobs would harm more than help us. We need to focus on 'smart green' infrastructure....Andy Lipkis, president and founder of TreePeoplehttp://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oew-lipkis11-2008dec11,0,7947335,print.storyIn his Nov. 24 Op-Ed article, " Depression-era projects, again,” Bill Boyarsky outlines some good reasons for Los Angeles residents to support President-elect Barack Obama's plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure projects. We need the employment, and our city needs rebuilding. It's true that the "New New Deal" offers a fantastic opportunity to rebuild for the future, but this opportunity also contains real dangers. If we don't make careful choices about what kind of infrastructure we build, we will be hardening in concrete the ecological mistakes of our past.Listening closely to the conversation about the projects that are on the table, you soon realize that many have been waiting on the shelf for years. They are old. The problem with old projects is they often reflect a paradigm that is more than 100 years old. They inadvertently waste resources and pollute, leaving huge downstream costs in public health and national security.Here's one example of the old paradigm: the Los Angeles River. To solve a flooding problem, we built one of the largest concrete ditches in the world to route the river to the sea as rapidly as possible. This project currently costs us billions of dollars in water that now needs to be pumped to L.A. from hundreds of miles away. The rain that actually falls here naturally gets shunted away from productive use, resulting in the need for enormous end-of-the-pipe sewage treatment plants and leaving the city vulnerable to drought.We can do much better. We can invest in a new kind of projects -- "smart green" as opposed to old, gray infrastructure. The former uses an emerging set of technologies based on natural processes that provide multiple bangs for our buck. It provides essential city services while at the same time mitigating climate change and helping us adapt to its consequences, supplying us with sustainable energy, water and green-collar jobs. Being smart and green means working with nature, enhancing its ability to capture, clean and store the water we need, filter the air, reduce waste hauling and make our neighborhoods more livable and beautiful.Sound impossible? It isn't. In fact, it's the job description of the smartest of green infrastructures -- a forest. Studies by local engineers and economists along with demonstration projects have shown the practicality and smart economics of bringing functioning forests back into our city.This means incorporating elements of the forest in numerous ways, such as building parking groves instead of parking lots so that leafy tree canopies filter pollutants and cool the air. It means reclaiming paved expanses with permeable surfaces and California-friendly planted landscapes that allow us to collect rainwater more easily. And it means using basic technology, such as cisterns under public parks and parking lots -- even in backyards -- to mimic a tree's ability to collect and hold water. An investment in smart green infrastructure also means thousands of long-term jobs as people are needed to manage these systems.There is nothing theoretical about smart green infrastructure. In L.A. and in a few other places across the country, such projects have already cleared environmental review and could be fast-tracked if the funding arrives. The Sun Valley Watershed is an impressive example of the new approach. The county's Department of Public Works chose a green alternative to a $42-million concrete drain to solve a chronic flooding problem in Sun Valley. Although the watershed will cost $200 million to build -- far more than the original price tag -- the multipurpose project will return $300 million in benefits and savings in recaptured water, cleaner air and reduced waste hauling. And that's not even including the value of the new jobs it will generate.Even more exciting, the city of Los Angeles is beginning to change the way it thinks about its water future. Just over a year ago, L.A. completed its first ever Integrated Resource Program plan for water. In doing so, the city found that smart green infrastructure could eliminate the need for a $4-billion sewage treatment plant, with even more savings as the plan is implemented throughout L.A.In the rush to fund job-creating projects, there are calls to abandon environmental reviews because they would delay construction. This is a critical mistake as it squanders a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make lasting change and positively address L.A.'s many environmental needs. The choice is clear. We can choose innovative smart green projects that solve multiple problems or embrace old approaches that have the potential to compound the problems San Diego Union-TribuneRegional pollution regulators fine firm Water-cleaning operation faulted...Mike Lee http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20081211-9999-1m11fine.htmlMISSION VALLEY – Water-pollution regulators fined a major energy firm $222,000 yesterday for failing to adequately clean the water it deposits into a tributary of the San Diego RiverThe San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued the penalty to SFPP LP, a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, one of the nation's largest operators of fuel pipelines and terminals.The agency cited more than 30 “serious” or “chronic” violations at the company's water-cleaning operation in Mission Valley during roughly the past three years. The board's main concern is elevated levels of nitrogen in water Kinder Morgan removed from the Mission Valley aquifer, scrubbed of fuel products and discharged into Murphy Canyon Creek. Nitrogen promotes algae growth, and too much of it can damage rivers, lakes and bays. Richard Opper, a private attorney representing the city of San Diego on the issue, welcomed the penalty as a step toward removing other pollutants from the site. City officials aim to tap groundwater in that area for drinking water once the aquifer is clean. “We hope this is the beginning of a trend of deliberate, focused attention on a big problem that is impacting a major water resource for our community,” Opper said. Marsi Steirer, a deputy director at the city's Water Department, said in a Nov. 18 letter to the regional board that Kinder Morgan had avoided paying penalties for years despite its “pattern of non-compliance.”The company “has found it to be more cost-effective to ignore the (regional board's) orders than to observe them,” the letter stated. Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Emily Thompson said the Houston company is installing more treatment devices to reduce the amount of waterborne nitrogen, even though it occurs naturally in the aquifer. The system is supposed to be in place by the end of the year. “We really have worked hard to resolve this issue so we can focus our effort on continuing to pump and treat groundwater,” Thompson said. The regional board issued a cleanup order for groundwater polluted by the tank farm in 1992. The 29-tank facility, near Friars Road and Interstate 15, had leaked possibly hundreds of thousands of gallons of petroleum products and additives into the aquifer over several years. In 2007, San Diego sued Kinder Morgan to speed cleanup work. Settlement talks have stalled, and a trial date should be set soon, said John Serrano, a deputy city attorney. Serrano said it's not clear that efforts to limit the spread of contamination are completely effective.Kinder Morgan inherited the groundwater pollution and the cleanup order when it purchased the tank farm in 1998, Thompson said. She said she was not aware of any evidence that suggests pollutants are migrating past the barrier set up to contain them. “We have been working very closely with the regional board, the city of San Diego and other agencies to clean up the historical contamination,” she said. Since 2002, the company has reduced by 95 percent the size of the plume of MTBE, a fuel additive that fouls the groundwater, Thompson said. “We have made substantial progress,” she said. KPBSCarlsbad Desalination Plant Moves Ahead State Agency OK's Plans To Offset Environmental Impacts...Ed Joycehttp://www.kpbs.org/news/local;id=13429A state agency approved plans that would offset environmental damage from a proposed desalination plant in Carlsbad. Several legal challenges remain, but the company building the plant doesn't expect any delays. KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce has details.The California Coastal Commission says the desalination plant would harm the equivalent of at least 37 acres of sensitive lagoon habitat. The commission also determined the plant's operation would discharge at least 97,000 metric tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Connecticut-based Poseidon Resources has plans to offset those impacts and the coastal commission approved them.Poseidon's Scott Maloni says the company will restore 55 acres of wetlands and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.Maloni:We will invest $60 million in the latest technology in the plant to reduce the energy needed to desalt seawater. In addition, on an annual basis, we will calculate what the indirect greenhouse gas emissions are from the project. And we will go out into the marketplace and purchase renewable energy credits or invest in offset projects. But there are three legal challenges to the project.One lawsuit questions the commission's approval of  the coastal development permit for the plant.Gabe Solmer with San Diego Coastkeeper says the permit process was backwards.  Solmer: Where they approved a project and just now are looking at the impacts and how to mitigate for them. The question that we have to ask is how can a project move forward before we know how that facility is going to operate and how its going to mitigate its impacts.Poseidon's Maloni says he doesn't expect the legal challenges to delay construction.Maloni:Each of the three remaining suits have a hearing date before the court in the first half of next year. We don't expect any of those suits to slow down or prevent the start up of the project. Construction's on schedule to start in the summer of 2009 and we'll be operational before the end of 2011. The desalination plant would be the largest in the western hemisphere and make 50 million gallons of fresh water a day from sea water.Nine public agencies in San Diego County have signed 30-year water purchase agreements to get water from the plant.Washington PostEPA Abruptly Backs Away From Proposals to Alter Air-Pollution Rules...David A. Fahrentholdhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/10/AR2008121003225_pf.htmlThe Environmental Protection Agency yesterday abandoned its push to revise two air-pollution rules in ways that environmentalists had long opposed, abruptly dropping measures that the Bush administration had spent years preparing.One proposal would have made it easier to build a coal-fired power plant, refinery or factory near a national park. The other would have altered the rules that govern when power plants must install antipollution devices. Environmentalists said it would result in fewer such cleanups.EPA officials had been trying to finalize both proposals before President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in Jan. 20. But yesterday, an agency spokesman said they were giving up, surprising critics and supporters of the measures."These two items are not things we're going to get done in the next 48 days" before Obama's inauguration, EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said. He said the EPA still supports the proposals, which have both been in the works for at least three years.Shradar said the agency was abiding by an administration order against "midnight regulations."In addition, Shradar said in an e-mail, the rule about when power plants install cleanup devices had been complicated by a recent court ruling. In July, a federal appeals court struck down the EPA's Clean Air Interstate Rule, a pollution-control measure with which the new proposal was designed to work.But William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said there may have been another motive. He said the EPA may have decided it would be futile to fight for the new regulations since Obama could have reversed them.The press office for Obama's transition team did not reply to a request for comment yesterday evening."I think the administration's getting beat down badly on environmental regulations" already, Becker said. "There was nothing to be gained by, you know, going out with [these new rules]."The proposal on parks would have changed the rules for new plants being built nearby. Currently, computer models project how bad pollution would be over three-hour and 24-hour periods, to guard against short-term spikes in pollution from nearby smokestacks.The EPA wanted to alter this rule, to focus instead on the average of air pollution over an entire year.Clean-air advocates had protested that this might allow parks such as Virginia's Shenandoah -- where the famous mountaintop views are already obscured by smog and haze -- to become even dirtier on certain days.Half of the EPA's regional administrators had formally dissented against the rule. But, as late as last month, the agency said that it was on the verge of becoming law."We are extraordinarily pleased," said Catharine Gilliam, of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit advocacy group. Until now she said, EPA officials "had really stuck to their guns."The other rule dealt with the agency's New Source Review process, which dictates when existing power plants must implement additional pollution-control measures. In some cases, this requirement is triggered when a plant produces more pollution than it had previously.The question is: How should this pollution be measured? Now, what matters is an annual pollution total. The EPA had sought to substitute a different test, using the amount of pollution produced in a single hour.Jeffrey Holmstead, a former head of the EPA's air pollution office under Bush, said the rule made sense: Random patterns of mechanical failures could dictate whether a plant produces more pollution in one year or another, he said. He said an hourly standard was a better measure of a plant's real output."I think it's a real shame" that the rule has been dropped, he said.At the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association for power companies, spokesman Ed Legge said that the abandonment of this proposal -- combined with the July court ruling -- left plant owners wondering what standard to follow."There will continue to be considerable uncertainty . . . in the absence of clear federal guidance, which is unfortunate," Legge said.John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said the rule would have allowed plants to operate for longer hours and produce more overall pollution."I am stunned. I've been fighting these dirty rules for years," Walke said. "And within the span of an hour," he said, both were suddenly moot.New York TimesEffort to Relax Pollution Limits Is Dropped...Felicity Barringer http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/11/washington/11enviro.html?_r=2&sq=epa&st=cse&scp=9&pagewanted=printThe Bush administration said Wednesday that it was abandoning its pursuit of two proposed regulations relaxing air-pollution standards for power plants, surprising both industry and environmentalists by ending its pursuit of one of the last remaining goals set out by Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force in 2001. The Environmental Protection Agency’s public affairs office sent out a brief statement by e-mail announcing that it would not pursue the changes in how power-plant emissions are measured, which would have allowed increases of hundreds of thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the building blocks of smog and fine-particulate pollution. That proposal had been opposed by senior agency officials, both in the enforcement section of the agency’s Washington headquarters and in regional offices like San Francisco. An agency representative also confirmed that the administration was giving up its effort to make it easier for utilities to put new power plants near national parks, by weakening existing protections intended to prevent deterioration in the parks’ air quality. In the past decade or so, visibility has diminished at parks from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee to Acadia in Maine.Jonathan Shradar, an agency spokesman, said Wednesday evening that the agency made the decision despite weeks of frantic work trying to complete the rules. The White House said months ago that no new rules should be imposed in the administration’s last days. “We didn’t want to be faced with putting a midnight regulation in place,” Mr. Shradar said. “It was better to leave those incomplete rather than force something through.” The administration has pushed through other rules affecting the environment in recent weeks, including one that makes it easier for coal companies to dump debris in nearby streams and valleys.Environmental groups were surprised and relieved at the sudden about-face on Wednesday by an agency that had seemed determined to finish its clean-air agenda, particularly the emissions measurement change that fell under the umbrella of the so-called New Source Review program, covering older power plants that are modified or expanded. John Walke, a senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the abandonment of the emissions measurement rule was the culmination of a four-year fight against the administration’s efforts to relax pollution standards for industry or to ignore its scientific advisers when setting new standards. Describing the low-key e-mail message that the agency sent to a limited number of reporters Wednesday afternoon, he said: “This was the most understated possible way to release this astonishing news. The utility industry has been clamoring for this rule for the entire second Bush administration.” Dan Reidinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a utility industry trade group, said in an e-mailed statement, “There will continue to be considerable uncertainty with respect to the New Source Review program in the absence of clear federal guidance, which is unfortunate.” Many of the administration’s regulatory changes have been struck down by federal judges, most notably the Clean Air Interstate Rule, the centerpiece of its regulatory strategy, which was rejected earlier this year. The objections raised by the agency’s career lawyers and the intense scrutiny by Congressional Democrats, one of whom had scheduled a hearing Thursday on so-called “midnight rules,” may also have played a role in the abandonment of these proposals. Bad News For Coal from the E.P.A., but Some States Push Ahead...Kate Galbraith, Green Inc.http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/The Four Corners Power Plant near Fruitland, New Mexico. The coal business has been having a rough time of it lately. (Photo: The Associated Press) Environmentalists celebrated on Wednesday as the Bush administration, in its waning days, dropped plans to ease restrictions on coal plants. The Environmental Protection Agency had looked into weakening clean-air protections in places like near national parks — which would have potentially paved the way for more coal plants. This was scrapped, along with a plan that “would have altered the rules that govern when power plants must install antipollution devices,” according to the Washington Post.“With the barbarians at the gate having pulled up their tents and headed for the hills, we can look forward as a civilized society to tackling the critical problems of global warming, smog and soot pollution,” said John Walke, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement. For the coal industry, this is the latest in a series of blows, and the second big one in a month. In November, in a decision with broad implications, a court ruled that an E.P.A. regional office must consider whether to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions when permitting a coal plant in Utah.Many planned coal plants have lately been scuttled, due to concerns about carbon-dioxide emissions — which President-elect Barack Obama may decide to cap.But some states are nonetheless forging ahead with coal.This week Luminant, a big power provider in Texas, struck a deal with environmentalists to allow a coal plant to be built using the “Maximum Achievable Control Technology,” a term arising from the Clean Air Act that requires polluters to use the best technology available to control emissions. The focus was on keeping down mercury emissions.In South Carolina, GreenvilleOnline reports that environmental groups are opposing a proposed coal plant, but the governor, Mark Sanford, seems unwilling to heed their particular requests — though he has not yet taken a stance on the plant.In Arkansas, the governor is trying to put off environmentalists by saying that he lacks authority to introduce a moratorium on coal-fired power plants, according to The Hope Star.And in West Virginia, a coal-mining state, the governor has embraced plans for a coal-to-liquids plant, and said that he has told President-elect Obama that the two are “not on the same page” when it comes to climate change, according to The Charleston Gazette.The Wall Street JournalState Water Contractors Challenge Fish and Game Commission Decision on Longfin Smelt...State Water Contractors...Press Release...12-9-08http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/State-Water-Contractors-Challenge-Fish/story.aspx?guid=%7BC40C4A12-E389-43CB-90D4-2F7086400246%7DSACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec 09, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- New Regulations Violate California Endangered Species Act, Threaten Water Supply The State Water Contractors, a statewide organization of 27 public water agencies, filed a lawsuit today against the California Fish & Game Commission and the California Department of Fish & Game challenging the Commission's recent decision to potentially impose substantial cuts in State Water Project (SWP) water deliveries to much of the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California in an effort to protect the longfin smelt. The lawsuit asserts that the Commission's November 14, 2008 decision opens the door for dramatic new restrictions on SWP and Central Valley Project (CVP) water pumping operations out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta) without any significant corresponding benefit to the fish species and, in so doing, violates key elements of the California Endangered Species Act. Last month, the Commission approved these regulations as a precautionary measure in its desire to protect the longfin smelt, a fish species found in estuaries from Monterey Bay to Alaska. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, contends that project operations do not have a significant impact on the longfin smelt; that the water supply impact of the regulation is grossly disproportional to any potential benefit the regulation will provide to the longfin smelt and that it fails to maintain the purpose of the SWP to the maximum extent possible -- all as required by the terms of the California Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit also asserts that the regulations are not supported by credible, scientific information demonstrating that project operations are having a significant impact on the longfin smelt. The regulation could reduce water deliveries by the SWP and federal CVP by more than a million acre feet in the face of the ongoing drought currently impacting California. This is enough water to meet the needs of more than five million Californians for a year. The SWP and CVP are California's primary water delivery systems - a cutback in water deliveries of the size that may occur as a result of the challenged regulation will would have very costly impacts on California's economy and the 25 million residents and millions of acres of farmland served by SWP and CVP water. By contrast, the cutbacks would only benefit 50 to 250 fish - much less than 1 percent of the total longfin smelt population. "The economic impact of these new regulations will be huge, especially when combined with drought and existing regulatory restrictions," said Laura King Moon, assistant general manager of the State Water Contractors. "Given the miniscule benefit to the fish, there appears to be something wrong with this picture." The Commission's decision also fails to consider the many other factors that scientists have identified as possible reasons for the decline in fish populations. Invasive plants and aquatic animals are wreaking havoc on chemical and biological balances, toxic runoff from pesticides and wastewater treatment plant discharges are flowing through Delta waters and nonnative predator fish introduced for sport fishing have altered the natural food web. "By focusing only on the pumps, we're ignoring the many other factors that impact the fish. That's a disservice to the people of California and the Delta ecosystem," added Moon. These restrictions are in addition to severe cutbacks already imposed to address the decline of another similar fish species, the Delta smelt. Last year, a federal judge cut 660,000 acre-feet from the water system, a 31% reduction that could have served 5.3 million Californians for one year. In addition to regulatory cutbacks, California has been hit with ongoing dry conditions. State reservoirs are drying up and many are at their lowest levels in years. To make matters worse, our infrastructure is compromised. Twenty-five million Californians and more than three million acres of agricultural land currently benefit from water supplies moved through the Delta. However, the water delivered through the Delta is at risk because of the estuary's failing condition, antiquated levees and the threat of natural disaster. Public water agencies, environmental organizations, and state and federal agencies are working together to develop a long-term solution. The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), a comprehensive conservation plan for the Delta, will provide a basis for addressing the many threats to the Delta needed for fishery and ecosystem recovery, while finding a way to continue to deliver water to Californians throughout the state. For more information on the BDCP, please visit http://www.resources.ca.gov/bdcp/. The State Water Contractors is a statewide, non-profit association of 27 public agencies from Northern, Central and Southern California that purchase water under contract from the California State Water Project. Collectively the State Water Contractors deliver water to more than 25 million residents throughout the state and more than 750,000 acres of agricultural lands. For more information on the State Water Contractors, please visit www.swc.org.  12-11-08 Meetings12-15-08 Merced City Council Redevelopent Agency agenda...7:00 p.m.http://www.cityofmerced.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=6909 12-16-08 Merced County Board of Supervisor meeting...10:00 a.m.http://www.co.merced.ca.us/boardagenda/webagenda/Posted 72 Hours Prior To Meeting 12-17-08 Merced County Hearing Officer meeting...Not posted at this timehttp://www.co.merced.ca.us/planning/hearingarchive.html#dec 12-17-08 Merced County Planning Commission agenda...9:00 a.m.http://www.co.merced.ca.us/planning/pdf/commissionarchive/2008/agendas/PC%20AGENA%2012172008.pdf 12-17-08 Merced City Planning Commission meeting...Cancelledhttp://www.cityofmerced.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=6905The Planning Commission meeting of December 17, 2008, has been cancelled. The next regularly scheduled meeting is Wednesday, January 7, 2009, at 7:00 p.m.  12-18-08 MCAG - Governing Board meeting...3:00 p.m.http://www.mcagov.org/govbrd.htmlJan.   08 - Technical Planning Committee Meeting             09 - Advisory Committee Meeting        14 - Technical Review Board Meeting          15 - Governing Board Meeting