12-12-08Merced Sun-StarValley foreclosures still on the riseThe rate of repossessed homes is down nationally, but up here...J.N. SBRANTI, The Modesto Beehttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/591063.htmlForeclosure filings fell nationwide in November, but they spiked dramatically in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, statistics released Thursday 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." Modesto BeeValley partners fight for survivalEconomic climate may doom group...Garth Stapleyhttp://www.modbee.com/local/story/530853.htmlSTOCKTON -- A shared passion for the San Joaquin Valley's future and newly forged cooperative bonds were dampened Thursday by the stark reality of a dangerously ill state economy.A mix of powerbrokers, politicians and regular people joined in as the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley celebrated its successes since the coalition formed 3½ years ago. But they acknowledged that Thursday's annual summit may be the group's last.The $5 million in state money that has sustained the eight-county partnership is expected to evaporate when the current fiscal year ends June 30, another victim of the recession and hemorrhaging state budget.Even Connie Conway, the partnership's chairwoman and newly elected state assemblywoman from Tulare County, gave little hope that its funding can be renewed in Sacramento's crisis climate."I don't know what the taxpayers can expect from the Legislature," Conway said Thursday. "Having worked with this group of folks (in the partnership) from the beginning, I'm encouraged by their initiative and the vision they've brought. At the same time, we're realists here."What has the partnership accomplished? Among many results:Secured $1 billion for Highway 99 improvementsHelped win $5 million for a medical school at the University of California at MercedSecured $3.5 million for work force developmentHelped produce an unprecedented growth plan reaching across all eight counties, from Lodi to Bakersfield, to be finalized early next year. That effort springs from the Blueprint process, an offshoot of the San Joaquin Valley Partnership."I think we're off and running," said Ashley Swearingen, outoing leader of the partnership's secretariat (the lead coordinating agency) and Fresno's mayor-elect. "We certainly can't stop now."Mike Lukens, the secretariat's communications director, said several of the partnership's 10 work groups are maneuvering for survival by seeking grants from foundations and businesses. Most optimistic among the work groups, which focus on different aspects of the valley's well-being, are those involved in education, clean energy and economic development, Lukens said.Tim Fisher, a consultant from Modesto-based Great Valley Center helping the clean energy work group, said that entity has pinpointed potential areas for underground water storage. That could become critical to California if climate change drastically reduces mountain snowpacks, as many experts predict.Fisher also urged conference attendees to tap into a database of the valley's best planning practices, compiled and published by The Bee in cooperation with the Great Valley Center. It can be viewed at www.modbee.com/smartgrowth.David Hosley, president of the Great Valley Center, said the valley should take advantage of the pause granted by widespread economic blues, to ponder the valley's future and work toward a cohesive, vibrant economy."We are in a rich time, unprecedented in my opinion, of trying to decide how we want to live in the next decades," Hosley said.Fresno BeePressure mounting on smelt studyFeinstein wants to ease economic impact on state...Matt Weiserhttp://www.fresnobee.com/local/v-print/story/1070945.htmlPolitical pressure is bearing down on a major study due Monday that could permanently restrict water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect imperiled fish. The study, called a biological opinion, is being prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under a federal court order to protect the threatened delta smelt. The translucent, finger-length fish has long symbolized environmental conflict in the delta, a source of drinking water for two-thirds of all Californians. The forthcoming study sets new operating rules for state and federal pumping systems in the delta. Federal District Court Judge Oliver Wanger in Fresno ordered the study last year, after ruling that existing operations violate the Endangered Species Act.On Dec. 5, however, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne urging him to ask the Department of Justice to petition the court to delay the new rules. A delay is "essential here to minimize the potentially devastating economic impacts to my state from significant further cutbacks in our water supply," Feinstein wrote.Interior spokesman Shane Wolfe said the agency is preparing a response for Feinstein and has had "numerous conversations" with the Department of Justice. Feinstein wants the study combined with a similar report being drafted for Central Valley salmon, due in March, by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Unless combined, she argues, the two might conflict. The state Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operate the two Delta water systems and are the lead defendants in the federal case. They provide delta water to dozens of contractors, including some of the state's largest water agencies. DWR Deputy Director Jerry Johns said his agency wants the smelt and salmon rules combined. "A lot of time, protecting one fish has a bad impact on the other that you didn't think about," Johns said. "What we're looking for is asking the fish agencies to consider how this gets coordinated in a more effective fashion."Johns declined to describe DWR's concerns about the draft rules. But in a 15-page letter to the Bureau of Reclamation on Dec. 1, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, Johns detailed numerous objections and said the rules amount to "severe" pumping cutbacks. He complained that recommendations by state water contractors were not included in the rules, and said the pumping systems should be allowed to kill more smelt than the draft rules allow. However, Barry Nelson, a senior policy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said there's no need for delay. He said the salmon and smelt rules already are being coordinated in regular meetings between the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. Nelson said indications are that the new rules include many of the protections recommended by groups such as the governor-appointed Delta Vision Task Force, which heard testimony from numerous fisheries experts in a series of meetings over nearly two years. "I don't know which of those [water] contractors is leading the charge, but it's quite clear those contractors are hoping the agencies can be pressured to weaken the protections in the draft biological opinion," Nelson said. Laura King-Moon, assistant general manager of the State Water Contractors, said her agency did not ask Feinstein to write the letter and has not been in contact with the Interior Secretary's Office. She said her group, which represents 27 water agencies that buy delta water, hasn't even seen the draft biological opinion yet. "But DWR has seen it," King-Moon said, "and the rumblings I've heard from them is that they don't seem to be very satisfied. I doubt we will be." Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne...12-5-08http://media.sacbee.com/smedia/2008/12/11/22/feinsteinletter.source.prod_affiliate.4.pdfDespite downturn, Calif. adopts tough climate plan...Samantha Younghttp://www.fresnobee.com/641/v-print/story/1068351.htmlSACRAMENTO, Calif. California on Thursday adopted the nation's most sweeping plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, issuing rules that could transform everything from the way factories operate to the appliances people buy and the fuel they put in their cars.The Air Resources Board unanimously approved the plan despite warnings it will put costly new burdens on businesses at a time when the economy is in extreme crisis, with California forecasting a staggering budget gap of $41.8 billion through mid-2010.Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he believes the regulations will spur the state's economy and serve as a model for the rest of the country. "When you look at today's depressed economy, green tech is one of the few bright spots out there, which is yet another reason we should move forward on our environmental goals," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.The strategy relies on 31 new rules affecting all facets of life, including where people may build their homes and what materials they use to do it.One central piece is a cap-and-trade program, set to begin in 2012, under which power plants, refineries and big factories will be able to buy and sell the right to emit heat-trapping gases. The program could give plant operators a financial incentive to reduce their carbon emissions.Air regulators said the average Californian could see more fuel-efficient cars and plug-in hybrids on showroom floors; better public transportation; housing nearer to schools and businesses; and utility rebates to make their homes more energy-efficient.But there will also be costs: Cars could become more expensive, and Californians can expect higher electric rates as utilities increase their use of renewable energy. Homes built with energy-efficient materials could also prove more costly, as could gasoline reformulated to release less carbon dioxide.The rules spell out in broad terms how the state intends to carry out a landmark 2006 California law that made the state a leader in confronting climate change. The law - conceived when the economy was in better shape - requires the state to cut greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. More detailed rules will be issued over the next few years.California, the nation's most populous state, has long been in the vanguard of the environmental movement, adopting the nation's toughest restrictions on auto pollution decades ago.Because of its size and market clout, its decisions can have effects far beyond the state, with manufacturers around the country often adapting their products to meet California's stricter standards.John Kabateck, executive director of the California branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, argued against the new rules, warning: "Now is not the time to make it even harder to do business in California."But Air Resource Board chairwoman Mary Nichols said California's plan would save its residents and businesses money in the long run."We believe that California, again and again, has pushed for higher levels of efficiency in our electric sector, our buildings and appliances, and time after time it turns out efficiency measures have not only saved us money but leaped our economy ahead," Nichols said after the vote.A board report found that the average household would save $400 a year by driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and living in more energy-efficient homes. And already, private investors have given more than $2.5 billion this year to new companies that have sprung up in California, in part to respond to the state's environmental goals, said Bob Epstein, co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs."Our president-elect has called for stimulating our economy," said Bill Mcgavern, director of California's Sierra Club. "I think he and the Congress will be looking to the state of California, and these measures can serve as a model for the rest of the country."One major piece of the plan is contingent on the federal government giving California the go-ahead to force automakers to build cleaner cars and trucks. The Bush administration has blocked that law from taking effect, but California officials hope the Obama administration will reverse course.The plan will also require utilities to generate one-third of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal by 2020. And energy-efficiency standards for buildings and for air conditioners and other appliances will be strengthened.Also, fuel providers will have to reformulate transportation fuels so they are a combined 10 percent less carbon-intensive by 2020. And local governments will get incentives to curb urban sprawl and reduce how far people drive to work or school.The cap-and-trade plan that will allow businesses to buy their way out of the problem is a particularly contentious part of the plan. California's poor communities say polluters in their neighborhoods may just write a check rather than clean up their act. Fresno in center of warehouse actionWhat makes the Valley such an attractive redistribution site to warehousing companies?...Sanford Nax...11-23-08 http://www.fresnobee.com/real_estate/v-print/story/1031638.htmlThe central San Joaquin Valley is becoming a major distribution center for the western United States -- but its foothold could be challenged by competitors as diverse as a Mexican port and faraway Indian reservations.An industry survey says relatively low operating costs and a midstate location make the Valley a strong candidate when businesses are looking for new warehouse sites. "Fresno shows exceptionally well," said John Boyd, a site relocation specialist.He estimated the cost of operating a 500,000-square-foot warehouse employing 225 people in Fresno at $17.2 million per year. It is a close second in California to Bakersfield, and only slightly more than Las Vegas and Reno. Until recently, the Nevada cities came up winners in the battle to reap property tax revenue and jobs from what economic development experts call the "logistics industry." Top distribution warehouse markets1. Mohave Valley, Ariz. 2. Salt Lake City/Provo, Utah 3. Tucson, Ariz. 4. Albuquerque/Rio Rancho, N.M. 5. Phoenix/Mesa, Ariz. 6. Boise, Idaho 7. Reno/Sparks, Nev. 8. Bakersfield 9. North Las Vegas, Nev. 10. Fresno Source: The Boyd Co. Inc. of Princeton, N.J.But success for Las Vegas and Reno came with a price. "It's economics 101," said Stewart Randall, an industrial specialist at Colliers Tingey International in Fresno. "Everyone wanted to go to Reno and that drove up prices" in the region.But cost is only part of the equation. Geography is as important, and businesses like that Fresno is dead center in the state. That makes it the best place to ship product statewide and has the added advantage of being midway between ports in Oakland and Los Angeles."Some have moved here because they want the option of the Oakland port if a strike occurs in Los Angeles," Randall said.The combination of low costs and location is the reason why Wal-Mart, Gap Inc., Sally Beauty Supply, Sears and Joanne's have expansive distribution centers in the Valley -- and why developers are building more warehouse space."Fresno is within a two-day drive of 11 of the largest cities in the Southwest and a four- or five-hour drive of every major market in California," Boyd said.Steve Geil, president of the Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County, said the potential of warehousing and distribution can't be overstated."There is no question Fresno's future is tied to that," he said. More than 500 trucking companies operate in the area, two railways have facilities and the nation's largest parcel companies have a presence at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.Looking for space?Geil said his agency continues to receive inquiries from businesses that need distribution centers, even in this slow economic climate. Logistics and distribution businesses comprise about one third of the 47 companies that are considering expanding into Fresno County, Geil said. In the last six months, three businesses searching for sites for 1-million-square-foot distribution centers have toured the Valley, said Jon Cross, marketing director at The Allen Group, which is developing large-scale distribution centers in Visalia and Shafter.The Allen Group has developed 2.5 million square feet of warehouses at its Mid-State 99 complex at Goshen Avenue and Plaza Drive in Visalia. About 300 of the 480 acres there remain available for development."Mid-State 99 works for California because it is one of the only areas in the Central Valley where UPS can reach Northern and Southern California overnight at ground rates," he said.Fellow developers Buzz Oates of Sacramento and Diversified Development Group of Fresno recognize the importance of geography. Both are expanding in the region.Oates, who has 1.5 million square feet of warehouse property in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties, is starting construction of an 82,000-square-foot building at a warehouse complex on Elm Avenue in southwest Fresno.Oates also has bought 41 acres next to Kraft Foods at North and Orange avenues. That land, along with a smaller mixed-use project it is building at Shaw Avenue and Golden State Boulevard in Fresno, will eventually bring 700,000 more square feet of warehouse space to the market, said Nick Audino, an industrial specialist at CB Richard Ellis in Fresno.Diversified Development Group has received permits for an additional 1 million square feet in the Fresno area, which would bring the company's portfolio of warehouse buildings in Fresno and Visalia to about 8 million square feet, said Marcus Pignotti, vice president."We are at the point in Fresno where we need more product," Pignotti said. "We always like to be ready to build and want buildings that are ready to lease when companies come to town looking for space."Audino said Oates is taking advantage of this sluggish economy to acquire land for development. He said activity could pick up in 2009 as companies react to new budgets, and possibly review projects shelved this year.ChallengesThe warehousing and distribution industries in Fresno County employ about 2.4% of the region's overall work force -- and that percentage could increase. California State University, Fresno, Fresno City College and Goodwill Industries are among those boosting training programs.Those programs have some work to do. "How is the available skilled work force? Reports show we are below par," Geil said. "But we can connect [businesses] with community college programs, and they can see for themselves we are moving in the right direction and have a work force for them."Looking ahead, Boyd said he sees some shifts in the industry that could have an effect on the central San Joaquin Valley. The first is a proposed $5 billion port in Baja California that could in five to seven years funnel containers from Asia north from border crossings in Arizona."The planned rail link would enable freight to skip heavily congested Southern California," Boyd said. That could benefit places such as Arizona and Utah.The other is the entrance of Indian tribes in the distribution business. Indian reservations offer large expanses of land, low labor rates and water rights. In fact, a distribution center in Mohave Valley, Ariz., just across the state line from Needles, has the lowest operating costs on Boyd's survey, at $13.7 million. It would benefit from the new Mexican port.And Google plans to build a $600 million data information center at a distribution center on Indian land in Oklahoma. Becoming developers is a way for Indian tribes to expand beyond gaming, Boyd said.The effect on Fresno and California remains to be seen, although the West Coast still is likely to be a force. "The concern for California is that it brings the center of gravity to Port Mohave and southern Utah," Boyd said. "But, California has $144 trillion worth of goods coming into the U.S. from China which comes in through L.ASacramento BeeNew rule undermines endangered species protections, environmentalists say...RENEE SCHOOFhttp://www.sacbee.com/702/story/1467344.htmlWASHINGTON -- In a move environmental groups says strikes at the heart of the Endangered Species Act, the Bush administration on Thursday announced a new rule that would let federal agencies decide on their own whether their projects harm endangered species, instead of requiring them in many cases to get a second opinion from federal wildlife experts.Opponents said the move destroys the checks and balances that have helped the government save hundreds of species from extinction under the 1973 law.Conservation groups argued the changes were illegal and threatened to file lawsuits to get them thrown out. They also said they hoped President-elect Barack Obama would take steps after he takes office to limit the effects of the rules and start a new process to rewrite them. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the reason for the rule change was linked to global warming.Kempthorne listed the polar bear as a threatened species in May but said that the Endangered Species Act could not be used to try to halt global warming. The new regulation specifies that there is no need for consultations when the harm to endangered or threatened species is a result from a global process that's too broad to measure.Kempthorne said it's impossible to pinpoint the death of any single animal from emissions from any single polluter. In fact, emissions of heat-trapping gases disperse evenly in the atmosphere around the globe and remain there for centuries. The resulting warming and melting of polar ice have put the polar bear at risk of extinction by mid-century, scientists have said."We made it very clear that the Endangered Species Act was never intended to be a backdoor for climate change policy," he said. "We felt it important that we make modifications to the rules so that the door isn't allowed to be opened and it's not beneficial."The rule changes also go further and specify that federal agencies are not required to consult with the biologists of the two agencies that enforce the act - the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Services - if they think a project such as a timber sale or construction of a power plant won't harm or kill a threatened or endangered species. The changes do not rule out voluntary consultations.The Interior Department on Thursday also finalized a rule implementing another section of the Endangered Species Act to clarify that it will not protect polar bears from oil and gas development or greenhouse gas emissions.The Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to kill or harm an animal listed by the government as threatened or endangered. The federal government issues permits for construction and other activities but must ensure that these animals or plants and their habitat would not be jeopardized.The Interior Department proposed the rules changes in August and offered a 30-day comment period, which it extended by another 30 days. It received nearly 235,000 comments, and about 200,000 of those were against the change, said Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Lyle Laverty. About 150,000 of those comments were form letters.Kempthorne said some people within the Interior Department also disagreed with his proposal.The Interior Department sent the new regulations to the Federal Register on Thursday, the last step in making them final. They will take effect before President George W. Bush leaves office.Laverty said agencies could still voluntarily seek the experts' advice when they weren't sure if endangered species would be harmed. But, he added, "most agencies have the skills that can help make that determination."He also said the rule change would free up the wildlife and fisheries agencies' experts to focus on priority problems.Jamie Rappaport Clark, who headed the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Clinton administration, said the changes put more species in jeopardy."It's clearly allowing the fox to guard the chicken coop," she said.Although other agencies employ biologists, their main mission isn't conservation, said Clark, who now heads the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. What's more, it's not always readily apparent that an action will have a harmful effect, and agencies could make unintentional mistakes, she said."Wildlife and marine biologists form the pillars of scientific integrity that support the Endangered Species Act," John Kostyack of the National Wildlife Federation said in a statement. "Knocking them out of the decision-making process will erode the foundation of this bedrock law and make it significantly harder to protect endangered species."Andrew Wetzler of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the changes were illegal."I think we will see them in court," he said.Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said there would be fewer consultations under the new rules.Hall said he told Kempthorne earlier that he worried there would not be enough time for Interior staff to look carefully at the comments and evaluate them. In the end, however, he said he was satisfied and had no problem with the final regulations themselves. State board adopts sweeping air plan...Jim Downing and Chris Bowmanhttp://www.sacbee.com/378/v-print/story/1468129.htmlWith a promise to look more closely at the economic impacts of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the California Air Resources Board on Thursday unanimously approved a sweeping climate-change strategy."This scoping plan puts California on a path to a low-carbon, sustainable, green economy," said air board Chairman Mary Nichols after the vote in Sacramento.The board's moves are being watched around the country – and to some extent the world – because they're likely to influence federal and international policies in years to come. The plan adopted Thursday creates the nation's first economy-wide trading system for greenhouse-gas emissions. Under the plan, the state's renewable power generation capacity will roughly triple by 2020, and there will be major increases in the energy efficiency of homes and businesses. Also called for are better vehicle fuel economy, cuts in emissions of refrigerants and other especially potent greenhouse gases, and a reduction in the carbon content of motor fuels.The governor-appointed Air Resources Board has a long history of environmental leadership, dating back to battles over Los Angeles smog in the 1960s that ultimately fostered nationwide controls on tailpipe emissions, such as the catalytic converter.But the greenhouse-gas plans are the board's most sweeping actions ever, and will touch virtually every corner of the economy. That worries many business groups."This is an economy-changing plan, and it's not going to be cheap, and it's not going to be easy to accomplish," said Shelly Sullivan, executive director of the AB 32 Implementation Group, a business coalition.The air board's economic analysis estimates the plan adopted Thursday will cost the state's economy $25 billion in the year 2020. But agency staff predict that by then it should also be delivering around $40 billion in annual benefits – mainly through making cars and buildings more energy-efficient.The nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst's Office and a panel of outside economists, however, found parts of the agency's analysis overly rosy – overstating some benefits and understating the costs of transitioning to a low-carbon economy.Some business and industry groups, along with a few Republican lawmakers, seized on those critiques and called for the board to redo the economic analysis and delay passage of the plan.Agency staff and some other economists have defended the ARB's conclusions. But the board offered some concessions Thursday, ordering staff to do more detailed analysis of the plan's effects, with a full economic report to be delivered by the end of 2009.That change, along with a promise that the plan won't disrupt the state's energy-supply networks, was enough to satisfy Catherine Reheis-Boyd, chief operating officer for the Western States Petroleum Association, whose public comment to the board Thursday was generally positive."If there was no acknowledgment of energy or the economy, my testimony would have been very different," she said.The plan approved Thursday was born more than two years ago with passage of Assembly Bill 32, a state law that committed California to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.Thursday's vote approved what is essentially an outline, with many details to be filled in by regulators over the next two years. Most policies will take effect in 2012 or later. The air board has 120 staff members working on the program, spokesman Stanley Young said.Banging out the details of the emissions market – known as a cap-and-trade system – seems likely to be particularly divisive.Starting in 2012, the state plans to issue annual permits to firms that emit large volumes of greenhouse gases – power plant operators, oil refineries and so on. The total supply of permits would ratchet down over time, giving companies two options: cut their own emissions or buy permits from other firms that have made deep cuts and thus have permits to sell.Business groups want the state to give away the emissions credits for free, while environmental groups want them to be auctioned. There's a similar split over the use of carbon "offsets," which would allow industry to meet greenhouse-gas targets by funding carbon-cutting projects outside of California.A coalition of environmental-justice groups is urging the air board to junk the cap-and-trade system altogether in favor of a carbon tax, and have hinted that they may sue. They argue that emissions trading tends to concentrate pollution in low-income communities, and that a carbon trading system in place for several years in Europe has revealed fatal flaws in the approach."In order to make it work, you have to have 100 things line up just perfectly," said Naomi Kim, an attorney with the California Environmental Rights Alliance.Many other environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund, say that California can learn from Europe's missteps and build a workable system.Cutting global warming gases...Source: California Air Resources Boardhttp://www.sacbee.com/378/v-print/story/1468130.htmlThe California Air Resources Board on Thursday adopted a strategy for cutting 30 percent of global warming emissions by 2020, as required by state law. Here are some of the ways the state plans to meet that goal, and the projected annual reduction in heat-trapping gases (mainly carbon dioxide).TRANSPORTATIONGreenhouse gases reduced: 62.3 million metric tons • Reduce carbon content in gasoline.• Mandate retirement of old, inefficient heavy-duty trucks.• Implement progressively stricter greenhouse gas standards – achieved by improving fuel mileage – for new cars offered for sale.• Locate future development closer to urban cores to cut driving.ELECTRICITYGreenhouse gases reduced: 49.7 million metric tons• Require utilities to get at least one third of their electricity from clean, renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal.• Tighten and broaden building and appliance energy-efficiency standards.• Finance consumer incentives for installing rooftop solar systems on as many as 1 million homes.POLLUTION TRADINGGreenhouse gases reduced: 34.4 million metric tons• Allow factories, power plants and other large pollution sources to trade a limited number of state-issued pollution allowances, ratcheted down over time. Such a system lowers the overall cost of pollution control, economists say, because businesses able to cut emissions least expensively take on more of the pollution-reduction effort.CHEMICALSGreenhouse gases reduced: 20.2 million metric tons• Require climate-friendly alternatives for refrigerants, fire suppressants and other products containing chemicals that have high global warming impact.• Impose a "mitigation fee" on products containing these chemicals to discourage their purchase and encourage manufacturers to use greener alternatives.FORESTRYGreenhouse gases reduced: 5 million metric tons• Require forestry practices that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, discourage development and otherwise preserve trees, which remove carbon from the atmosphere.INDUSTRYGreenhouse gases reduced: 1.4 million metric tons• In addition to allowing pollution trading, impose restrictions on emissions from oil and gas drilling and the release of methane from refineries.RECYCLING AND LANDFILLSGreenhouse gases reduced: Less than 1 million metric tons• Reduce methane emissions from landfills.• Create financial incentives that increase recycling and reduce waste, particularly from business, to cut energy use in the extraction of manufacturing of raw materials.Interactive Map: Water Use Per Capita in Californiahttp://www.sacbee.com/1098/story/1431106.htmlCounties along the coast tend to use much less water per resident than inland counties. Water use per capita dropped slightly statewide between 1985 and 2000.Click any county to see its current and past water usage ... Source: US Geological Survey; Bee research by Phillip ReeseNote: Figures show water usage from public water supply, minus use for industry and irrigation, divided by population taking public water (no well water included). Capital PressCalifornia's water wars heat upProposed incidental take permits could spread elsewhere, change diversion...Tim Heardenhttp://www.capitalpress.info/main.asp?SectionID=67&SubSectionID=616&ArticleID=46969&TM=67712.61A proposal for irrigation in parts of remote Siskiyou County has statewide implications that have raised the ire of both farm groups and environmentalists.The Department of Fish and Game is preparing watershed-wide permits for streambed changes and incidental takings of threatened coho salmon along the Scott and Shasta rivers, which are key tributaries to the Klamath River.Participation by landowners would be voluntary and those who signed up would be responsible for certain measures to protect salmon, such as adding fish screens. The program could eventually be implemented throughout California, said Bob Williams, an environmental scientist for the Department of Fish and Game based in Redding.Incidental take permits insulate irrigators from having to pay thousands of dollars in fines if their diversions unintentionally kill imperiled fish. A watershed-wide license would encourage compliance by offering an easier and more affordable alternative than if a farmer were to seek a permit on his own, Williams said.But this proposal's potential to spread elsewhere - and its influence on future water diversion policy in California - have made it the latest battleground in the state's ongoing water wars.California Farm Bureau Federation environmental attorney Jack Rice isn't concerned so much about the streambed alteration permit itself, but rather the Department of Fish and Game's interpretation of who needs the permit.It used to be that a streambed alteration agreement was only necessary if an irrigator physically changed the bank or channel, such as by dredging a temporary dam, he said. Now Fish and Game is asserting an irrigator may need the permit if he simply diverts water, Rice said."What it requires is payment of a fee, and it would require certain terms and conditions," Rice said. "Basically what this (environmental impact report) says is that Fish and Game has the authority to impose whatever terms and conditions it finds reasonable on every water right in California."Environmentalists assert the stricter mandate has always existed but was never fully enforced. For their part, they're concerned that groundwater pumping wouldn't be regulated under the new program and that the permits would be administered by local resource conservation districts."They (Fish and Game) would actually be ceding their authority as a regulator to the resource conservation districts," said Felice Pace, a longtime environmental activist who lives in Klamath. "Is that even legal, to take the regulatory authority you have and constantly give that to another entity that's appointed by the Board of Supervisors that tends to be farmer-friendly?"There's a place for regulation and a place for restoration and conservation," Pace said. "When you have regulatory laws that have to be enforced, those should be enforced by the state."A 60-day comment period on a pair of draft environmental impact reports on the proposed permits was set to expire Dec. 9. The program, which could apply to as many as 180 water rights holders in the Scott and Shasta valleys, could be approved as early as March, Williams said.The permits are part of a fish-recovery effort developed when coho salmon north of San Francisco were listed as threatened in 2005. As a result of the listing, Fish and Game has been "looking at diversions throughout our region," Williams said.But requiring a streambed alteration permit for a diversion isn't new for the agency, he said."We're not doing anything with regard to water rights," Williams said. "Water rights are what they are. ...One of the things we are doing is verifying that they're taking the amount they're legally entitled to."However, many of the roughly 50 farmers and ranchers who attended an informational meeting in Yreka on Tuesday, Dec. 2, suspected otherwise. Siskiyou County Farm Bureau board member Jeff Fowel rattled off dozens of perceived problems with the EIRs, including that they didn't consider the economic impacts from anticipated decreases in water diversions.One attendee, organic beef producer Craig Chenoweth, has about 40 cows and calves on 456 acres in Scott Valley. He said the permit program would have little if any impact on his own operation, but he thinks the proposal is a form of "tyranny.""It's about them trying to control us," Chenoweth said. "What Fish and Game wants is control of water on private land. ... They want us to pay for it, too."Alfalfa growers face hard choices, adviser saysPossible water shortage, high prices could leave some fields unplanted...Cecilia Parsonshttp://www.capitalpress.info/main.asp?SectionID=67&SubSectionID=616&ArticleID=46970&TM=53414.19High water use is a strike against California's largest field crop, but alfalfa is too important a component of the state's agriculture picture to just go away.Although high prices have caused dairies to feed less alfalfa in recent years, Merced dairy adviser Alejandro Castillo said it is the only forage that contains all nutrients essential for milk production. Dairies are the single largest customers of alfalfa in the state, buying 75 percent of the crop.Unless the water picture changes, some alfalfa fields will undoubtedly be retired early or left unplanted so the water can be used for permanent crops, Kern County farm adviser Blake Sanden said in his presentation at the annual California Alfalfa and Forage Symposium. Sanden said growers will face hard choices next year in selecting rotation crops and finding water for permanent crops. Most Central Valley growers depended heavily on groundwater pumping in 2008, Sanden said, but as groundwater levels decline, that option will become more expensive. In an interview, Sanden said growers who are committed to keeping alfalfa in their crop rotation are looking at subsurface drip systems to use water more efficiently or center pivots so they can receive and use city or dairy wastewater for irrigation."There's been an increase in interest in subsurface drip," said Sanden, noting on-farm observation of growers using drip or center pivots are finding the uniform application of water is maximizing its efficiency."There are growers getting eight to 10 tons per acres only using 50-55 inches of water - that's 90 percent efficiency," he said. Sanden said that efficiency shows the fallacies in a September 2008 report on agricultural water use that questioned the continuing cultivation of a crop that uses large amounts of water. The report said large amounts of water could be conserved in the San Joaquin Valley without sacrificing production.Pacific Institute's report was followed by commentary from irrigation specialists as well as a survey of farm water districts. The survey by the Agricultural Water Management Council showed improved measurement systems by water districts that account for deliveries. In addition water managers and irrigation specialists have questioned the report's accusation of wasted water by agricultural users."If so much water is being wasted, as implied by the estimates of potential savings in the Pacific Institute paper, it would have to be going somewhere," the authors wrote. "That could only be into the ground or out through rivers. We know there is a huge groundwater overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley and that the San Joaquin River runs dry near Dos Palos in the summer."Growers also defend alfalfa production. Stan Seifert, who grows alfalfa hay in California and Nevada, said demand from dairies and horse owners will drive production. Water availability may cause fewer acres to be planted or some to come out of production, he noted. Philip Bowles, a Merced County alfalfa grower and board member of California Alfalfa and Forage Association, said one of the advantages of the crop is its flexibility."With established stands you can monkey around with the irrigation schedule," he said. Cutting water at certain times in the growing season won't kill off the stand and growers can save. But, he said, some of the easy answers like converting from flood irrigation to center pivots doesn't solve the water shortage problem."It improves your crop yield, but net water use increases, plus you're no longer returning water to deep percolation," he said.Folsom TelegraphAll eyes on Folsom Lake City’s water supply slipping to low levels...Don Chaddockhttp://folsomtelegraph.com/detail/100934.htmlFolsom’s water levels have plummeted dangerously low, putting the lake within 46 feet of the city’s intake pipe and jeopardizing the steady flow of water to residents. Already under a stage two water alert, city officials are considering taking even more drastic measures to help conserve water. The lake is sitting at less than 25 percent capacity. Folsom Utilities Director Ken Payne told The Telegraph back on Oct. 1 that city officials were asking the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to consider the needs of Folsom residents when they decide to release water. The city has no control over the release of the water, even though the lake is the only source of water for Folsom. If the lake gets below 320 feet, where the city’s pipeline puts in at the dam, then the city, in theory, could run dry. “Then we actually get worried about getting water into our pipeline,” Payne said. According to the bureau, the lake has lost more than 10,000 acre feet in the first 10 days of December while total accumulated rainfall since July 1 is only three inches. In a statement released by Payne on Friday morning, he said the city is continuing to monitor lake levels. "On Monday, the USBR has requested a meeting with local water purveyors to discuss Drought Year Contingency Plans, which Folsom will participate," Payne said. "I expect this process will remain a high priority for the city and the USBR as we work together on a plan during the upcoming weeks. As we continue to move into the winter season, we will also monitor precipitation data, lake level data, inflow/outflow releases to/from the Folsom Reservoir." Payne said the city is working with the bureau on solutions. "Until we develop this contingency plan with the USBR and the other water purveyors that draw from Folsom Reservoir such as El Dorado Irrigation District, Roseville, San Juan Water District and others, we will wait to change our stage alert status," Payne said. The low lake drew the attention of state Assemblyman Ted Gaines last month when he toured the lake to see firsthand how dire the situation is. “The historic low levels at Folsom Lake are a cause for great concern not only here in Northern California, but throughout the state,” Gaines said. “California is facing a water crisis and we need to take action now to ensure we can meet California’s future water and flood control needs.” Gaines said he toured the lake to highlight the need for better water use and storage planning in the state. “We haven’t added a new water storage facility in decades,” he said. He was also concerned about the bureau releasing water from Folsom Dam Reservoir, known as Folsom Lake, to protect fish in the Delta when the water level has gotten so low. “Any release of water out of Folsom Dam should not be at the detriment of our citizens,” Gaines said. “The priority should be people get water first and environment gets water second.” Gaines said it’s time the state invested in water infrastructure needs. “The fix is additional water capacity -- not only for homeowners, but for our prospering agricultural economy,” Gaines said. “Last year, in the Fresno area, we had land go fallow because of the Delta smelt issue. You could not get water down south. We’re hurting our economy and not getting water to citizens. (Water capacity) is something we’ve ignored.” Do residents need to worry about whether or not they’ll be able to flush their toilets in the morning? According to Folsom City Councilman Andy Morin, not yet, but it could come to that. “We still haven’t gotten to that point, but if our winter stays as dry as it started out, there could be severe water restrictions,” Morin said. “What happens when we get into dire water-supply situations like we are right now, a good winter could eradicate all that. But after that, the decisions get very tough. There are a lot of other uses for water out of Folsom Lake. There are all kinds of demands on the water.” Morin said the city does have contingency plans in place. “We’re prepared to get by even under the worst of circumstances,” he said. Emergency backup plans call for moving the city to a stage three water alert, restricting water use, and putting a barge on the lake with an “extension” to pump water up to the city’s pipe, or transferring water from other districts. Morin said that typically demand for water drops in the winter so no immediate decisions regarding going to stage three will be made. He said residents should continue to voluntarily conserve water. “As far as changing our conservation alert level in Folsom, it would be a couple of more month as we see how the winter season develops,” he said. On a recent sunny afternoon, the lake was seeing some recreational use. “I’m here for the first time this summer,” said Alex Kolisa, on vacation from the Ukraine. Kolisa and two friends were fishing along the shoreline, but hadn’t caught anything yet. “Last year, water was up here,” he said, pointing higher up Brown’s Ravine, which now sits empty. At the old Red Bank ruins, featured in The Telegraph’s “From the depths” series in October, Robert Whorton walked along the ruins of the old 1872 winery that is usually underwater. The winery was halfway submerged when The Telegraph visited the site the first time. It was now at least 30 feet from the water’s edge. Whorton drove from Sacramento to see the ruins, but he’s familiar with the lake. “I’ve been out here before,” he said. “When I was a kid, my folks would drive out to the overlook so we could watch them building the dam.” He expected to see the water as low as it was, he said. “I’m not really surprised,” he said. “This is probably the second lowest the lake has been.”Public comment sought on Delta smelt ...Roger Phelpshttp://folsomtelegraph.com/detail/100911.htmlPart of a flurry of recent events that could affect Folsom Dam water releases is the opening Dec. 9 of a public-comment period on the threatened Delta smelt.Inflow of fresh American River water to the Sacramento River Delta is necessary to the survival of the smelt. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are considering changing its listing category from “threatened” to “endangered.” "The additional comment period, which closes Feb. 9, 2009, is due to an unintentional error by the federal website that receives comments," Fish and Wildlife officials announced. A computer glitch ruined the electronic-comment method for a previously announced comment period, they said."The service opened a public comment period on July 10 asking for information to be submitted on the www.regulations.gov Web site," officials announced. "But, the Web site was unable to receive electronic information during that comment period."The smelt has almost disappeared, and other species as well are not far from extinction in the Delta."We are seeing a cascading series of crashing Delta fish populations – Delta smelt, longfin smelt, chinook salmon, steelhead trout, green sturgeon, Sacramento splittail, striped bass – the warning bells are ringing loud and clear,” said Jeff Miller, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity non-profit.With drought-struck Folsom Lake levels nearing a point where city pumping would be impossible without modifying the current system, Folsom City Councilman Jeff Starsky has said he believes it's necessary to "worry more about people and less about fish." In 2007, an Alameda County court ruled that the California Department of Water Resources had been illegally pumping water out of the Delta without a permit to kill delta smelt and other fish species listed under the California Endangered Species Act. A federal court also threw out a federal “biological opinion” allowing high water exports and ordered reduced Delta pumping. The Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing a new biological opinion for the operation of the Delta pumps, expected to be issued this week.Smelt numbers this summer are the fourth lowest on record since surveys began in 1959. Federal and state agencies have allowed record levels of pumping from the Delta in recent years, leaving not enough fresh water to sustain native fish and the Delta ecosystem, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.Persons who submitted comments previously can visit the www.regulations.gov Web site to see whether their comments were received. A change in listing category for the delta smelt would not by itself trigger any immediate actions on behalf of the species. While both categories protect species from unauthorized destruction, or "take," endangered status also prohibits issuing permits for incidental take that can be allowed for threatened species in some situations. Comments can go by U.S. mail to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-2008-0067; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Ste. 222; Arlington, Va. 22203. Stockton RecordSummit highlights Valley partnership...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081212/A_NEWS/812120313/-1/A_NEWSSTOCKTON - Until 2005, it was every county for itself in the San Joaquin Valley.And amid the chorus of voices from Stockton to Bakersfield, the region's needs were often overlooked."No one thought about getting together," Stockton developer Fritz Grupe said. "But we have more impact in Sacramento as a group than we do alone."Thus was born the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, which met Thursday in Stockton to review three years of work toward accomplishing one goal: granting Valley residents the same quality of life that is enjoyed elsewhere in California.In a world of haves and have-nots, the Valley often falls into the latter category. In 2007, every county in the Valley had a higher percentage of residents living below the poverty line than the state average. Household income was $12,000 lower than the rest of the state. Unemployment was 3 percent higher.Unhealthy air. Violent crime. The list goes on.Government and private-sector officials at Thursday's meeting said much has been accomplished."I think we're off and running, and we certainly can't stop now," Fresno Mayor-elect Ashley Swearengin told the group.The future, however, is uncertain. The second of two executive orders that established the partnership and kept it going is set to expire at the end of December.Partnership officials said they expect another executive order to extend the group once more. But a bigger question, amid the state's mushrooming budget crisis, is how much money the partnership will have to work with.A 2006 executive order gave the partnership $5 million, half of which is used to award grants to worthy projects, and half of which is used to pay for the organization and administration of the group.Funding runs out in June. A partnership spokesman said the group, unsure how much state money will be available, is looking for other sources to continue its work.In the past three years, the partnership:» Helped secure more than $205 million in Proposition 1B funding for five transportation projects.» Began exploring the Valley's potential for providing renewable energy.» Pushed for high-speed rail, including legislation that included the Altamont Pass as a possible rail route.» Brought together job opportunities throughout the Valley in a new Web site, www.careersinthevalley.com.» Promoted a regional water-management plan.» Supported a controversial new rule requiring developers to pay to offset pollution resulting from their projects.Each county has put aside its individual needs to work for the greater good, organizers said. Progress has been made even in the water world, where the north Valley generally sets itself apart from the south Valley on contentious issues such as a peripheral canal, said David Zoldoske, director of the California Water Institute at California State University, Fresno."We're beginning to understand the other person's view on things," he said.Fire and NO water...Alex Breitler's Bloghttp://blogs.recordnet.com/sr-abreitlerCheck out this pretty dramatic slideshow from the Department of Water Resources, with some then-and-now shots of California's depleted reservoirs.Water & Fire...Managing Drought in the Golden Statehttp://www.water.ca.gov/news/newsreleases/2008/121008waterfireacwapresentation2008.pdfAssociation of California Water Agencies December 4, 2008Mike Chrisman, SECRETARY California Resources AgencyLester Snow, DIRECTOR California Department of Water ResourcesSan Francisco ChronicleMajor changes to Endangered Species Act...Jane Kayhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/12/MN6A14MK48.DTL&type=printableInterior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced major changes Thursday to the Endangered Species Act, causing environmental groups to charge that the "midnight rules" set to go into effect before President-elect Barack Obama takes office are intended to eviscerate the nation's premier wildlife-protection law.The regulations eliminate a requirement that federal agencies seek review by government scientists before approving logging, mining and construction projects to make sure the activities don't endanger rare animals and plants.In addition, the regulations say the law could not be used to protect polar bears, walrus, mountain frogs and other species vulnerable to the effects of global warming."The Bush administration is using this to go after our most imperiled wildlife and kick them when they are down," said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental group. "The act is our nation's most important law for protecting wildlife like wolves, grizzlies, salmon and lynx."Reid Cherlin, a spokesman for the Obama-Biden transition team, said, "President-elect Obama will review all 11th-hour regulations and will address them once he takes office." Obama has said he does not favor changing the Endangered Species Act.Kempthorne, at a news conference in Washington, said that he knew changes to the act would evoke controversy but that he is certain the new rules would clear up confusion over the law that had existed for years."Nothing in the regulation relieves a federal agency of its responsibilities to ensure that species are not harmed," he said.Law covers 1,400 speciesThe law protects 1,400 species. In the last eight years, there has been a slowdown in adding new plants and animals, building a backlog of hundreds of species waiting for scientific review and approval, including California's furry Pacific fisher and Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog.The Interior Department proposed the new regulations in May and since has received nearly 300,000 comments, the vast majority opposing the changes.Hours after Thursday's announcement, three environmental groups, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco seeking to halt regulations that they say are inconsistent with the act.The regulations don't require federal agencies to seek consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service before approving projects, the lawsuit said.In Congress, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., called a hearing to review the regulations and said members would work to restore the act. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said members may try to eliminate the regulations by using a special congressional act that allows the review of newly adopted administrative rules.Part of the new regulations prohibit regulators from taking into account the effects of greenhouse gases on habitats and on species. Kempthorne said his legal advisers concluded that considering global warming a threat to the survival of the polar bear would require tracking emissions to a particular factory and determining how that would melt Arctic ice and harm the bear."That's completely wrong, and they're just making that up," said attorney Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, which is suing the federal government in an attempt to protect polar bears.Federal agencies are supposed to look at sources of greenhouse gases from projects they approve, then analyze ways to reduce those emissions, Siegel said."There's no requirement to trace any molecule of DDT to the thinning of bald eagle eggs just as there's no requirement to trace any molecule of carbon dioxide to the death of any particular polar bear," she said.In California, the requirement to consult with government biologists before construction projects is particularly crucial, said Mark Rockwell, California state representative of the Endangered Species Coalition, an alliance of 50 environmental, business, hunting and fish and religious groups in the state.The U.S. Forest Service approves logging plans that might affect coastal coho salmon and steelhead, marbled murrelets and Pacific fishers on national forests. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers give permits for filling wetlands.Without the requirement, there's no incentive for the agencies to seek consultation and a biological opinion, Rockwell said.For example, the Bureau of Reclamation was forced by the current requirement to seek biological opinions on whether the amount of water being diverted from the southern part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta would hurt the delta smelt or harm chinook salmon.Protections found lackingEnvironmental groups challenged opinions that water flows for the fish were adequate, and won decisions agreeing that the protections were indeed lacking in the plans."It was the biological opinions that led to the challenges," Rockwell said. "If you don't have an opinion, you have nothing to challenge."Under the new regulations, the federal agencies would have the discretion of deciding whether or not to ask for a consultation and opinion, Rockwell said.Calif. cracks down on diesel emissions...SAMANTHA YOUNG, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/12/12/financial/f000115S93.DTL&type=printableA day after adopting a sweeping plan to reduce greenhouse gases, California air regulators Friday were considering cracking down on pollution from nearly a million diesel trucks and buses that crowd the state's highways each year.The state Air Resources Board is expected to adopt what would be the country's most sweeping rule to get the dirtiest trucks and buses off the road, including those that travel into California from other states, Canada and Mexico.The heavy-duty trucks that cart food, electronics, toys and other goods are the leading cause of diesel pollution in a state that has some of the smoggiest skies in the country."The health benefits of this rule are just enormous," Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols told The Associated Press. "We're talking about thousands of lives saved."The regulation would require owners of some of the oldest and most polluting trucks, school buses, motor coaches and street sweepers to begin transforming their fleets as soon as 2010.It is a critical element of California's strategy to clean up its smoggy skies and meet state and federal air standards. The new rules would reduce ozone-eating nitrogen oxides and soot-forming particulate matter that can become embedded in lung tissue.The idea is to speed up the replacement of thousands of trucks and buses that are usually on the road for decades and are not as clean as newer model vehicles that have stricter emission standards mandated by the federal government.If the rules are adopted, old diesel vehicles would have to be outfitted with pollution filters, new engines or replaced with newer, cleaner vehicles. The cost to businesses, school districts and transit agencies statewide is estimated at $5.5 billion.In addition, trucking companies might have to comply with a separate regulation under consideration Friday requiring them to outfit their trucks and trailers with aerodynamic devices and more fuel efficient tires in a bid to cut fuel consumption and greenhouse gases. That rule would change the look of an estimated 436,000 trucks and slightly more than a million trailers at a cost of $10.4 billion.Those are price tags the trucking industry and others say they can't afford, since the recession has left many truck and bus owners struggling to pay the bills."With this economy, this puts us in an untenable position," said Robert Ramorino, president of the California Trucking Association, which wants more time to meet the proposed mandates.Ramorino said he and many truck owners would be forced to replace relatively new trucks for which they are still paying. Meanwhile, others are concerned that financially strapped banks would be hesitant to loan them the money needed to buy a $150,000 truck that meets the strict emission standards."Banks have put freezes on truck loans and require much more down," said Robert Tennies, a salesman at the Western Truck Center in West Sacramento.Regulators point out that the costs of the diesel rule will be spread over 16 years and say they are dwarfed by the estimated $48 billion to $68 billion in health benefits to Californians who currently breathe diesel fumes. The aerodynamic devices would pay for itself — and save truckers money — because they wouldn't have to buy as much fuel, according to a board report.By the time the diesel regulation is fully implemented in 2023, regulators estimate the amount of diesel particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emitted from these vehicles would be cut by about a third.The two pollutants can lead to premature death and increased asthma and heart attacks. The proposed rule is projected to prevent 9,400 premature deaths, 150,000 asthma-related cases and 950,000 lost work days over 20 years, according to an analysis by the board."This is costing billions of dollars in health impacts," said Kathryn Phillips, an air quality specialist at the Environmental Defense Fund. "There's a lot of motivation to do this rule, and there will likely be other states looking at either adopting it or some variation."An Air Resources Board staff report predicts many businesses would pass the costs to their customers through higher shipping rates or higher prices for manufactured goods but says the effect on consumers would be negligible. For example, a pair of shoes might cost about 1 to 2 cents more, and a pound of produce would cost only a fraction of a cent more.In addition, the state has several loan programs and bond money to help businesses replace their fleets although the bond money could only be used for trucks that operate solely in California.The rules would apply to tractor trailers, dump trucks, street sweepers, cranes, fuel delivery trucks, school buses, motor coaches and airport shuttles. Some agricultural vehicles would be given additional time to comply.Military tactical support vehicles, emergency vehicles, private motor homes, snow plows and historic vehicles would be among those exempted from the requirements. Vehicles that are driven fewer than 1,000 miles and less than 100 hours also would be exempt.Vehicles that travel within 20 rural counties that already meet air quality standards would not be required to lower their nitrogen oxide emissions until 2021. Those counties include: Alpine, Colusa, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Monterey, Plumas, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Trinity, Tehama and Yuba.Contra Costa TimesTrimming smog and soot offer immediate impact on climate change, study says...Douglas Fischer, Daily Climatehttp://www.contracostatimes.com/environment/ci_11205207Local and state regulators have new ammunition in the fight to justify expensive air pollution rules: Cutting smog and soot has an immediate impact on climate change.A study published this week bolsters the link between air quality and climate, finding that across-the-board cuts in air pollution can spur "substantial, simultaneous improvement" in local air quality and near-term mitigation of climate change.Trimming smog and soot also represents an alternate and far more immediate global warming solution for regulators stymied by the complexities of other greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Sciences and the lead author of the study. Tackling air pollution can buy 20 to 30 years worth of mitigation, he said - time that will be needed, if ongoing debates in Poznan, Brussells and Washington D.C. offer any indication - to cut the political and economic knots associated with carbon dioxide. The health benefits also make a strong case for action to countries that have so far resisted climate mitigation for its own sake. These pollutants - soot, ozone, and smog-causing volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides - have well-documented effects on human health. Trimming emissions produces easily quantifiable benefits."This is no substitute for targeting carbon dioxide, which in the long run is the main contributor" to climate change, Shindell said. "But if you want to have any effect in the near-term, ... the short-lived pollutants can have very large impacts." The climate-warming effects of these short-lived pollutants have largely been ignored by scientists and regulators focusing on climate policy. Carbon dioxide, with a lifetime of many centuries, is the star of that show, and the effects on climate by these other pollutants, which endure for mere months, are less well understood. Regulators also have no way to quantify - as they must when making public health rules - the cost and benefit of climate mitigation. It's impossible to put a cost, for instance, on averting global temperature rise by a few thousandths or even hundredths of a degree.Still, a collective focus on limiting these pollutants could substantially affect 21st century climate. Several climate models, Shindell and his colleagues showed in a study published Monday in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, suggest that reducing air pollutants in both North America and Asia can produce an immediate cooling effect on climate - certainly far faster than any action on longer-lived emissions like carbon dioxide."It's much, much faster, as fast as it could possibly be," Shindell said. Regulators are noticing.President-elect Barack Obama's transition team on Thursday got briefed on emissions and climate and is exploring what tools federal agencies need to better mitigate impacts, said Ellen Baum, a senior scientist with Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based non-profit that has spent years trying to link climate and urban pollution.On Thursday California approved the most aggressive plan in the nation to slash greenhouse gas emissions and meet state climate targets. Regulators continue that work today, voting to force 1 million big rig owners to clean up diesel exhaust. Both state rules carry climate and health benefits."We are now incorporating the climate change benefit, if there is one, into our environmental analysis and staff reports when we propose new regulations," said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the state's South Coast Air Quality Management District, charged with improving air quality for 17 million people in the four-county Los Angeles Basin.That can be "difficult and dicey," he cautioned. "There are not a lot of protocols for different kinds of climate-change gas reductions.... Every time we propose a tough regulation, we have to make a very strong case for why the benefits outweigh the costs."Tools and calculations for measuring public-health benefits are robust and well established; climate mitigation, in contrast, is in its infancy.But in a system structured to maximizing health goals, throwing climate in the mix could change priorities - even without quantification, many experts note.Ground-level ozone, or smog, is one example, said Baum of the Clean Air Task Force. It's a powerful greenhouse gas. But the nation's health-based rules generally focus on reducing peaks, while every-day background most affects climate."It's a wave versus sea-level thing," Baum said. Health officers are focused on reducing the wave - the late-afternoon summertime ozone spike - but Baum and others would like to see more effort aimed at reducing the sea-level, or background. " Reducing background ozone isn't the best strategy for reducing ozone peaks, but if we reduce background, there will be a reduction in the peaks as well," she said. "It's a tough nut to crack, though. It's not going to be easy."Black carbon, or soot, is another example. A byproduct of diesel engines, soot is a tough pollutant to reduce. Regulators can often obtain the same health benefit by focusing on other easier-to-control compounds, like sulfates from power plants.But sulfates cool the atmosphere. Black carbon has a well-established warming effect. Add that information, and imposing limits on black carbon start to look a little more palatable, regulators and scientists say.The benefits extend far beyond the United States' borders. Growing emissions from Asia and India represent an enormous percentage of near-term climate change, Shindell and others note. Their emissions, particularly soot, have far-flung impact - from shrinking Arctic icepack to prolonged droughts in America's breadbasket.Evidence quantifying that impact on the Arctic will be disclosed next week at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco. Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have found that the "Arctic haze" - a soup of aerosols, ozone, volatile organic compounds and other industrial pollutants - contributes to the shrinking icepack and changes ice flow dynamics during the spring melt.But what's exciting, Shindell notes, is the potential for rapid change. Carbon dioxide takes decades to mix, adjust and start to warm the planet. These short-lived pollutants start to affect the Earth's climate almost instantly; turning them off produces rapid mitigation.The good news, say researchers, is that the divisions between climate research and air quality and long-term versus short-term impacts are disappearing."You will see over the next few years that this is going to get a lot more focus," said Gabriele Pfister, a scientist studying wildfires at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "We know now you can't look at short-term effect without looking at long-term effect."Oil company ordered to fix berm that's holding back mercury...Mike Taugherhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/localnews/ci_11200271An East Coast oil company has been ordered to immediately shore up a fragile berm that is holding back mercury-laden water and mud at an abandoned mercury mine on Mount Diablo.It is the first time federal regulators have assigned responsibility for cleanup at the polluted mine, which county officials have sought to address for more than a decade but have not done so out of fear county taxpayers would get stuck with the full cost.The order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that an earthen dam built to contain mercury from flowing into Marsh Creek is eroding and must be fixed before the rainy season and demands that a plan be submitted in two days. "(A dam failure) could result in a catastrophic failure of the impoundment berm and cause extensive contamination of mercury contaminated sediments ... to Marsh Creek and Marsh Creek Reservoir," the EPA said in its order, which comes with rain forecast in a matter of days.The directive identified Sunoco Inc. as responsible for fixing the dam, which could cost an estimated $200,000. The cost of fully cleaning up the site is unknown. Mercury pollution dating from the Gold Rush persists in the Bay and Delta, largely because of the mercury mines in the Coast Range — especially in the South Bay — and the use of mercury in Sierra gold mines. That mercury washed into streams and rivers and remains in sediment and in the flesh of fish.It can be toxic to wildlife, and at high levels, mercury exposure can be severe in humans, leading to memory problems, tremors and other symptoms. A Sunoco subsidiary, Cordero Mining Company, operated the Mount Diablo mercury mine from 1954 to 1956, according to the EPA. The property was mined intermittently from the 1870s to about 1970. Sunoco's headquarters are in Philadelphia.A Sunoco spokesman said his company is cooperating with EPA but stopped short of saying his company would fix the dam."Sunoco is currently evaluating these claims but our preliminary investigation indicates Cordero never mined any ore from the site," said spokesman Thomas Golembeski."EPA has not fairly identified those (other) parties as potentially responsible or named them as parties to the order," Golembeski said.The order was issued under the federal Superfund law for highly polluted sites but the mercury mine is not on the list of Superfund sites. EPA investigators are still assessing the extent of pollution at the site. EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi said it was too early to say how much it will cost to clean up or whether Sunoco would be the only company held responsible for cleanup."There's a lot more site characterization that needs to go on there. It's really, really early," Higuchi said.Meanwhile, the current owner of the 109-acre property, Jack Wessman, welcomed the news that the government has fixed some responsibility for cleanup."It's great," said Wessman, adding, "I don't know what they're going to do.""I've spent $300,000 of my own money and I didn't do anything wrong," he said. County officials commissioned a study of the mine in 1995 and found that mercury pollution in Marsh Creek was almost all from the mine. Two years later, the county received a grant to begin cleanup but gave the money back when county officials realized the county could become legally responsible for the entire cleanup if it began work."It's a case of good intentions could lead to large liabilities," said county supervisor John Goia, who later testified to Congress of the need to relieve "good Samaritans" from liability in similar cases.Although that bill never became law, the county reached an agreement with the government to set cleanup plans into motion.That agreement called for identifying companies or individuals who might be held responsible."Had there been no (responsible entities) then the next step was to try to get federal funding to try to clean this up," Goia said. Editorial: Cut Port of Oakland pollution now...12-11-08http://www.contracostatimes.com/opinion/ci_11187103OFFICIALS AT the Port of Oakland have decided to back off on their commitment to significantly cut diesel truck pollution, and, in turn, further risk the public health of surrounding communities, particularly West Oakland, as well as the financial future of the port itself. The reason? It's the struggling economy, of course.The Port of Oakland says that despite a state-mandated deadline to cut diesel soot by 2010, it is standing behind a shipping industry hit by an economic downturn. The port has delayed plans to meet new California pollution requirements. The port calls it a helping hand to shipping, but it looks more like a stall tactic.The story began back in March when the California Air Resources Board released a risk analysis that concluded 22,000 residents in West Oakland face a cancer risk three times higher than the rest of the Bay Area due to air pollution. It also said even residents in western Alameda and Contra Costa counties are affected. So to swiftly cut pollution risks, the state air board, the Bay Area air pollution district and the port planned to chip in $5 million each to create a $15 million pool from grants to clean up diesel truck models from 1994 to 2003. The maximum grant would be $15,000 per truck for soot filters that can cost up to $20,000. But the port pulled its $5 million share on Nov. 19. Then, on Dec. 2, port commissioners also postponed a decision to impose a container fee that would force companies to pay millions of dollars to finance pollution reduction for diesel trucks, ships and planes. Meanwhile, there's that deadline on Jan. 1, 2010, to install diesel soot filters. If the estimated hundreds of trucks don't receive pollution upgrades, port business could suffer when that deadline arrives because there will be less clean trucks to move cargo.But if the economy is so bad for the shipping industry then why are Southern California ports, among the busiest in the world, moving ahead with their plans to cut air pollution? On Dec. 2, the ports and air-quality officials there launched a 12-month demonstration of trucks that burn natural gas to transport containers off-loaded from ships. On Oct. 1, those ports in conjunction with trucking companies and other stakeholders introduced the Clean Trucks Program. We understand the Port of Oakland's concerns about the economy and how it's affecting the shipping industry, but if there is a concern that truckers are taking on too much, perhaps the Southern California model can help. Why not encourage trucking companies and affected businesses to help so independent truckers can remain independent and don't carry as much of the burden?A bad economic climate is all the more reason to have many affected parties involved to share the burden so this venture proceeds in a timely fashion. Actually, this is a partnership that probably should have been done in the first place.People's health is at risk and the Port of Oakland, in good economic times or bad, has to clean up its shop.Santa Cruz SentinelTree-sit, UCSC mediation ends without resolution...J.M. BROWNhttp://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_11204205Mediation between UC Santa Cruz and representatives of the Science Hill tree-sit ended in failure late Wednesday, leaving questions about a potential showdown when crews fell the trees, which must be done before construction begins in the spring.Tree-sit spokeswoman Jennifer Charles, who participated in the mediation paid for by the university, said UCSC declined to make concessions about development in the north end of campus. Halting growth and its disputed environmental impacts have been the protest's chief aim, Charles said. The tree-sit began 13 months ago.Charles said the university had agreed not to arrest tree sitters willing to abandon their 75-foot high redwood perches above a parking lot slated to be the site of a new biomedical facility. She said the two sides also discussed concerns from demonstrators about curtailing scientific research involving the use of animals."It felt productive in sharing where we were coming from," Charles said. "It seems possible that, if given a longer amount of time, we could have potentially reached some kind of agreement."The two sides had agreed mediation would wrap up by the end of fall quarter, which ends this week as students take finals. The mediated sessions took place off campus and involved two members of the chancellor's office and several tree-sit supporters but no high-ranking UCSC officials, Charles said.UCSC spokesman Jim Burns declined to say why mediation failed, but said, "We are sorry that the discussions, which we initiated, didn't produce a resolution. And it remains our hope that the people in the trees will leave voluntarily." Charles acknowledged that tree-sitters are discussing options about the protest's future, including leaving voluntarily, but no decision has been reached. Since a judge ordered the tree-sit vacated in March, both sides have hoped to avoid a standoff that would pit law enforcement officers against demonstrators in a high-stakes removal attempt. A tree-sit in Berkeley ended peacefully in September after police coaxed protesters out of an oak grove.Political science professor Michael Urban, a tree-sit advocate, said he was disappointed mediation failed and fears a future confrontation between demonstrators and authorities."They are defending the redwoods, and they are trying to get us to stop and think about something," Urban said. "If we at UCSC, with its history and reputation, aren't the ones to stop and think about this, then I don't know who might be."Burns said tree-sitters have grossly mischaracterized the university's expansion plans, including claims that UCSC intends to clear-cut the north forest."In UCSC's 43-year history, we've developed approximately one-quarter of the campus acreage," he said. "And, as anyone knows who has set foot on campus, we've done it with great sensitivity to our redwood environment."Los Angeles TimesBush administration takes independent scientific reviews out of Endangered Species ActObama and Congress may reverse last-minute changes, which could accelerate potentially harmful federal projects and allow drilling in Alaska's polar bear habitat...Julie Carthttp://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-na-endangered-species12-2008dec12,0,2596192,print.storyThe Bush administration on Thursday eliminated 35-year-old regulations in the Endangered Species Act that required an independent scientific review of proposed federal projects to determine whether they imperil protected plants and animals.Instead, federal agencies undertaking projects like road and power plant construction or oil and gas drilling will make their own assessment. Without the independent reviews, such projects could be accelerated. As part of the changes announced by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in the final days of the Bush administration, the department finalized an interim rule that allows oil and gas drilling in polar bear habitat off Alaska's coast. The rule change is designed to prevent the Endangered Species Act from being used to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, essentially making climate change policy. Kempthorne, who characterized the new rules as a common-sense streamlining of bureaucratic processes, acknowledged that there was disagreement within the department regarding the rules, which take effect in 30 days. Under current law, agencies must submit any plans that could harm species on the endangered list for review by scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces the Endangered Species Act. The process has been criticized by home builders groups and the oil and gas industry for delaying costly projects. The consultation requirement was intended as more than just a check and balance. Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and director of Fish and Wildlife under President Clinton, said the consultation process resolved the problem of "mission conflict" between agencies. The Department of Defense, for example, might not understand why an endangered plant should be considered when expanding a bombing range."The problem is the agencies don't always properly consider, understand or protect species in their habitat because they are focused on the pursuit of their primary mission," Clark said. "It's hard for the biologists to satisfy their responsibility to protect species if the agency perceives it affects their primary mission."President-elect Barack Obama said he would reverse the rule changes, as have some members of Congress. But that requires a lengthy rule-making process. In the House, members can invoke the rarely used Congressional Review Act to overturn the regulations."These changes are going to result in more species being put in jeopardy," Clark said. "But more importantly, we are not going to know what we don't know anymore."Officials said agencies would still be held liable if they approved projects that harmed threatened or endangered species. Kempthorne also noted that any federal agency could choose to informally consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service at any time.H. Dale Hall, director of Fish and Wildlife, said he had concerns about how fast the estimated 235,000 public comments were processed. Staff assigned to the job spent eight hours a day tabulating the comments. Working under strict time restraints, agency employees had nine seconds to read each letter, according to one calculation.Officials said that more than 200,000 of the comments opposed the rule change.Attempts to revise the Endangered Species Act have been rebuffed by Congress in recent years. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Thursday's actions were another assault on the law."These midnight regulations are part of a continuing effort by the Bush administration to repeal our landmark environmental laws through the back door and weaken protections for our nation's endangered species," she said in a statement."I believe they are illegal, and if similar regulations had been in place, they would have undermined our ability to protect the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the gray whale," Boxer said.Environmental groups, which took the administration to court to force it to list the polar bear, vowed to continue the legal battle. Three groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and Defenders of Wildlife, filed suit in San Francisco hours after the changes were announced, arguing that the regulations failed to follow the public review process."The Bush administration has repackaged the same old lump of coal as a holiday present for the polar bear, and once again handed its friends in the oil industry a huge gift," said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the 2005 petition to list polar bears. "These regulations seem designed to drive the polar bear extinct." The rule regarding polar bears comes seven months after that animal became the first to be placed on the Endangered Species List primarily because of global climate change. The melting of sea ice is threatening the polar bear with extinction. This summer, scores of polar bears were observed swimming in open seas, far from land or ice floes.But Kempthorne said that he wouldn't allow the 1973 law to be used as a "back door for implementing climate-change policy." To that end, he clarified regulations addressing threats to polar bear habitat: greenhouse emissions from automobiles, power plants and other human activities. The act requires federal agencies to designate habitat critical to the creature's survival, then protect it by strict enforcement. Kempthorne said that according to his reading, court rulings require pinpointing a specific source of a threat to habitat -- something that he said was scientifically impossible. That interpretation of the courts' opinions gives the government few options to protect polar bear habitat.California adopts the most sweeping curbs on greenhouse gas emissions in U.S.The state air board orders a 15% cut in emissions over the next 12 years, bringing them down to 1990 levels...Margot Roosevelthttp://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-me-climate12-2008dec12,0,4026681,print.storyReporting from Sacramento — California regulators adopted the nation's first comprehensive plan to slash greenhouse gases Thursday and characterized it as a model for President-elect Barack Obama, who has pledged an aggressive national and international effort to combat global warming.The ambitious blueprint by the world's eighth-largest economy would cut the state's emissions by 15% from today's level over the next 12 years, bringing them down to 1990 levels.Approved by the state's Air Resources Board in a unanimous vote, the 134-page plan lays out targets for virtually every sector of the economy, including automobiles, refineries, buildings and landfills. It would require a third of California's electricity to come from solar energy, wind farms and other renewable sources -- far more than any state currently requires.Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been a vigorous advocate of the plan, vowed that it would "unleash the full force of California's innovation and technology for a healthier planet."Businesses, however, are sharply divided.Automakers oppose California's pending crackdown on carbon dioxide emissions from cars, a regulation that more than a dozen states have pledged to adopt. Manufacturers want regulators to lower the cost of complying, saying it will lead to billions of dollars in higher electricity costs."This plan is an economic train wreck waiting to happen," James Duran of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce told the board, saying that it would cause financial hardship to minority-owned companies.But Bob Epstein, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, led a coalition of energy, technology and Hollywood executives, including Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, in endorsing the plan as a spur to the state's lagging economy.Investors have poured $2.5 billion into California clean-tech companies in the first nine months of the year, up from $1.8 billion for all of 2007, he said, a level that eclipsed the software industry."This plan is a clear signal to investors to invest in California," Epstein said.Schwarzenegger, a sharp critic of President Bush's opposition to climate legislation, said, "When you look at today's depressed economy, green tech is one of the few bright spots out there."California's plan will be "a road map for the rest of the nation," he predicted.After an aborted attempt last spring, Congress is expected to renew its efforts to craft climate legislation next year. Many of the elements in contention are addressed in California's blueprint, including a cap-and-trade program that would allow industries to reduce emissions more cheaply.In 18 months of public hearings and workshops, hundreds of people testified and more than 43,000 comments were submitted. More than 250,000 copies of the plan have been viewed or downloaded from the air board's website in the last two months.The state's blueprint will be implemented over the next two years through industry-specific regulations. Republican legislators have called on Schwarzenegger to delay the plan, citing the dire state of California's economy and criticism of the air board's economic models.Fears were also expressed at Thursday's hearing by city and county officials who said the plan's effort to force land-use changes infringes on local powers. Environmentalists want more ambitious strategies to curb the sprawl that has led to a rapid increase in driving, and thus in greenhouse gases.Worldwide, emissions of planet-warming gases, which are mainly formed by burning fossil fuels, have been growing far more rapidly than scientists had predicted. California is expected to experience severe damage from climate change by mid-century, including water shortages from a shrinking snowpack, increased wildfires, rising ocean levels and pollution-aggravating heat waves.Given the state's fast-growing population and sprawling suburban development, its emissions are on track to increase by 30% over 1990 levels by 2020. The new blueprint would slash the state's carbon footprint over the next 12 years by a total of 174 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions -- the equivalent of 4 metric tons for every resident.Despite the reach of the state's effort, it would barely make a dent in global warming: The state's emissions account for about 1.5% of the world's emissions. Nonetheless, air board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said California's leadership has spurred other states to move ahead. "We are filling a vacuum left by inaction at the federal level," she said.More than two dozen states have committed to capping emissions since California passed its landmark 2006 global warming law, the trigger for Thursday's action by the Air Resources Board.California has joined with four Canadian provinces and seven western states to form a regional cap-and-trade program. Under the program, the states would set a total allowable amount of emissions -- as California did in its blueprint. Utilities and other large industries would be required to obtain allowances to cover their emissions. If companies cut emissions more than required, they can sell their extra emission reductions to firms that are not able to meet their targets.A cap-and-trade system has been adopted in Europe, where it was initially fraught with logistical problems and afforded windfall profits to many industries. California's system, which would apply to industries responsible for 85% of its emissions, is the most controversial aspect of its plan.Groups representing low-income residents of polluted urban areas testified that allowing industries to trade in emissions would lead to dirtier plants in their neighborhoods. Under California's plan, industries would also be allowed to buy "offsets" -- emission reductions from projects in other states, or possibly foreign nations, to avoid making their own reductions.However, the board assuaged many environmentalists Thursday when it pledged that it would gradually move toward a system to auction 100% of greenhouse gas permits, rather than give the permits away for free, as was initially the case in Europe.Bernadette del Chiaro, an energy analyst for Environment California, predicted the auctions could bring in $1 billion at the outset and up to $340 million per year by 2020."This is huge," she said. "Revenue from polluters would be used to transit to a green economy."California's diesel truck planNew rules will be costly but should lead to cleaner air and lower health costs...Editorialhttp://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-diesel12-2008dec12,0,882088,print.storyCalifornia environmental regulators' science is sound and their policies are groundbreaking, but their timing is truly terrible. What else can you say about a group that is about to approve the most expensive environmental rules in state history even as the economy is melting down? Yet for all the short-term pain that the coming regulations on diesel trucks will cause, they will ultimately save far more than they cost.The state Air Resources Board has been busy of late. On Thursday, it approved the "scoping plan" that lays out California's strategy for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions, and today it's expected to set the nation's most restrictive rules on diesel engines. Older, dirtier trucks will be phased out over 12 years, so that by 2023 every truck on the road -- even those registered elsewhere but that cross California's borders -- must meet emission standards for 2010 diesel engines. And to cut down on greenhouse gases, truckers will be forced to install fuel-efficient tires and aerodynamic devices on their trailers.If all this sounds expensive, it will be. The air board estimates the cost at $5.5 billion, and truckers say it will be far higher. The state will offer $1 billion in subsidies to help them, but that won't come close to covering the bills. Some small operators might be put out of business, and the price of consumer goods -- all those TVs and sneakers and groceries transported by truck -- will rise. But that ignores the economic gains.When it comes to pollution, somebody always pays a price. Currently, the overwhelming majority of the costs are borne by the public. The air board estimates that the new rules will save 9,400 lives by 2025 and up to $68 billion in healthcare costs as cancer-causing emissions are reduced. Moreover, the fuel-efficiency requirements will ultimately save truckers money and help make up for the cost of the upgrades.The American Trucking Assn. is expected to sue the state over the new rules, but it's not likely to get far. California arguably has no choice but to crack down on trucks: Federal law requires the state to clean its air, and without the new rules it couldn't meet national standards. We only wish officials at the Port of Los Angeles, which has passed a similar clean-truck plan, were as sensible as the air board; the port program requires truckers carrying its cargo to be employees of trucking fleets rather than independent contractors, a complication that could tie up the plan in court indefinitely. The port needs a separate truck plan because it has a separate mechanism for funding cleaner vehicles, but it would be better off imitating state regulators and focusing on cleaning the air, not trying to reinvent the steering wheel.Washington PostAdministration Loosens Species Protections...Juliet Eilperinhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/11/AR2008121103392_pf.htmlThe Interior Department yesterday finalized rules changing the way it administers the Endangered Species Act, enabling other government agencies to decide on their own whether a project would harm an imperiled species without an independent scientific review.Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne called the move "a clarification" he considered essential in order to narrow the law's reach."The rule strengthens the regulations so the government can focus on protecting endangered species as it strives to rebuild the American economy," Kempthorne said, adding that agencies can bypass a review by either the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration only "in specific and limited instances where an action is not anticipated to harass, harm or kill a protected species."Dale Hall, who directs the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the change did not mean that agencies could build dams, roads or other projects without taking into account the consequences."The agency still has the full responsibility to make that decision and to defend that decision," Hall said, noting that the loss of an imperiled species, known as "take," carries legal penalties. "They're still liable for take, if take occurs."Hall said he was initially concerned about "the compressed time frame" in which the agency pushed through the rule change, which was unveiled in August, but he added that he didn't "see any harm" in Kempthorne's final decision.Interior went ahead with the rule change one day after the Environmental Protection Agency dropped two other controversial rules changes, saying they had come along too late in President Bush's term. White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the reason was that the administration had "publicly and clearly stated our intention" to enact the endangered species measure well before a self-imposed deadline on eleventh-hour rule changes.The agency received nearly 235,000 comments on the endangered species proposal, at least 208,000 of which were form letters decrying the rule.Congressional Democrats and environmentalists sharply criticized the administration for the Interior Department action."As the Bush administration fades off into the sunset, it continues to take brazen pot shots at everything in sight, including America's landmark conservation law, the Endangered Species Act," said House Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.), who said he would introduce legislation seeking to overturn the rule next year.Separately yesterday, Interior issued a finding limiting the protections that could be invoked to protect polar bears, which were listed as a threatened species this year, on the grounds that the bears are already protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. The finding means that the bears' protected status could not be used to block activities such as oil and gas development outside their Alaska habitat."We do not believe the science is there to make the causal link between activities in the lower 48 to the take of a polar bear," Kempthorne said."To finally admit that the science compels the listing of the polar bear as threatened due to global warming, but then deny it the protections the Endangered Species Act should provide, is nothing other than irresponsible and shameful," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, adding that her group would sue to overturn the rule.New York TimesRule Eases a Mandate Under a Law on Wildlife...Felicity Barringer http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/science/earth/12species.html?_r=1&sq=endangered20species&st=cse&scp=2&pagewanted=printThe Interior Department on Thursday announced a rule that has largely freed federal agencies from their obligation to consult independent wildlife biologists before they build dams or highways or permit construction of transmission towers, housing developments or other projects that might harm federally protected wildlife.The rule, quickly challenged by environmental groups, lets the Army Corps of Engineers or the Federal Highway Administration in many cases rely on their own personnel in deciding what impact a project would have on a fish, bird, plant, animal or insect protected under the Endangered Species Act.In announcing the rule, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said his main intention was to ensure that the 1972 law was not used as a “back door” means of regulating the emission of the gases that accelerate climate change. Without this rule, Mr. Kempthorne said, his decision last summer to list the polar bear as threatened because of the loss of sea ice caused by the warming of the climate could be used to block projects far from the bear’s Arctic habitat.“The Endangered Species Act was never intended to be a back door opportunity for climate change policy,” he said.Legal experts said the change seemed intended to ensure that the protection of species like the polar bear would not impede development of coal-fired power plants or other federal actions that increased emissions of heat-trapping gases. The Endangered Species Act, a complicated law with numerous procedural requirements, has long infuriated business interests and property rights advocates. But the law’s broad sweep, and its impact on a range of issues like hydroelectric power and logging, has largely been supported by federal courts.Conservatives and business interests believed that the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species raised the specter that the law’s impact would be felt far afield. A federal decision to license a coal-fired power plant in Missouri, the reasoning went, could be blocked because the plant’s emissions would indirectly contribute to a reduction of the bear’s icy habitat.But the change to the rule, one of a series of regulatory shifts by the Bush administration in its final months, goes well beyond the concerns about climate change, several legal scholars said.“This goes to the heart of the most important provision of the Endangered Species Act,” said Brian E. Gray, a professor at the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.Professor Gray added that a core principle of the act was that independent wildlife and fisheries agencies had the major say in determining whether an action could be taken “without jeopardizing the continued existence of the species.”“And protecting the continued existence of the species,” he added, “is the overriding purpose” of the law.Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and Defenders of Wildlife, filed suit in federal court to block the rule. And legal scholars said that, given the imminent arrival of a Democratic administration, the change was vulnerable to quick reversal. But the change was welcomed by property rights advocates. Citing the current recession, Rob Rivett, the president of the Pacific Legal Foundation, applauded the revision and said that “the Endangered Species Act has been the opposite of an economic stimulus.” Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, released a statement praising the rule change as a “common sense” revision. Mr. Inhofe added, “This process is a good first step” toward reform of the Endangered Species Act. Pat Parenteau, a professor at the Vermont Law School, disagreed, saying, “For all federal agencies, if this isn’t a carte blanche, it’s certainly a broad license to decide for yourself that you don’t need to consult.”The new rule would take effect in 30 days, or just before President-elect Barack Obama was inaugurated. Legal experts said that among the Obama administration’s options were two quick ones: suspending the rule or settling lawsuits.In his news conference, Mr. Kempthorne said federal agencies proposing or approving construction projects had already had some leeway to decide whether to consult biologists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. And, he added, “Nothing in this regulation relieves a federal agency of its responsibility to ensure that a listed species is not harmed.”Questioned about the last-minute nature of the rule change, which put Fish and Wildlife officials on a forced march to sort through more than 200,000 comments about the proposal, he asked, rhetorically, if Eli Manning, the New York Giants quarterback, should be taken off the field in the last five minutes of a game. “We have 39 days of work left,” the secretary said, “and we owe it to the public to keep working.”CNN MoneyDecember layoffs exceed 100kJob cuts continue to mount in December as recession deepens.http://money.cnn.com/2008/12/12/news/economy/job_cuts/index.htm?postversion=2008121213NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The second week of December was another brutal one for jobs, as Bank of America and at least 20 other companies announced more massive cuts."The recent news does not bode well," said Rich Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research. "This is the reason it's going to be the longest recession we've had in post World War II history."The week got off to a rough start on Monday when Dow Chemical (DOW, Fortune 500) said it would eliminate 5,000 positions and close 20 plants. In addition, Belgian-based brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev said it would reduce 1,400 positions; 3M (MMM, Fortune 500) also reported 1,800 cuts.On Tuesday Sony (SNE), Danaher Corp. (DHR, Fortune 500), Wyndham Worldwide (WYN), the National Football League and Principal Financial Group (PFG, Fortune 500) announced job cuts totaling another 14,400 positions. Novellus Systems (NVLS) and electronics gaming company EA (ERTS) also announced staff reductions without specifying a number of employees.On Wednesday, Office Depot (ODP, Fortune 500) unveiled its plan to cut about 2,200 jobs; British mining company Rio Tinto said it would cut 14,000 jobs worldwide; and SKF, a Swedish manufacturer of bearings, revealed plans to lay off 2,500 workers globally.Thursday was particularly bad, thanks to news that Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) plans to slash up to 35,000 jobs over the next three years as it absorbs Merrill Lynch and contends with the deepening recession.On Friday came the announcement that specialty chemicals maker Chemtura (CEM) will cut about 500 people, or 20% of its staff, because of declining sales. Fairchild Semiconductor (FCS) said it plans to cut about 1,100 jobs worldwide, or about 12% of its work force, to reduce payroll expenses.All in all, 19 big-name companies announced 81,500 job cuts, according to company reports. That figure is likely larger, however, because it does not reflect layoffs happening at small- and mid-sized businesses.This follows a slew of bad news the previous week, when AT&T (T, Fortune 500), Credit Suisse Group (CS), DuPont (DD, Fortune 500) and Viacom Inc. (VIA), among others, announced about 34,000 cuts.Midway through the month, December's job cut total stands at 115,416. In terms of job losses, December could be even worse than November, when 533,000 jobs were lost, according to the Labor Department. That was the largest monthly loss since December 1974."Generally companies like to make their cuts by the end of the year," explained David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's. As such, he expects there to be many more cuts announced over the rest of the month.2009 and beyondGoing forward, "the job market will continue to deteriorate for the next couple of months," said Bernard Baumohl, chief economist at the Economic Outlook Group. Baumohl expects monthly job loses of 550,000 to 600,000, but "it may very well exceed 600,000 too because of the severity and speed this economy is sinking into a recession," he said. In terms of job losses, 2008 is on pace to be the worst since 1982, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But if Baumohl's 600,000+ prediction is accurate, 2008 could show the greatest number of layoffs since 1945, when the economy shed 2.75 million jobs."These job-loss announcements are going to impact the job reports in January, February, March and April," said Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, because that's when many of the announced layoffs will actually occur.Economists say the unemployment rate, which stands at 6.7%, will also rise over the course of next year and into 2010.Wyss predicts it will be 8.5% by December of next year. Baumohl said the jobless rate will peak close to 10% by the end of next year or early 2010. "A lot depends on what happens with the auto bailout," Baumohl added. "If that does not come through, then obviously the situation becomes even more dire in terms of layoffs and claims for unemployment insurance."The Senate failed to pass a $14 billion bailout plan on Thursday, but the White House said it may tap the $700 billion bailout approved by Congress in October to help the auto industry. How to fix the housing messThe government has been trying to stabilize the housing market for over a year with no luck. Here are three fresh ideas from the private sector that just might work...Colin Barr, senior writerhttp://money.cnn.com/2008/12/11/real_estate/mortgage-bailout.fortune/index.htm?postversion=2008121112NEW YORK (Fortune) -- What can the government do stabilize the housing market?Policymakers have been searching for an answer to that question for the past year as the tally of home foreclosures continues to surge and home prices continue to plunge.So far, the Troubled Asset Recovery Program has been a disappointment, focusing more on shoring up the banking system than on addressing the problems of homeowners. While Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chief Sheila Bair has been an outspoken advocate of mortgage modifications via rate reductions and term extensions, the Fed and the Treasury have been more intent on providing cheap mortgage financing via Fannie Mae (FNM, Fortune 500) and Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500), and cutting interest rates in a bid to make monthly mortgage payments more affordable.What's worse, even mortgages that have been modified often go back into default within six months, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said this week."Modifying mortgages is an unbelievably labor-intensive thing," says Len Blum, a managing director at New York investment bank Westwood Capital. "Each case is different."Fortunately, there is no shortage of alternative remedies for the housing mess. But none of these solutions is cheap, and officials will have to decide who among taxpayers, troubled homeowners and investors in mortgages will bear the burden of paying for it all.Interest subsidies. One approach, forwarded by former Pulte Homes (PHM, Fortune 500) chief James Grosfeld, would have the government subsidize monthly payments paid by homeowners burdened by toxic mortgages made at the peak of the housing bubble, mainly between 2005 and 2007. He defines these mortgages as subprime, option arms and Alt-A mortgages. If a homeowner is currently paying 8% interest, he says, the government could contribute 3% - thereby lowering the homeowner's payment to 5%.Grosfeld says as many as half of the estimated 9 million toxic mortgages could go bad in coming years, at enormous cost to the nation. He urges the government to apply the same logic to the troubled homeowners that it did to the banks that have gotten hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer-backed funding in recent months."Their behavior, in assuming toxic mortgages that they could not afford and whose risks they did not understand, is no worse than the unsupervised and highly risky behavior that has taken place in our major financial institutions," Grosfeld says. "Our nation needs homeowners who are 'well capitalized,' which in their case means affordable and predictable monthly payments. This means interest rate relief."The key to any workable homeowner-relief plan, Grosfeld says, is to make the plan simple, to offer it without exception to those with toxic loans and make the plan worthwhile for loan servicers by giving them a one-time payment to implement the plan.The last point is important, he says, because some two-thirds of outstanding mortgage loans have been securitized, or bundled together and sold as bonds on Wall Street. Bondholders object to any plans that would lower rates for homeowners because that means lower interest payments to them.That's why the bulk of the toxic mortgage market has been relatively untouched by the modification plans rolled out earlier this year by mortgage financiers Fannie Mae (FNM, Fortune 500) and Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500) and big banks such as JPMorgan (JPM, Fortune 500) and Citigroup (C, Fortune 500). Those firms can modify on a large scale only the so-called whole loans on their books - mortgages that haven't been sold as bonds to investors. Under Grosfeld's proposal, the mortgage is not modified, merely subsidized, so that bondholders receive their contracted interest payments.Investors, Grosfeld says, would actually benefit from his plan. Homeowners that pay lower monthly payments will be less likely to abandon their homes, thereby increasing the value of the bonds that are secured by these mortgages.Grosfeld concedes that his program will be costly, but says it's apt to be less expensive than plans that would have the government buying mortgage bonds at par and refinancing those loans. He adds that most costly, for the economy, would be a failure to act on behalf of homeowners.Insuring mortgage payments. Another approach, offered up by Jack Guttentag, an emeritus finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, would have private mortgage insurers guarantee that investors in mortgage bonds continue to receive payments even in the event of a default. The government would backstop the insurers, by covering the first 10% of insurance losses over three years and half of all losses afterward.Like the Grosfeld plan, this concept would bolster the value of mortgage-backed securities, reducing the stress in the financial system. But for this approach to work, Guttentag says, lenders and investors in mortgage bonds would have to write the value of troubled mortgage loans down to market values.While investors surely won't be eager to do that, Guttentag says the government can sweeten the pot by covering part of those writedowns.Take the case of a house worth $100,000 at current prices, but whose owner is saddled with a $120,000 mortgage. To qualify for the government-backed private mortgage insurance plan that would guarantee timely principal and interest payments, the investors who own the mortgage loan would have to write its value down to $90,000 - 90% of current market value.But to ease the pain of that writedown, the government would contribute the difference between the market value and the written-down loan - in this case, $10,000. The government then extends a loan to the homeowner that is interest-free for five years and repayable in the five years after that. If the homeowner sells the house, the government gets half of any profit above the written-down loan value.The investor is left with a smaller loan whose repayment is guaranteed, while the homeowner gets a more manageable mortgage. The restructuring also wipes out the homeowner's negative equity position. And when house values start appreciating again, the government shares in any upside - an important consideration in the years ahead, when the federal focus will shift from managing the crisis to reducing the deficit.Some earlier mortgage-modification programs, including the ones overseen by the FDIC, have stopped short of calling for principal writedowns on the rationale that they aren't allowed by most contracts covering mortgage-backed securities. But Guttentag says mortgage-bond trustees can waive that restriction if they can make the case that a restructuring is in investors' best interest. What's more, he adds, Congress could make the decision easier for loan servicers by protecting them from lawsuits."If necessary," Guttentag writes, "government could pass legislation that protects servicers from legal liability if they accept balance reductions that in the best judgment of the servicer are in the interest of investors."He stresses that negative equity - the state of owning more on your mortgage than your house is worth - is emerging as a growing source of defaults and foreclosures as home prices fall. "Plans that don't attack negative equity aren't getting to the main issue," he says.Letting prices fall. A third approach is outlined by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He says the key to stabilizing house prices is to allow them to fall to their long-term trend, as determined by a multiple of annual rent payments."Bringing prices back to their trend level is the most effective way to boost demand in the market and to begin to reduce the record vacancy rate," he writes in a recent paper.Though much has been made of the double-digit percentage decline of house prices over the past year in most of the country, Baker says they have further to fall in many areas.Indeed, while prices have fallen 20% from their mid-2006 peak, according to the S&P Case-Shiller national index, they remain 89% above their January 2000 level in Washington, 71% above it in New York and up 60% in Boston. The reason, Baker says, is that appreciating house prices fed speculation that left prices at unsustainable levels - particularly in an economy that is now in recession."While real house prices increased by more than 80% in the decade from 1996 to 2006 according to the Case-Shiller national index, real rental prices increased by just 4% over this period," Baker writes. "This gap suggests the extent to which house prices were driven by speculation rather than the fundamentals in the housing market."While Baker's proposal is eye-openingly realistic from an economic perspective - many market observers agree that house prices will have to return to their long-run trend and be comparable to rents before any recovery can begin - it looks unlikely to carry the day politically. The government, after all, has spent the past year pouring money into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in hopes that affordable mortgage financing can help break the spiral of declining house prices.Though that effort has clearly failed, it is at this moment extremely unlikely that the feds will do an about-face and follow Baker's recommendation to deflate the housing bubble once and for all by restricting Fannie and Freddie financing in areas where house prices remain above rental equivalents, and making policy changes that allow homeowners whose equity has been wiped out to stay on as renters.