EPA approves California pollution rule...H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency has given the go-ahead for California to impose stringent regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
California has been fighting the federal EPA over the issue for years. The agency's approval announced Tuesday is needed before a 2004 state pollution law to combat global warming can go into effect. It would require the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles to increase by 40 percent by 2016 to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon.
The decision had been expected. President Barack Obama in May announced a national requirement similar to the one in California. The federal waiver for California to go ahead with its rule sets the stage for the national program.
'Two Gates' project could ease water crisis...Mark Grossi
A bold experiment in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta could protect threatened fish and ease California's water crisis. But it faces steep challenges.
The idea is to submerge massive barriers in river channels to prevent the delta smelt from swimming toward certain death at water pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
The experiment, called the "Two Gates" project, comes up at water rallies and political strategy sessions among San Joaquin Valley lawmakers who support the idea. They hope it will bring more water to 25 million residents and millions of farmland acres.
The gates -- which have not been fully detailed publicly -- would be mounted on sunken barges in two large channels in the central part of the delta. They would prevent turbid water from flowing south toward the pumps. The adult smelt tend to follow the turbid water, scientists said.
With the gates closed, the pumps could continue sending water south without harming the fish.
But there are serious hurdles ahead. The public hasn't seen any details. There is no funding yet for the $26 million project. And environmental analysis of such projects can take years.
Still, farmers and city officials hope the gates could be installed by December. A detailed plan might be available for public review in the next several weeks.
Politicians are pressuring government wildlife agencies to analyze it quickly. Water officials hope to tap federal stimulus money.
That's not enough to bring environmentalists and fishing organizations on board.
"This thing is an embryo right now," said Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance in Stockton. "I don't even know what we're talking about."
The experiment is the brainchild of state and federal contractors -- farm and city officials -- who are coping with reduced water deliveries for smelt protection. Further pumping cutbacks are expected for other suffering species, such as Chinook salmon and green sturgeon.
The delta's pumps, long considered a factor in dwindling fish populations, send water into San Luis Reservoir. San Luis storage this summer is less than 30% of average because of delta pumping restrictions and the three-year drought.
The California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are studying the Two Gates proposal, which water contractors began assembling last year as water cutbacks continued.
City and farm contractors developed the idea with their own consultants and presented it to state and federal officials this year, said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District.
Westlands and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California were among the water contractors that pushed the idea.
Michelle Light, state water resources regional planning officer, said the engineering and design work have progressed well. She said the state's analysis is moving quickly because of water shortages and the dwindling smelt population.
Katherine Kelly, chief of the federal reclamation bureau's Bay Delta office, added that there would be a July meeting of scientists to discuss the details of the proposal. No date has been scheduled yet.
Even if the project is completed by December, Birmingham cautioned farmers and others not to consider Two Gates a guarantee of increased water supply.
"There is a perception that construction of this project will lead to an increase of water," he said. "This really is an experiment."
Two Gates would be an innovation compared to previous solid barriers that could not be easily opened and closed. Such solid barriers have been used in the past to protect fish, maintain water quality and keep water at desired levels in the sprawling river delta, according to the water resources department.
Dan Nelson of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Authority, representing west-side farmers, said Two Gates is flexible by comparison. Besides opening and closing, the barges can be moved to see if they work better in other locations.
Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, said Two Gates has strong political support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. He said he will continue to pressure wildlife agencies for a quick turnaround on their study of the project.
Water activists to rally in Fresno
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, expected...Robert Rodriguez
Organizers of a second Rally for Water are expecting several hundred, if not thousands, to descend on downtown Fresno on Wednesday as they continue their fight for more water.
Farmers, workers and elected officials have been invited to attend the noon rally in front of City Hall. A march around the downtown area will follow.
Mario Santoyo, a member of the Latino Water Coalition and organizer of the event, said the group wants to continue the momentum it gained from a four-day protest march in early April.
Several thousand participated in the march that began in Mendota and ended at the base of the San Luis Reservoir with a rally that drew Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"We are not going away and we want to continue to keep this issue alive," Santoyo said. "We hope that this will help expedite getting a solution to the problem."
The problem, Santoyo and farmers say, is a result of three consecutive dry years and environmentally driven pumping restrictions at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a major irrigation artery for farmers in west Fresno County.
Santoyo said Sunday's visit to Fresno by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is an example that elected officials are listening to their plight.
Salazar spoke to about 800 people at California State University, Fresno, saying the Valley's drought and its toll on the regional economy have the attention of President Barack Obama.
"Having Secretary Salazar here was not because he penciled it into his schedule, it got penciled in," Santoyo said.
But several farmers said that while they appreciated Salazar's appearance in Fresno, they were hoping for more.
"We are glad he came out but he did not offer any real fixes to our situation," said Ryan Ferguson, a west Fresno County farmer who attended Sunday's meeting. "We need some relief right now and he did not allude to anything of that nature."
A shortage of irrigation water on the west side has caused farmers to fallow thousands of acres and lay off or reduce the hours for many farmworkers in the area.
Salazar did, however, list several actions that he is taking or plans to take, including assigning Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor to work with state officials on short- and long-term water supply plans, and continuing efforts to distribute $160 million in federal Recovery Act funds to the federal Central Valley Project.
Also Monday, Schwarzenegger announced the appointment of Lester Snow as a new state coordinator on issues relating to the water shortages. Schwarzenegger said Snow, of the Department of Water Resources, will coordinate work on long- and short-term fixes on the state government side.
Westside grower Frank Williams said it was important for Salazar to visit the Valley.
"I think he understands that this is real and we are hurting," Williams said. "And we are hoping that our concerns will gain traction and momentum among legislators, because something has to change.
Still more action needed on water issues...Editorial
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar offered some federal assistance to ease the California water crisis, and that at least shows the Obama administration finally has put this emergency on its radar screen. But this problem is too complex for quick fixes, and it will take state and federal action to resolve it.
So far, lawmakers in California have not offered a comprehensive water solution and that's another failing of the state Legislature. But Salazar responded to the pressure of agriculture and farmworker groups with several key announcements Sunday. This action would not have come without the intense pressure they put on the Obama administration the past few months.
At a town hall in Fresno, Salazar said $160 million in Recovery Act funds will go to the Central Valley Project, which manages the dams and canals that move our water around.
Salazar also named Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes as the "water czar" who will coordinate solutions between federal agencies and state officials.
The interior secretary also reminded farmers that on Wednesday, pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will be turned on, and will operate for the rest of this year. That will help some, although the action should have come sooner.
Farmers have targeted environmentalists and the Endangered Species Act as the villains. But it's the Legislature and governor -- both past and present -- who have failed to meet the growing water needs of the state.
California's population has doubled since the last major water project was built in the state.
But state lawmakers continue to dodge this issue, fearing that they'll anger one of the many interest groups involved in the issue.
We believe that agricultural, urban and environmental water needs can be accommodated with a comprehensive water plan. There would have to be compromises by all parties to the water debate.
The solution must include building dams, expanding underground storage through water banking and dramatically increasing water availability through conservation efforts.
The local congressional delegation, especially Reps. Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza, played a big role in getting Salazar to Fresno. But much more must be done.
PLF Launches “Save Our Water” Petition to Obama and Schwarzenegger
Federal “God Squad’s” Help Sought for California’s Crisis...Published online on Monday, Jun. 29, 2009
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Pacific Legal Foundation today launched an emergency “Save our Water” petition campaign, urging President Barack Obama and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to act to convene a special federal panel, nicknamed the “God Squad,” to address California’s water emergency caused by harsh federal environmental restrictions.
PLF’s petition is online at www.pacificlegal.org. It allows members of the general public to ask President Obama and Governor Schwarzenegger to act to convene the “God Squad.”
“Water cutbacks caused by draconian federal environmental regulations have already caused devastation for San Joaquin Valley farmers, farmworkers, rural communities, and cities,” said PLF President Rob Rivett. “Now, new federal restrictions have been proposed that will exacerbate the water crisis in California. The Endangered Species Committee – the ‘God Squad’ – must be convened to save the California economy from an even more destructive government-caused water crisis.”
The Endangered Species Committee is a panel of cabinet officials that can countermand Endangered Species Act restrictions that cause excessive destruction to jobs and the economy.
A governor may formally petition for the convening of the Committee. PLF’s “Save our Water” petition urges Governor Schwarzenegger to submit such a request, and urges President Obama to make sure his administration acts favorably on it.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has imposed devastating cutbacks on water pumping into California’s main water system as part of a regulatory scheme to protect the delta smelt.
Now, federal officials are proposing sweeping new reductions in water supplies as part of a “biological opinion” relating to several species, including chinook salmon and steelhead. These further cuts in pumping and water supplies are estimated to remove an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water, the amount that is required to serve two million people annually.
“Without relief from the God Squad, the harsh enforcement of rigid environmental rules will inflict more pain and suffering in a state that is already enduring its worst unemployment in more than 60 years,” said PLF’s Rivett. “PLF’s emergency petition asks that the God Squad be convened as quickly as possible.”
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is the leading legal watchdog for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulation.
EPA Gives Green Light to State Clean Car Standards...Environmental Defense Fund...Press Release
Action Will Reduce Global Warming, Cut Reliance on Foreign Oil, Save Consumers Money at the Gas Pump SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision today to grant California's long-standing request to carry out Clean Car standards immediately clears the way for emission standards in California and 13 additional states to cut global warming pollution. The Agency's decision revs up the drive to national greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger vehicles: President Obama forged an agreement with states and auto makers on May 19th providing for a national clean car program in model years 2012 to 2016 that is based on the state standards. The national program would achieve a five percent annual improvement in fuel economy from today's fleet average of 25.1 miles per gallon (mpg) to 35.5 mpg in 2016.
"The states have pioneered clean car standards that reduce one of this country's leading sources of global warming pollution while strengthening our national and economic security," said Derek Walker, director of Environmental Defense Fund's California Climate Initiative.
A new Environmental Defense Fund report released today, Saving Fuel, Saving Money, Saving Our Climate, shows that motor vehicle drivers in the 13 states that have adopted California's Clean Car standards would save hundreds of dollars annually at the gas pump while reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The 13 states adopting the California Clean Car standards are Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
"Cleaner cars are a trifecta that will save drivers money at the gas pump, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and cut global warming pollution from tailpipes," said James Fine, economist and policy scientist at Environmental Defense Fund.
On May 19th, the President announced a landmark agreement to adopt federal emission standards for model years 2012 through 2016 that apply the state clean car program nationwide. EPA estimates the national program would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. light-duty fleet 19 percent by 2030.
Under the agreement, the state clean car standards will apply from model years 2009-2011, until the federal standards are carried out. During this transition period, the states will allow fleetwide compliance across all states adopting the clean car standards to expand the averaging pool for determining compliance.
Beginning in model year 2012, compliance with the new national standards would be deemed to reflect compliance with the state standards. The auto industry, in turn, would dismiss its legal challenges to the state clean car programs, would not challenge the EPA decision to grant the preemption waiver for the California clean car standards, and would not challenge the national clean car standards.
Cars and light trucks are one of America's largest sources of global warming pollution, and the fastest growing. Cars and light trucks account for nearly one-third of greenhouse gas emission in California and about 16 percent of U.S. global warming pollution.
California requested a preemption waiver under the Clean Air Act in 2005 but the Bush administration's EPA denied the request. Under federal law, EPA shall grant California's request to administer more protective motor vehicle emission standards unless EPA affirmatively finds that the state does not need the standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions. EPA denied California's request in 2008, the first time in more than 30 years EPA has issued a denial despite reviewing and granting more than 50 waiver requests from California.
About Environmental Defense Fund
A leading national nonprofit organization, Environmental Defense Fund represents more than 700,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information, visit www.edf.org.
Derek Walker, (410) 980-0939 (m), email@example.com
James Fine, (916) 710.3371, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lori Sinsley, (415) 293-6097 (o), (415) 308-6970 (m), email@example.com
SOURCE Environmental Defense Fund
Fed works to speed solar development in Southwest...KEN RITTER, Associated Press Writer. Associated Press Energy Writer Chris Kahn in New York contributed to this report...6-29-09
LAS VEGAS The federal government's top land steward said Monday that the United States will fast-track efforts to build solar power generating facilities on public space in six Western states.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he has signed an order setting aside more than 1,000 square miles of public land for two years of study and environmental reviews to determine where solar power stations should be built.
"We are putting a bull's-eye on the development of solar energy on our public lands," Salazar said during an announcement with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, in a courtyard shaded by a solar power array at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Salazar and Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, invoked President Barack Obama's call for rapid development of renewable energy.
"We hear a lot about doing something about the environment," Reid said. "That's what this is all about. We want to not be dependent on foreign oil. This will make America a more secure nation."
Salazar vowed to have 13 "commercial-scale" solar projects under construction by the end of 2010. He set a goal of producing a total of 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity.
Salazar said the federal Bureau of Land Management plans to spend $22 million conducting studies of 24 tracts in the 670,000 acres of property he set aside in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. Posters displayed Monday showed some of the sites in southern Nevada, Southern California east of San Diego, an area west of Phoenix, and tracts north of Cedar City in Utah, southwest of Pueblo, Colo., and around Las Cruces, N.M.
Bureau officials said the goal will be to identify lands of at least three square miles with solar exposure, suitable slopes and proximity to existing or designated roads and transmission lines. Wilderness, high-conservation-value lands and lands with conflicting uses were excluded. Setting aside the sites, called Solar Energy Study Areas, would prevent new mining claims and other third-party use during the studies.
An industry official hailed Salazar's promise to clear a logjam in utility-scale solar developments. The BLM said it has 158 active applications for solar power plants pending.
"In 2007, more than 7,000 permits on BLM lands were approved for oil and gas energy developers," Solar Energy Industries Association chief Rhone Resch said in a statement. "To date, zero permits have been approved for solar energy projects."
Natural Resources Defense Council analyst Helen O'Shea called the plan to find places for solar arrays "the right path to addressing the climate crisis while protecting our natural heritage and creating much needed jobs."
Salazar said bureau was already considering environmental reviews for two projects in Nevada. The NextLight Silver State South would have a solar array producing 267 megawatts, and NextLight Silver State North would produce about 140 megawatts.
Salazar said the two plants combined would produce more electricity than a "mid-sized" coal-fired plant that can produce 350 megawatts.
"With coordinated environmental studies, good land use-planning and zoning, and priority processing, we can accelerate responsible solar energy production," Salazar said.
"This is the beginning of a historic effort in which the United States of America finally captures the power of the sun to power the energy needs in our homes and in our businesses, and in so doing creates jobs for the people of America," he said.
The Interior Department said maps of the sites will be published Tuesday in the Federal Register.
EPA targets 44 coal ash sites in 10 states...H. JOSEF HEBERT,Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON Forty-four coal ash storage sites near 26 communities have been targeted for inspection after federal officials identified the ponds as potential threats to nearby residents.
The storage ponds, which are used to store waste from coal-fired power plants, are in 10 states, according to a list released Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency. The storage sites are similar to the one that flooded a neighborhood in Tennessee last year.
North Carolina has the most sites on the list, a dozen. The largest concentration is near Cochise, Ariz., where there are seven storage ponds.
The agency said it will inspect each of the 44 sites and already has visited about half. Because they are located near communities, the agency wants to make certain they are structurally sound. The sites are classified as potentially highly hazardous because they are near where people live and not because of any discovered defect.
"The high hazard potential means there will be probable loss of human life if there is a significant dam failure," said Matt Hale, director of EPA's office of research, conservation and recovery. "It is a measure of what would happen if the dam would fail. It is not a measure of the stability of the dam."
These ponds hold fly ash, bottom ash, coal slag and flue gas residues that contain toxic metals such as arsenic, selenium, cadmium, lead and mercury, although generally at low concentrations.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who called on the EPA to disclose the high-risk coal ash locations, said it's essential that the public knows where the storage ponds are "so that people have the information they need to quickly press for action to make these sites safer."
Boxer's Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on the coal ash risks after the Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash pond broke. She also pressed for the release of the list of sites when the administration initially balked, citing security concerns.
Last year, two days before Christmas, an earthen dam broke at a coal ash pond operated by the TVA near Kingston, Tenn., sending 5 million cubic yards of ash and sludge across more than 300 acres, destroying or damaging 40 homes. The incident prompted a safety review of storage ponds that hold the waste byproduct near large coal-burning power plants.
Burning coal produces ash, which is kept in liquid, known as slurry, in containment ponds or dams. The EPA lists more than 400 such impoundments across the country, but the 44 singled out Monday represent those that are near populated areas, posing a higher danger.
Until now, the national coal ash site list has not been provided to the public. Earlier this month the Army Corps of Engineers said it didn't want the locations disclosed because of national security and that it could help terrorists target such facilities.
The EPA has been to half the 44 sites and expects to issue reports soon, Hale said, and other inspections are being scheduled. The EPA also is reviewing state inspection reports at some of the sites.
The seven ponds near Cochise, Ariz., hold material from the Apache Station Combustion Waste Disposal Facility operated by Arizona Electric Power Cooperative.
Two other utilities operate nearly half of the coal ash sites on the list and spokesmen for both companies said the sites are routinely inspected and are safe. American Electric Power., based in Columbus, Ohio, has 11 of the sites in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana. "We go above and beyond to make sure our (coal ash) dams are safe," said AEP spokesman Pat Hemlepp. He said the sites are inspected annually by the corporation and more frequently by the individual power plant officials.
Duke Energy Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., has 10 sites in North Carolina. "We are absolutely confident from our monitoring, maintenance and inspections that the dams have the structural integrity to protect the public and the environment," said Duke Energy spokesman Jason Wells.
The 10 states, the number of sites, and communities are:
-North Carolina, 12 (Belmont, Walnut Cove, Spencer, Eden, Mount Holy, Terrell and Arden).
-Arizona, 9 (Cochise, Joseph City).
-Kentucky, 7 (Louisa, Harrodsburg, Ghent and Louisville).
-Ohio, 6 (Waterford, Brilliant and Cheshire).
-West Virginia, 4 (Willow Island, St. Albans, Moundsville, New Haven).
-Illinois, 2 (Havana, Alton).
-Indiana, 1 (Lawrenceburg).
-Pennsylvania, 1 (Shippingport).
-Georgia, 1 (Milledgeville).
-Montana, 1 (Colstrip).
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Fact Sheet: Coal Combustion Residues (CCR) - Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings
Clovis OKs document on Wal-Mart shopping center...Marc Benjamin
The Clovis City Council approved certification of an environmental document Monday night for a 490,000-square-foot shopping center that includes a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
The vote was 3-2 with Mayor Harry Armstrong and Council Member Lynne Ashbeck opposed because they did not agree with the urban decay portion of the study.
But the council's approval won't be the end of the debate.
A lawyer for opponents said the city's environmental impact report does not meet standards for water and urban decay. He said opponents will object to the city's approval when the case goes to court for a judge's approval later this year. No court date has been set.
Ashbeck said that the urban decay study did not seem correct to her.
"You can argue all day about the definition of urban decay. I think we have it now," she said.
But other council members supported the urban decay study. Council Member Nathan Magsig said he deferred to city staff's judgment and years of expertise on the issue.
The council also supported the project's site plan and conditions of approval, which prohibit overnight camping and limit Wal-Mart's hours of operation to 5 a.m. to midnight instead of 24 hours.
The shopping center's developer, David Paynter, also agreed to link security cameras to the Clovis Police Department.
Council members delayed approval of the environmental report in May as new information was analyzed about a 95,000-square-foot Winco Foods store being proposed in the city.
The project could face additional legal action because of urban decay and water supply issues, said Brett Jolley, a Stockton lawyer representing shopping center opponents. He said a decision to appeal the approval has not been made.
About 160 people attending Monday's meeting were closely split between opponents and supporters of the project at Highway 168 and Herndon Avenue.
Managers from Food 4 Less and Save Mart said their companies would likely close stores at Chestnut and Shepherd avenues in Fresno, and Bullard and Minnewawa avenues in Clovis, if a supercenter and Winco were to open.
But Jerry Cook, the landowner where a Clovis Wal-Mart store was built 15 years ago at Peach and Shaw avenues, said critics worried then that stores would close when Wal-Mart opened, but more stores and restaurants came to town.
Peg Bos-Ferrara, a former Clovis council member, said she was opposed to Wal-Mart because it would create a "short-time gain for a long-term negative impact."
The City Council "decertified" its environmental document and reversed approval of the project last year after Fresno County Superior Court Judge Wayne Ellison found the report lacking information about water and effects on shopping centers beyond Clovis city limits.
Clovis planning commissioners recommended a revised environmental document for the center to the City Council in April.
The center is to include Kohl's, Petco and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Salazar doesn't quench farm thirst for water in California...Cecilia Parsons...6-29-09
FRESNO, Calif. - A who's-who of San Joaquin Valley agriculture was part of the crowd that packed a Fresno State student union on a blistering Sunday afternoon, June 28, to hear what they hoped would be good news from Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Salazar, dressed in boots and jeans, didn't deliver any immediate relief to their water woes. Instead, he announced plans for some short-term and long-term fixes for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta so more water could be delivered to farms and communities to the south.
Hundreds of thousands of acres have been fallowed on the west side of the valley this year due to lack of surface water deliveries. The announced allotment is at 10 percent of normal. Unemployment in west side communities is near 40 percent.
Frustration with lack of action was apparent as audience members interrupted speakers shouting, "We don't want welfare, we want water."
Four valley congressmen attending the meeting also drew loud cheers when they said the time for meetings and talk is over.
Salazar's actions included appointment of Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes to coordinate federal and state agency efforts with Delta repairs.
The Central Valley Project will receive $160 million in Recovery Act funds for infrastructure to expedite water transfers, Salazar said. He also promised quick review of the "Two Gates" proposal, which would place removable gates in the Delta to block threatened fish species from being sucked in by the irrigation pumps. The structure could allow more water to move south.
Asked if action on the "Two Gates" proposal would be possible by fall, Salazar said the project had high priority with the Bureau of Reclamation.
A request by Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, that Salazar invoke the federal "God Squad" and ease enforcement of the Endangered Species Act was not on Salazar's priority list.
Taking that action, Salazar said, would mean all other attempts to fix the Delta had failed. It would also bring on litigation, he said at a press conference after the meeting.
San Francisco Chronicle
Truth drought: California's real shortfall...Dr. Peter Gleick, President, Pacific Institute
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar came to California on Sunday to hear firsthand about California's drought. Unfortunately, some of what he heard was misleading or false. Certainly farms and farmers are suffering, so are fish and ecosystems. But so is the truth. Here are three oft-repeated falsehoods.
Myth 1: Farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley are receiving "just 10 percent of their allocation this year."
Myth 2: Water shortages are causing massive new farm unemployment.
Myth 3: Farmers are bearing disproportional impacts of water shortfalls because of court rulings in favor of fish.
All three of these statements are false, and they've been shown to be false so many times that continuing to repeat them verges on intentional deception on the part of those who repeat them to gullible politicians or lazy reporters.
1. Farmers in the Central Valley get water from many places, and when one source dries up, another temporarily takes its place. In a remarkable letter sent by DWR Director Lester Snow to Senator Dianne Feinstein on May 15th, official data show that the major Central Valley districts will use at least 75% of their average water use by mixing sources, using stored groundwater, participating in water transfers, and so on. Not 10%. And the biggest moaner is the Westlands Water District. Yet Snow points out that they will apply at least 86% of their normal water. On the other hand, the San Joaquin Valley wildlife refuges will get 75% of its promised water, less than many of the agricultural districts. Some farmers get less than others in dry years because of their junior water rights -- and they always have. Are they arguing to revamp the water rights system? That would be a worthy discussion to have.
2. The overall job problem is not a water problem -- it is a result of a global and national economic crisis. Increases in unemployment are worse, by far, in non-farm industries. In Fresno County, unemployment today is substantially lower than it was just five and ten years ago (see Figure 1) and farm employment grew; non-farm employment shrunk. Indeed, the only sector showing increases in employment in May 2009 (see http://www.calmis.ca.gov/file/lfmonth/frsn.pdf) was the farm sector. In some of the hardest hit areas, unemployment is much higher -- but it is always much higher. Unemployment rates in Mendota are above 30% now. But you know what? Nine years ago, unemployment in Mendota was 30%. Six years ago, it was 36%. The problem in Mendota isn't just the current drought. The Central Valley of California has been plagued by poverty and lack of access to reliable jobs and basic services, like clean drinking water, for decades. Turning the pumps back on will do little, if anything, to address the systemic injustice that farm worker communities endure in both wet years and dry.
3. It's not the fish. Two months ago, DWR director Lester Snow testified before Congress that if there had been no court order to protect fish, CVP deliveries to the San Joaquin Valley would only be 5% higher. The problems farmers are facing aren't due to the tiny portions of water offered up for ecosystems; they are due to a drought and a dysfunctional water management system that has been slowly collapsing for decades.
The longer misleading arguments and facts are put forth to politicians and the media, the longer it will be before a serious and effective solution can be found to our water challenges.
Governor appoints point person on water issues...AP
Fresno, Calif. (AP) -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed a new state coordinator on issues relating to the water shortages.
The appointment of Lester Snow on Monday comes a day after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar named his chief deputy, David Hayes, as the federal point person coordinating federal action on the state's water problems.
Salazar says Hayes will work to hurry the permit process on projects that could expedite the flow of water through state and federal canals south of the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Schwarzenegger says Snow, of the Department of Water Resources, will coordinate work on long- and short-term fixes on the state government side.
Job loss on farms and in the fishing industry are spurring officials to act
Great Lakes wolves returning to endangered list...JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer
Traverse City, Mich. (AP) -- The federal government on Monday agreed to put gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region back on the endangered species list — at least temporarily.
The decision came less than two months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discontinued federal protection for about 4,000 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The agency acknowledged Monday that it erred by not holding a legally required public comment period before taking action.
Under a settlement with five environmental and animal protection groups that had sued the agency earlier this month, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it would return Great Lakes wolves to the list while considering its next move. They had been classified as endangered from 1974 until their removal May 4.
About 1,300 wolves in Montana and Idaho also were dropped from the list then. Because a public comment period was held in their case, they are not covered by the deal announced Monday and their status will not change. A separate lawsuit on that case will move forward.
About 300 wolves in Wyoming remain listed.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington, D.C., must approve the settlement for it to take effect. If the Fish and Wildlife Service tries again to remove the wolves from the endangered list, it will hold a 60-day comment period, the settlement says.
The agency still believes "wolves in the western Great Lakes have met the recovery criteria and don't need to be listed," Georgia Parham, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said.
Parham said federal officials had thought a comment period was not required because one had been held for a previous effort to reclassify the wolves. But they now agree another was needed, she said.
The activist groups that sued, including the Humane Society of the United States, say state plans for dealing with the wolves open the door to future hunting and trapping of the animals.
"This agreement will give the administration a much-needed opportunity to reconsider the failed wolf-management policies of the past, and hopefully put to rest the states' reckless plans to start sport hunting and trapping imperiled wolves," said Jonathan Lovvorn, a vice president of the Humane Society.
Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin contend their management plans will allow the species to continue flourishing.
The states recently have allowed people to kill wolves attacking livestock or pets. Those provisions would be nullified once wolves again are classified as endangered.
Gray wolves were listed as endangered in 1974, after they had been wiped out across most of the lower 48 states in the early 20th century by hunting and government-sponsored poisoning.
Thanks to federal protection and changing attitudes, they've come back strongly in the western Great Lakes over the past two decades. Minnesota's estimated population is 2,922; Michigan's is 580; and Wisconsin's, 626.
The federal government has tried six times in the past five years to drop them from the endangered list but has been thwarted by lawsuits.
Inside Bay Area
Report sums up Peninsula's high-speed rail concerns...Mike Rosenberg, San Mateo County Times
State high-speed rail officials released a report Monday that caps a tumultuous public outreach period in which a staggering number of issues were raised over the local section of the proposed bullet train.
The 75-page scoping report summarizes the meetings and extensive comment solicitation that took place from January to April. During that span, some city officials and residents recanted their endorsement of Proposition 1A, the project's $10 billion bond measure that was approved by state voters in November, after learning the potential effect the train could have on their communities.
The report and public outreach that preceded it are required by state law before any real planning work can begin. With the report complete, state officials can start evaluating the controversial issue of rail alignment — whether trains will run on raised tracks, below street level or through a tunnel — and begin planning in earnest, a process that will continue through late 2010.
In all, 955 residents, officials, public agencies and organizations submitted written and verbal comments on the San Francisco-to-San Jose portion of the bullet train project during the four-month span, the report said.
The comments will serve as a "checklist" for planners as they design the local portion of the rail line, said regional manager Dominic Spaethling. All the ideas, comments and concerns raised will be studied during the planning process, he said.
"(We) got plenty of creative ideas on how the project should be developed, and also things that we should be cognizant of as we move forward with the environmental work," he said.
Oakland-based engineering firm HNTB Corp., which is managing the Peninsula section of the project and compiled the scoping report, divided the comments into 10 sections. One category contains remarks supporting the project, while nine sections summarize various concerns raised over high-speed rail.
Most of the issues mentioned involve environmental protection, funding questions, fear over eminent domain and the rail-alignment options. Other areas of anxiety include the use of alternative technologies, connectivity and coordination with other transportation systems, methods to improve public outreach and general issues with the project description.
Of those showing support for the project, some said it was long overdue, while others approved of specific aspects of high-speed rail. In November, 61 percent of San Mateo County voters approved Prop 1A.
The comments starting pouring in after the rail authority held three public meetings earlier this year, mailed notices to 16,459 properties near the Caltrain tracks and proposed stations, and notified 809 public officials.
In addition to hundreds of residents and dozens of local organizations, representatives from virtually every city on the Peninsula submitted comments. Caltrain, BART, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, and state and federal agencies also weighed in.
Engineers say the feedback will be instrumental during their upcoming study of the potential alignment options. That alignment analysis, which is the next phase in the planning process, will begin soon and should be released by late fall, Spaethling said. Officials then will seek more public comments on that plan.
Los Angeles Times
Cal/OSHA chief to oversee criminal investigation of fatal UCLA lab fire
Len Welsh said any future action over the December accident would not include harsher civil penalties against the university...Kim Christensen
The head of California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health said Monday he will personally oversee a "rigorous and effective" criminal investigation into the Dec. 29 chemistry lab fire that killed a UCLA staff research assistant.
Cal/OSHA Chief Len Welsh's pledge came after a civil probe last month resulted in one regulatory and three "serious" violations, and fines totaling $31,875. The family of the research assistant, Sheri Sangji, had criticized the review as inadequate.
"I can't tell you what the results will be right now, but I can tell you we are reviewing everything from the very beginning of this inspection and we will take appropriate action," Welsh said Thursday in a voice-mail message to Sangji's sister, Naveen.
But Welsh, who confirmed that he had left the message, said Monday that any future action would not include harsher civil penalties against UCLA, as the family had sought.
"We have decided not to take any further action in the Cal/OSHA civil case," Welsh said, adding that a separate investigation into potential criminal liability, common in death cases, is continuing. "The criminal case, right now, is the one people should be looking to."
If Cal/OSHA finds evidence of a crime, it will turn that material over to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
Sheri Sangji, 23, suffered severe burns over nearly half her body when air-sensitive chemicals burst into flames during an experiment and ignited her clothing. Sangji, who was not wearing a protective lab coat, died 18 days later.
In May, Cal/OSHA issued its citations after concluding that Sangji had not been properly trained and was not wearing protective clothing.
UCLA paid the fines but appealed the violations and sought a stipulation from Cal/OSHA that the school admitted no fault in connection with the findings -- a legal move aimed at limiting liability.
The university withdrew its appeal Friday, however. Kevin Reed, vice chancellor for legal affairs, said Monday that it was not worth the "hue and cry" it had raised from the family, the union that represented Sangji and others.
"In our view it was not worth the distraction it was causing," he said. "It was in UCLA's best interest to withdraw the appeal and move forward, as we have been trying to do since this tragic day happened."
Reed also accused the family of sending Cal/OSHA a letter "ghost-written by plaintiffs lawyers" in an "effort to get some big judgment at the end of the rainbow here."
Naveen Sangji, a Harvard medical student, told The Times that she wrote the letter.
Her sister, who had worked in professor Patrick Harran's organic chemistry lab for less than three months, was transferring up to 2 ounces of t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another when a plastic syringe came apart in her hands, spewing a chemical compound that ignites when exposed to air.
Harran and UCLA officials have called it a tragic accident, saying that Sangji had done the experiment before and was using appropriate methods. They also have corrected violations cited by Cal/OSHA, as well as nearly a dozen others noted in an internal inspection of the lab two months before the accident. Most of those had not been fixed by Dec. 29, records show.
Among other things, the family contends that the Cal/OSHA investigator ignored key information that Naveen had relayed to him from her dying sister, including that Sangji had been making three transfers of 50 milliliters each, or about 1.7 ounces.
The investigator's report, which The Times obtained through a California Public Records Act request, put the volume of t-butyl lithium far lower, at 20 milliliters.
The newspaper also obtained a UCLA fire marshal's report, which quoted Harran as saying that Sangji probably was transferring 40 to 50 milliliters of the chemical and that a different method would have been preferred for that amount. It remains unclear how much experience Sangji had with such air-sensitive chemicals.
Danny Levin, president of Norac Pharma in Azusa, where Sangji worked between her college graduation last spring and her UCLA job beginning in October, said she did not use the highly volatile chemicals there.
Cal/OSHA subpoenaed Norac earlier this month for information about her training, Levin said, but had not contacted the company during the initial investigation that led to the citations in May.
U.S. Economy: Home-Price Slide Eases, Consumer Confidence Drops…Bob Willis and Courtney Schlisserman
June 30 (Bloomberg) -- The home-price slide eased in April, underscoring signs the U.S. economy began to stabilize in the second quarter, while a drop in consumer confidence this month warned of a muted recovery.
“We are not out of the woods yet, but it’s moving in the right direction,” said Ian Morris, chief U.S. economist at HSBC Securities USA Inc. in New York. “The recession may already be over. Unfortunately, not all the pain goes away because the next phase is the jobless recovery.”
A separate report showing a surge in mortgage delinquencies sent stocks lower and pared losses in Treasuries. A jobless rate that is projected to reach 10 percent this year is likely to restrain any pickup in consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy.
Real-estate values in 20 major cities decreased 18.1 percent in April from a year earlier, the smallest decline in six months, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index released today from New York.
The Conference Board’s confidence gauge decreased to 49.3 from a revised 54.8 in May, the New York-based research group said. The figure was still above a record low of 25.3 reached in February.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index was down 1.3 percent to 914.79 at 11:59 a.m. in New York. Treasury securities fell, sending the yield on the benchmark 10-year note up to 3.50 percent from 3.48 percent late yesterday.
Delinquency rates on the least risky mortgages more than doubled in the first quarter from a year earlier, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision said. Prime loans 60 days or more past due climbed to 2.9 percent of all mortgages through March 31 from 1.1 percent at the same point in 2008, signaling government efforts to help homeowners failed to keep pace with job losses that pushed more borrowers toward foreclosure.
Another report from the Institute for Supply Management- Chicago Inc. showed its business barometer climbed to 39.9 in June, the second-highest level in the last nine months.
Economists forecast the home-price index would drop 18.6 percent following an 18.7 percent decline in the 12 months to March, according to the median projection of 33 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Estimates ranged from drops of 17.7 percent to 19.4 percent.
The home-price index figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal effects so economists prefer to focus on year-over-year changes instead of month-to-month.
The measure was down 0.6 percent in April from the prior month, the best performance since June 2008. Eight of the 20 cities showed an increase in prices from March, led by a 1.7 percent gain in Dallas.
“While one month’s data cannot determine if a turnaround has begun, it seems that some stabilization may be appearing in some of the regions,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement.
Over the 12-month period ended in April, declines were most pronounced in Phoenix, which showed a 35 percent drop, Las Vegas followed with a 32 percent decrease, and San Francisco with a 28 percent decline. Property values in San Francisco climbed 0.6 percent in April from the month before, the first gain in two years and the biggest in three.
“The biggest and most import news is the underlying details in Case-Shiller” where previous bubble areas such as San Francisco are now seeing price increases, said HSBC’s Morris. “Home values are getting cheap given how much they’ve declined.”
The Conference Board’s measure of present conditions decreased to 24.8 from 29.7 the prior month. The gauge of expectations for the next six months fell to 65.5 from 71.5.
The share of consumers who said more jobs will be available in the next six months fell to 17.4 percent from 19.3 percent. The proportion of people who said they expect their incomes to rise over the next six months decreased to 9.8 percent from 10.8 percent.
“Consumers are feeling the heat this summer from rising gasoline prices to seized-up labor markets,” said Jeffrey Roach, chief economist at Horizon Investments in Charlotte, North Carolina. That “could keep third-quarter consumer spending muted,” slowing an economic recovery, he said.
The Labor Department is scheduled to release its next payrolls report in two days. The U.S. probably lost 363,000 jobs in June, compared with a 345,000 drop a month earlier, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The unemployment rate, already at a 25-year high of 9.4 percent, likely increased to 9.6 percent, the survey said.
Some retailers continue to offer incentives in a bid to lure customers. Sears Holdings Corp., the largest U.S. department-store chain, said yesterday it will let customers who lose their jobs suspend payments and keep appliances bought with store credit cards.
“We thought this would be a way to get folks to jump in where they’d been a little reluctant,” Doug Moore, president of Sears’s home-appliance unit, said in a telephone interview.