Posts tagged ‘California’

Calif. moves to ban plastic bags at grocery stores

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It could soon cost California shoppers at the checkout aisle if they forget to bring their own bags to the store under what would be the nation’s first statewide plastic bag ban.

The California Assembly on Wednesday passed legislation prohibiting pharmacies and grocery, liquor and convenience stores from giving out plastic bags. The bill also calls for customers to be charged for using store-issued paper bags.

The goal is to get rid of unsightly disposable plastic bags that often wind up in urban rivers and the ocean, as well as to reduce the number of bags heading for landfills.

“The biggest way to eliminate this kind of pollution is to ban it,” said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, who authored the bill.

Discouraging plastic bag use through fees or bans first gained traction outside of the U.S. in nations such as South Africa, Ireland, China and Bangladesh.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require supermarkets and large drug stores to offer customers bags made only of recyclable paper, plastic that can be turned into compost, or sturdy cloth or plastic that can be reused.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. got rid of plastic bags at three of its Northern California stores this January as part of a pilot program to gauge customer response.

No other U.S. state has adopted a ban, according to Brownley’s office.

The bill, AB 1998, still needs state Senate approval. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the Assembly for passing the plastic bag ban, which he called “a great victory for our environment.”

Ashley Smith, 29, of Sacramento said she favors banning plastic bags, even though she reuses her plastic bags to pick up after her dog.

“It’s good to do things that are good for the environment,” Smith said as she left a Safeway grocery store in Sacramento.

Requiring stores to charge customers for paper bags is a cost Republican lawmakers argued some Californians can’t afford.

“This is not the time to be putting a financial burden on families in a very tough economy,” said Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Granite Bay, who estimated his family would spend $50 a year on paper bags.

The American Chemistry Council estimates the bill would amount to a $1 billion tax and threaten 500 jobs in the plastic bag manufacturing business.

The measure has the support of the California Grocers Association, which decided to the back the bill after Brownley agreed to subject all stores that sell groceries to the ban.

It also gives grocery stores one set of rules to follow rather than a patchwork of local ordinances, said Dave Heylen, spokesman for the association.

“As more and more cities started looking at this, each one would tweak it one way or another and that was extremely difficult for those retailers who have stories in multiple cities and counties,” Heylen said.

The bill would require stores to sell reusable bags beginning Jan. 1, 2012. Stores could charge no less than 5 cents for recycled paper bags if customers don’t have their own bag.

Sacramento shopper Brett Akacin, 37, said he recycles his plastic bags and that it would be a burden to carry a disposable bag. California grocery stores are required under current law to collect used plastic bags that customers return to the store to recycle.

“It’s a hassle. I don’t want to carry my own bag all the time with me. I go into the store randomly, and I don’t like to pay extra for a bag,” said Akacin, who had two bags of groceries. “I think it’s the store’s responsibility.”

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June 3, 2010 at 10:04 AM Leave a comment

Proposed conservation area would preserve some of California’s least-trampled terrain

Reporting from Lake Berryessa – It is difficult to fathom that there could be a plot of ground in California that hasn’t been extensively tramped across, camped on, photographed or blogged about.

If anything comes close, it’s the proposed Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area, a half-million-acre section of the inner coast range that is home to some of the most biologically diverse landscape in the state, ranging from unspoiled rivers and rolling oak woodlands that begin near the town of Winters to the craggy 7,000-foot peak of Snow Mountain in the Mendocino National Forest, 100 miles to the north.

Wedged between the Bay Area and Sacramento and spanning six counties, this 100-mile swath has not been completely overlooked. State and local groups have pressed hard to unify a patchwork of land managed by more than a dozen federal, state and local agencies into a national conservation area.

That low-key but steady campaign was brought into wider focus when the corridor was included on a list of prospective national monuments in an Interior Department draft document leaked to the media in February.

Four of the 14 sites identified as candidates either to become monuments or gain acreage via presidential declaration are in California: the Berryessa site, the Bodie Hills, the Modoc Plateau and an expansion into California of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument from Oregon.

The list came as a surprise to the Wilderness Society and the environmental group Tuleyome, based in Winters, which has been working since 2002 to gain federal recognition for the area under the National Landscape Conservation System. Monument status can confer greater protections than those afforded to a conservation area, but the latter is often managed to allow a broader range of recreation.

That would be the preference of Bob Schneider, who works with Tuleyome and guided a recent hike of the area, beginning at the trail head for Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve.

The trail snaked up to a rocky outcrop that afforded a view of the skyline of downtown Sacramento glittering between clefts in the distant ranges. Below, boaters carved a frothy wake on Lake Berryessa. Their heavy-metal music provided an incongruous soundtrack to a stunning view of the northern inner coast range.

It is an abrupt landscape, at rest now and furred with green. But the steeply uptilted rock faces testify to a violent past of tectonic head-butting. Here, the North American plate rears up against the Pacific plate in a battle that over hundreds of million of years has created striking escarpments and deposited the contents of ancient sea beds into a region that avid geology buffs keep as their secret.

The place is a riot of rocks and rock types: sedimentary, volcanic and the delicate green- and black-flecked serpentine, the California state rock. It also supports a luxurious plant world. The flanks of the region’s high country are swathed in classic plein-air scenes: chaparral communities with bristling shrubs giving way to a smoky blue oak woodland, blue-tinged trees clinging to slopes shot through with silvery ghost pines.

Schneider led the way along Putah Creek, through avenues of oak, their limbs dripping with Spanish moss, arching across the road. One benefit of a higher level of federal protection, he said, would be to eradicate non-native species that compete with natives such as the oaks. “We talk about keeping the common species common,” he said.

John and Judy Ahmann run Romagnola and Black Angus cattle on several thousand acres of ranchland that sweeps up from the shores of Lake Berryessa. The couple love the area so much that they have been exploring ways to preserve it.

“This is one of the best places that California has to offer that is close to an urban area,” said Judy, sweeping an arm to take in the sparkling lake and the knobby hills that march into the distance. “It is untouched. We are concerned with keeping it that way.”

The couple have decided to place more than 3,000 acres of the ranch into a conservation easement that they hope will be folded into the prospective national conservation area.

“If you have an interest in keeping a place in its natural state, you don’t develop it,” John said, pushing his cowboy hat farther back on his head. “There are not many places that you can come to where there is still wildlife, there is still nature and woods to be looked upon, without a house on every ridge and crevice. We want to keep it intact. We don’t want to see it developed.”

That sentiment seems to be echoed through the region, where there has been some wariness about “locking up” public lands. In Winters, a gateway for recreationists, cycle shop owner Myke Berna said he would like to see the conservation area designation to save the area for his children.

As for those who may oppose it, “There are just some people who, when you say ‘conservation,’ they aren’t going to support it, they are not going to see anything past that,” he said. “But most people here love this area. That’s why they live here.”

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March 24, 2010 at 9:27 AM Leave a comment

Parched California to get more water

California’s drought-baked cities and farms will get considerably more water this year than last from federal officials, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Tuesday, making good on forecasts issued in February after a series of strong winter storms.

Irrigation districts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which represent farmers on the west side of the state’s Central Valley, will get 25 percent of their contracted water allotment from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Salazar said, up from just 5 percent in February.

The increase was issued ahead of schedule and comes at a critical time for the Central Valley, which is one of the country’s most bountiful agricultural regions. California, the No. 1 farm state, produces more than half the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States.

But Salazar said California, which has suffered through three years of drought that has prompted rationing, higher charges and mandatory conservation measures, must work out long-term solutions to its ongoing water crisis.

“We essentially are dealing with a system that is strained and in collapse and has no certainty with respect to water supply for both for agricultural and municipal use on the one hand and for environmental demands,” Salazar said.

“Hopefully we will be able to work with the state of California, with all of the water users and members of California’s (Congressional) delegation to fashion a long-term plan that’s so badly needed,” he said.

Click HERE for full Article

March 17, 2010 at 9:01 AM Leave a comment

Going green vs. going broke

Will cutting carbon kill jobs in California? That’s the premise of a November ballot initiative proposed by Republican lawmakers, whose cause got a boost this week from a report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office that concluded the state’s landmark global warming law might hurt employment. The report made headlines because it contrasts sharply with an earlier analysis by the California Air Resources Board, which concluded that the law, AB 32, would actually create 120,000 jobs by 2020. So which agency is right? And does it matter?

The air board’s study was based on a sophisticated computer model that’s often used in economic forecasting, but some academics consider it unreliable. The Legislative Analyst’s Office is among the skeptics, arguing in its report that there are too many uncertainties involved in such modeling for accurate predictions. Despite those uncertainties, and without citing much in the way of evidence, the office said that “it seems most likely to us” that AB 32 will lead to short-term job losses. The cuts would be small in relation to the state’s overall economy, it concluded, and it declined to hazard a guess on the long-term effects.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office is right about one thing: It’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen to the economy a decade down the road. Advocates on both sides of the climate-change debate tend to cite figures that are based on highly suspicious studies, with conservatives generally exaggerating the economic costs and environmentalists downplaying them. What’s certain is that curbs on emissions will produce winners and losers. Polluting industries will face higher expenses and will doubtless cut jobs, while new “green” industries will emerge to replace them. Energy costs will rise but energy efficiency will improve.

California Republicans see the state’s 12%-plus unemployment rate as an opportunity to undermine consumer protection, workplace safety and environmental laws they’ve chafed at for years. In the name of producing jobs, they have proposed bills to end eight-hour workday rules, limit consumer lawsuits against manufacturers and eliminate environmental reviews for major developments. (Never mind that the current recession and resulting joblessness were caused not by such government regulation, but the failure of government to properly regulate the financial industry.) Now they’re sponsoring a ballot measure to suspend implementation of AB 32 until the state’s unemployment rate falls to 5.5% or below for at least a year.

This may be their most destructive effort yet. For 40 years, California has been a pioneer in environmental protection, developing measures that have later been adopted nationwide — to the enormous benefit of our country’s air, water, land and public health. With Congress paralyzed by partisan infighting even as the greatest environmental threat of our time bears down, that pioneering role is more important than ever.

For Article click HERE

March 12, 2010 at 10:18 AM 1 comment

California Sets Up Statewide Network to Monitor Global-Warming Gases

San Francisco- In California they are preparing to introduce the first statewide system of monitoring devices to detect global-warming emissions, installing them on towers throughout the state.

The monitoring network, which is expected to grow, will initially focus on pinpointing the sources and concentrations of methane, a potent contributor to climate change. The California plan is an early example of the kind of system that may be needed in many places as countries develop plans to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases.

“This is the first time that this is being done anywhere in the world that we know of,” said Jorn Dinh Herner, a scientist with the California Air Resources Board.

While monitoring stations around the globe already detect carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, they are deliberately placed in remote locations and are generally intended to measure average global concentrations of greenhouse gases rather than local emissions.

The California network, by contrast, is meant to help the state find specific sources of emissions, as well as to verify the state’s overall compliance with a plan it adopted to limit greenhouse gases.

The air resources board has bought seven portable analyzers made by Picarro, a company in Silicon Valley that also supplies the machines to the federal government and academic scientists.

By this summer, the analyzers will be deployed on towers in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, home to large agricultural operations and oil fields, and on Mount Wilson, outside Los Angeles. Data will also be collected from Picarro machines maintained by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the coast and from several monitoring stations operated by other agencies.

Depending on local topography and weather conditions, one Picarro analyzer can cover as much as several hundred miles, the scientists said. For instance, a machine installed on a mountain peak can collect data from most of the Los Angeles basin.

The state’s global warming law requires that greenhouse gas emissions be cut to 1990 levels by 2020. To achieve such reductions, the state is planning an emissions-trading market whose integrity will depend on accurate measurement of the gases from oil refineries, power plants and other industrial facilities.

“I think these monitoring networks are going to be essential, as we really need to have a system in place that makes sure markets match reality,” said Pieter Tans, a senior scientist in Colorado with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The air resources board uses computer modeling to estimate greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The first task of the new network will be to see if actual concentrations of methane match those estimates.

A Picarro analyzer costs $50,000. It is about the size of a desktop PC and takes precise, real-time measurements of greenhouse gases. Picarro’s chief executive, Michael Woelk, said his company’s scientists had charted plumes of methane by placing an analyzer in a car and driving from Livermore, Calif., to Sacramento, a route heavy with animal feedlots, truck depots and other industrial operations.

“This is the first critical step to building a nationwide monitoring network,” Mr. Woelk said.

Full Story HERE

February 12, 2010 at 10:46 AM Leave a comment

One Step Forward for Biomass Power

Posted by: Jonathan Marshall


Like Rodney Dangerfield, electric power plants that burn biomass don’t get much respect in this age of high-tech solar and wind energy. But the conditional approval last week by the California Public Utilities Commission of a deal between PG&E and the owners of a small cogeneration plant near Bakersfield bodes well for the future contribution of biomass to a cleaner environment. 

The Mt. Poso Cogeneration Company has operated a coal-fired cogeneration facility (combined power plant and industrial heat source) since 1989. Now it plans to convert the facility to burn agricultural and urban wood waste–everything from orchard prunings to clean demolition wood–to generate 44 megawatts of power, enough to meet the needs of about 47,000 average homes. Unless engineering or economic obstacles emerge, the plant should begin feeding biomass power into PG&E’s grid by 2012. 

The plant will divert woody biomass, which would have been burned in the open, to a combustion facility with modern emissions control equipment. And it will reduce carbon pollution by substituting biomass–which might otherwise have decayed, releasing greenhouse gases–in place of coal. 

The retrofitting of old coal plants to run with at least some biomass won a ringing endorsement in a new study published by the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. Substituting wood pellets for just 10 percent of the coal used in power plants in the United States and Canada would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 170 million metric tons each year, it concluded. 

The idea is catching on. In December 2006, Public Service of New Hampshire began running a 50 MW former coal-fired plant entirely on wood chips. Portland General Electric is now seriously considering converting Oregon’s only coal-fired plant to burning wood pellets. And several other cogeneration plants in PG&E’s service area are considering similar conversions. 

California likely could do even more. Currently, biomass accounts for only about two percent of the state’s power (comparable to wind and small hydro). David Bischel, president of the California Forestry Association, has argued that dead trees, scrub brush and other wood waste are abundantly available as fuel for additional power generation. 

Biomass generation isn’t a cure-all, but it’s an important part of the clean-energy solution, even for transportation. As noted previously in NEXT100, some scientists have determined that in most cases it’s better for the environment to burn biomass to generate electricity for plug-in vehicles rather than converting it to biofuel to run in traditional engines.

February 11, 2010 at 12:03 PM Leave a comment

The clean, green desert

It’s an environmental catch-22. California needs to meet its aggressive goals for renewable-energy production, but solar and wind farms require lots of space. The farms’ land gobbling can conflict with one of Californians’ most cherished values: the preservation of pristine wilderness and animal habitat. As the state gets serious about increasing its renewable-energy portfolio, there’s going to be tension.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is learning that the hard way. As the author of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act (which established the wildly popular Joshua Tree National Park), she was the natural author for the California Desert Protection Act of 2010. The bill would place nearly 1 million acres of the Mojave Desert off limits for development.

It would also fund a new renewable-energy permitting office and seek to expedite permitting for renewable-energy projects on lands deemed more suitable for development, but those changes seem like small potatoes when compared to the vast amount of land that will suddenly be off limits. The Bureau of Land Management is currently evaluating about 120 solar and wind projects in the region, and a handful of those would have to be tossed out under Feinstein’s bill. The developers are crying foul.

Their anger is understandable. It’s no cinch to get a renewable-energy project approved at any stage of the process right now. Transmission corridors – needed to ferry the energy from farms to houses – are in short supply. The permitting process can take up to a decade. There are long lists of environmental studies to conduct, and then there’s the small matter of finding available land where the neighbors won’t put up a fight about their views or their property values. The cost of all of this, in money and time, can be overwhelming. It shouldn’t be this hard.

Feinstein’s staff told us that the affected developers will be given first right of refusal on “developable” lands, and that the bill’s plan to streamline permitting will help other developers going forward. She’s already tweaked the bill to make it a little more developer-friendly, and she may need to do so again. It would be helpful, for instance, if the bill contained steps to directly help developers locate viable sites.

But Feinstein’s bill still trumps the developers’ angst, and for a variety of reasons. For one thing, a quarter of the acreage was donated to the federal government with the expectation that it would be preserved. Washington needs to meet that responsibility.

For another thing, there’s still more than enough developable desert available. California has more than 20 million acres of desert. The California Energy Commission estimates that we’ll only need between 100,000 and 160,000 acres of desert to meet our goal of having 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. Of course, if California wants to be a leader in this field, we’ll develop far more than that for export to other states – but even then, the well is hardly going dry.

So while Feinstein will need to make adjustments to her bill, she’s still on the right track. There is a way to balance conservation and renewable energy production, and we’re discovering it right now.

This article appeared on page A – 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle

January 27, 2010 at 3:25 PM Leave a comment

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