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Obama to add Stornetta Lands to monument

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will expand the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a White House official said Saturday.

Stornetta mapCalifornia’s U.S. Senators and two congressmen have been pushing hard for this, and wrote to the president a year ago to urge his action. The White House said Obama will make the move as part of his State of the Union pledge to “use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”

President Bill Clinton established the California Coastal National Monument in 2000 to protect the area’s scientifically valuable coastal resources, including geologic formations that offer unique habitats for breeding seabirds, marine mammals, and other native species.

Obama will be adding about 1,665 acres of federal lands located on California’s Mendocino County coast, just north of the Point Arena.

The area is an economic engine for the local community, driving tourism and offering outdoor recreation opportunities; a Bureau of Land Management report estimates that outdoor recreation on public lands in California contributed nearly $900 million to the economy in 2012. But it also will offer scientific opportunities for geologists, archeologists, historians, and biologists, as well as recreational opportunities.

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein as well as Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Mike Thompson, D-Napa, have championed adding this land to the monument, and offered legislation that would’ve done so.

“I am so pleased that President Obama is taking action to permanently protect this majestic piece of California’s coast for future generations to enjoy,” Boxer said in a statement issued Saturday. “Expanding this monument will not only help preserve this sensitive coastal area and protect marine life along the coast, it will also boost the tourism economy in Mendocino County, which supports 5,000 jobs.”

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell held a public listening session in November in Point Arena to hear from the community about its vision for conserving the lands; Jewell will return to the area Wednesday to celebrate the president’s action.

Posted on Saturday, March 8th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Environment, Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 9 Comments »

Neel Kashkari: Now isn’t the time to cut taxes

GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari’s top priority isn’t cutting taxes, he told the San Jose State University College Republicans on Thursday night.

They’re too high, he agreed, but he called for first getting the state’s money’s worth from the taxes it does collect to foster new jobs and better education. Once the economy is strong again, he said, it’ll be time to reform the tax code to lower the overall taxation level.

“To be candid with you, I don’t think we start there; I think we start by putting people back to work,” he told about 20 students who’d gathered to hear him speak.

Kashkari & SJSU College Republicans, photo by Josh Richman

Because Kashkari’s speech occurred on our print deadline and due to limited space in the paper, here are a few other tidbits that didn’t make it into today’s story:

He’s “not comfortable with legalizing marijuana. … I’ve never smoked pot in my life,” he said. “But I also don’t think it makes sense to lock people up, to ruin their lives, to waste millions of dollars for a small amount of drugs,” he added, noting there must be a better approach than the “war on drugs” that has disproportionately hurt minorities.

Kashkari again called for opening the Monterey Shale to fracking for shale oil, saying it’ll be a key part of the job boom California desperately needs. The nation’s highest rents aren’t in San Francisco or New York, he noted, but actually in a small North Dakota town at the epicenter of that state’s fracking boom.

A true climate-change response must be national or international in order to have any effect, he said, and a robust state economy will bring more tax revenues that can be spent in part on basic research into clean energy sources and other climate-change solutions.

“I love our natural beauty, we have to protect the environment, but I believe we need to find the right balance,” he said.

Kashkari & Barr, photo by Josh RichmanKashkari got into a back-and-forth with Cheryl Barr, 22, an industrial-design student who disagreed with his environmental positions.

Barr after the meeting said Kashkari generally “seems like a decent guy,” and she likes that he has an engineering background – he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and worked briefly as an aerospace engineer, before earning his M.B.A. and entering the financial sector. But his campaign mantra of “‘jobs and education’ is kind of vague,” she said, and she believes his support of fracking is misguided.

“There actually is room to create jobs that can help the environment at the same time,” she said.

Posted on Friday, February 21st, 2014
Under: economy, energy, Environment, marijuana, Neel Kashkari, taxes | No Comments »

Gun group says official has conflict of interests

A gun industry trade group is pressing California Attorney General Kamala Harris to act on its complaint about Fish and Game Commission President Mike Sutton, whom it says shouldn’t be involved in implementing the state’s new ban on lead ammunition in hunting.

Mike SuttonThe National Shooting Sports Foundation first wrote to Harris in December about Sutton, who still has one more year to serve on the six-year term to which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger re-appointed him in 2009. Sutton, 56, of Carmel Valley, is former executive director of Audubon California and remains the National Audubon Society’s vice president for the Pacific Flyway.

The foundation’s complaint says Sutton has received and still receives income from Audubon – a state lobbyist employer – while serving as the commission’s president. “His employer lobbies the Commission on governmental decisions which he makes and/or participates in, contrary to the letter and spirit of California laws proscribing incompatible activities,” the complaint says.

Audubon co-sponsored last year’s AB 711, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October to ban use of lead ammunition in hunting by mid-2019. The new law lets the state Fish and Wildlife Department suspend the ban if the federal government prohibits non-lead ammunition because it’s considered armor-piercing.

The Fish and Game Commission in December started the process of developing regulations to implement this new law, and Sutton took part in that discussion; it’s back on the commission’s agenda for this Wednesday, Feb. 5.

“I believe that Commissioner Sutton’s participation in the discussion of these proposed regulations is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of California’s conflict of interest and incompatible activities laws, regulations, and policies,” Lawrence Keane, the NSSF’s vice president and general counsel, wrote to Harris in a follow-up letter Monday. “This is the precise type of scenario these rules were developed to prevent – a public official who has a private interest that makes it impossible to impartially carry out his or her official duties.”

The San Diego Union Tribune reported in 2009 that Sutton was accused of a conflict of interest after taking part in the commission’s decision-making on the Marine Life Protection Act while working as director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Center for the Future of the Oceans. Both the aquarium and the push for the MLPA were funded in large part by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Sutton didn’t return an email seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Posted on Monday, February 3rd, 2014
Under: Environment, gun control | 7 Comments »

Bill introduced to ban filtered cigarettes

A new Assembly bill would ban all filtered cigarettes in California.

Assemblyman Mark Stone says he’s approaching this not as a health issue, but as an environmental issue: Discarded butts are sullying the state and costing millions.

Mark Stone“Cigarette filters leach dangerous chemicals into the environment, kill animals that eat them, and cause communities to spend millions of taxpayer dollars for clean-up,” Stone, D-Santa Cruz, said in a news release issued Tuesday. “California has many laws in place to curtail cigarette litter, but people continue to illegally discard tons of cigarette butts each year. The current laws aren’t sufficient to address this major problem.”

Unfiltered cigarettes would remain legal under Stone’s bill. Stone spokeswoman Arianna Smith noted filters for decades have been reported to be ineffective, given that smokers who use them take deeper and more frequent puffs to get the same amount of nicotine into their bodies.

Spokespeople for tobacco giants Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds didn’t immediately respond to inquiries about the bill.

Stone – who chairs the Assembly Select Committee on Coastal Protection – said a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported 845,000 tons of cigarette butts become litter around the globe each year. In California, they remain the single most collected item of trash collected by volunteer groups and organizations that conduct parks, rivers and beach cleanup events.

butts“Our volunteers have collected 466,000 cigarette butts in our clean-ups just around the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary alone since 2007,” Laura Kasa, executive director of Save Our Shores, said in Stone’s release. “This is by far the most pervasive type of litter in our environment. Our community has attempted to educate the public about the dangers of this toxic litter but it has not made a significant dent in the problem.”

The California Department of Transportation has estimated the costs to clean up cigarettes on roadways at $41 million annually, Stone said, while San Francisco estimates its costs for cleanup at $6 million annually.

“An estimated 3 billion toxic, plastic cigarette butts are littered in the Bay Area each year,” Allison Chan, pollution prevention campaign manager for Save The Bay, said in Stone’s release. “Millions of them make their way into our waterways and the Bay through storm water systems, where they pose an environmental threat that we can no longer ignore.”

Dr. Thomas Novotny – a San Diego State University professor and former Assistant U.S. Surgeon General who is CEO of the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project – said in Stone’s release that such a ban “will substantially reduce the burden of cigarette butt waste cleanup for our communities, help protect our treasured beaches and wildlife, and reduce blight in our urban living environments.”

UPDATE @ 3:43 P.M.: David Sutton, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA’s parent company, said in an email that the tobacco giant “knows that cigarettes are often improperly disposed of,” and uses its packaging and websites to discourage smokers from littering. The company also since 2002 has collaborated with Keep America Beautiful to launch a Cigarette Litter Prevention Program, which in 2012 rolled out 195 new grant-supported programs across the nation.

“During the past six years, CLPP consistently has cut cigarette butt litter by half based on local community measurements taken in the first four to six months after implementation, as measured by Keep America Beautiful,” Sutton wrote. “Survey results also showed that as communities continue to monitor the program, those reductions are sustained or even increased over time.”

Posted on Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Under: Assembly, Environment, Mark Stone | 2 Comments »

Lawmakers urge Jerry Brown to halt all fracking

Nine state lawmakers, including a few from the Bay Area, have signed a letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing to obtain oil and gas, the process commonly called “fracking.”

Marc Levine“The risks are simply too great to allow fracking to continue,” Assemblyman Marc Levine, who authored the letter, told reporters on a conference call this morning.

The technique demonstrably hurts air and water quality, might influence seismic activity, and furthers a dependence on fossil fuel that contributes to climate change, said Levine, D-San Rafael, and so it must be suspended “until we have all the data to address the immediate and long-term dangers.”

Signing Levine’s letter were Assemblymembers Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara; Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica; Adrin Nazarian, D-Van Nuys; Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach; and Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, as well as state Senators Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa; Lois Wolk, D-Vacaville; and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley.

Levine, who announced the letter in November, teamed up with CREDO, an activist group which had thousands of members sign petitions and make phone calls urging their lawmakers to sign the letter. Levine and CREDO delivered the letter and held their news conference during this final week of a public comment period on Brown’s proposed fracking regulations, which they say would allow a massive expansion of fracking in California.

CREDO campaign manager Zack Malitz called fracking “one of the greatest environmental struggles to face Califonians in a generation,” and said Brown has proposed “dangerously weak regulations that would only encourage more fracking” despite “massive public opposition.”

“His legacy as an environmental leader is on the line,” Malitz said. “Californians will hold him responsible for putting oil-industry profits ahead of our health and the climate.”

Several bills proposing a moratorium on fracking failed to get enough votes to advance in the Legislature last year. The Legislature did pass SB 4 by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabassas, which Brown signed into law in September; that bill requires oil companies to go through a permit process, disclose chemical uses, do groundwater tests and send notices to neighboring landowners about their intent to drill.

Brown generally has pursued energy policy that supports increased oil production while expanding California’s goal of producing at least a third of its electricity from renewable sources (such as wind or solar energy) by 2020.

UPDATE @ 12:32 P.M.: This just in from Evan Westrup, Brown’s spokesman: “After extensive debate, the Legislature – including the authors of this letter – voted to enact SB 4, which became effective just days ago. Pursuant to this bill, the regulatory process has begun and we encourage these legislators and other interested citizens to actively participate.”

Posted on Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, energy, Environment, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | 1 Comment »

Fracking activists to protest Jerry Brown in SF

Anti-fracking activists intend to protest as Gov. Jerry Brown visits the Bay Area this afternoon to sign a regional agreement to align government policy, combat climate change and promote clean energy.

Brown is scheduled to be at Cisco-Meraki’s San Francisco headquarters at 4 p.m. to sign the pact with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and British Columbia environmental officials.

But the Californians Against Fracking coalition – which includes members of more than 150 groups including MoveOn.org Civic Action, CREDO, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment, and Environment California – say Brown’s support of fracking could undermine any progress the agreement would make.

Brown last month signed into law SB 4 by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, which creates the state’s first rules for hydraulic fracturing or acidation to extract oil and natural gas. Some environmentalists, including this coalition, argue that only a moratorium on these techniques will keep California safe from environmental harms and further the state’s clean-energy goals.

The activists who’ll protest Brown’s appearance today say using fracking, acidization, and other unconventional extraction techniques to access 15 billion barrels of crude oil beneath California would produce nearly as much global warming pollution as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and set back the state’s progress on combating climate change.

Posted on Monday, October 28th, 2013
Under: energy, Environment, Global warming, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | 3 Comments »

Dianne Feinstein supports fracking regulation bill

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday endorsed a controversial state bill that would regulate but allow “fracking” and another new means of extracting oil and gas.

“The discovery that fracking and acidization of oil and gas formations could produce approximately 23.9 billion barrels of petroleum in the continental United States — 64 percent of which is estimated to lie within the Monterey Shale formation underlying portions of Central and Southern California — points to the need for action to ensure protection of the state’s natural resources,” said Feinstein, D-Calif.

SB 4 by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, would require the state Secretary of Natural Resources to work with state and regional water boards and the state air board to create regulations governing “well stimulation” treatments, which includes hydraulic fracturing – commonly known as “fracking” – and acidization.

The bill also would require permits for all well-stimulation treatments, disclosure of the fluids used in such procedures, advance notification of neighbors near where such methods will be used, and more.

Opponents of the bill say the only way to protect California from fracking’s environmental threats is to halt it entirely with a moratorium. SB 4 now awaits an Assembly floor vote.

“I strongly support Senator Pavley’s legislation and urge the legislature to pass the bill and Governor Brown to sign it,” Feinstein said. “Unless the potential dangers of fracking are addressed, we face the possibility of catastrophic consequences to the state’s environment and precious groundwater.”

Posted on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Dianne Feinstein, energy, Environment, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Fracking battle heats up for session’s final weeks

The debate over fracking is reaching a fever pitch in Sacramento, as activists urge a moratorium in the final weeks of this legislative session.

A coalition of more than 100 environmental, health and liberal groups on Wednesday released an open letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to impose such a ban and blasting SB 4, a pending bill that would allow some fracking to go forward.

“This is a do-or-die moment in the fight against fracking in California,” CREDO political director Becky Bond said in a conference call with reporters, adding that although state Sen. Fran Pavley – SB 4’s author – has been a reliable ally to environmentalists in the past, “it’s appalling that this bill is the best the Legislature has to offer Californians.”

“We know that there’s no safe way to frack,” she said. “Anything less than a moratorium is reckless and unacceptable.”

But the only moratorium bill that has made it to a floor vote this year – AB 1323 by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Culver City – was defeated in a 24-37 Assembly vote in May.

California must act now, Pavley said by email later Wednesday.

“Companies are fracking and acidizing wells in California now, and we can’t afford to wait for another attempt at a moratorium to take action,” she said. “Strict regulations are our best tool right now to protect the public and the environment and hold the industry and regulators accountable.”

Pavley’s bill would establish a regulatory program for hydraulic fracturing and acid-injection methods of extracting oil and gas, including a study, development of regulations, a permitting process, and public notification and disclosure.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Yet opponents say SB 4 “does nothing to make fracking any less dangerous,” per Adam Scow, California campaigns director for Food & Water Watch.

Victoria Kaplan, a campaign director with MoveOn.org, told reporters that public opinion against fracking is building steadily in California. “The more people learn about fracking, the more they hate it – that’s what we’re seeing this summer.”

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said fracking not only “endangers the air we breathe and the water we drink,” but also would set back California’s efforts to roll back climate change. Not only does the fracking process release methane – a potent greenhouse gas – but burning the oil that it produces from the Monterey Shale will generate more than 6.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide, she said.

SB 4 is now pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Activists plan to deliver more than 9,000 petition signatures Thursday to committee chairman Mike Gatto’s and Assembly Speaker John Pérez‘s offices, urging them to add an immediate moratorium on fracking to SB 4.

This is only the latest such petition: MoveOn.org says more than 120,000 people have signed various petitions to ban fracking in California.

Posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, energy, Environment, Jerry Brown | 5 Comments »

Ads attack Brown, lawmakers on clear-cutting

Television ads attacking Gov. Jerry Brown, state lawmakers and special interests for not doing enough to stop the clear-cutting of California forests are airing in the North Bay.

They’re airing on CNN, MSNBC, Headline News and various environmental networks, including National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel, throughout July in the Marin County cities of Fairfax, San Rafael, Mill Valley, Novato, San Anselmo, Belvedere, Lagunitas, San Geronimo, Corte Madera, Larkspur, San Quentin, Forest Knolls, Sausalito, Greenbrae, Ross, Tiburon, Kentfield and Woodacre, according to a release from the Battle Creek Alliance.

The 30-second commercials charge that more than 350,000 acres of California’s forests have been clear-cut in the last decade or so by just one company, and blame Brown, the Legislature, corporations and public agencies.

I dig Jerry’s shades.

Battle Creek Alliance is a small Northern California nonprofit environmental group that previously ran the spots ran in the Sacramento area.

Posted on Thursday, July 11th, 2013
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Environment, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | 1 Comment »

Mike Thompson co-founds Invasive Species Caucus

A Bay Area congressman announced today that he has cofounded a bipartisan Congressional Invasive Species Caucus.

Mike ThompsonNo, this isn’t related to immigration reform. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, said he launched the caucus with Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., to raise awareness about invasive flora and fauna, support local communities who are bearing the brunt of this problem, and promote efforts to prevent and control their spread.

“Invasive species pose a costly challenge to infrastructure, agriculture and the environment,” Thompson said in a news release. “By bringing together experts and industry leaders, we can come up with plans to protect our communities from invasive species before they become a major problem.”

Invasive species can devastate native habitat, damage crops, clog water pipes, infect other plants and animals with dangerous diseases, or outcompete native species. This can lead to lower crop yields, health hazards, irreparable environmental damage and severe tolls on local, state, and federal budgets.

Quagga musselsThompson recently co-sponsored a bipartisan bill, H.R. 1823, the Protecting Lakes Against Quagga Act, that would add quagga mussels to the national invasive species list, giving federal agencies greater ability to prevent their spread. In Thompson’s district, Clear Lake, Lake Sonoma, and Lake Berryessa are all rated at the highest possible risk for quagga invasion, though none has been invaded yet.

If such an invasion occurred, control and treatment would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and impact the water supply for residents in Sonoma, Lake, and Solano Counties, Thompson’s office says – and if the mussels invade the state water infrastructure, it could cost millions every year to keep the pipes clear.

Posted on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
Under: Environment, Mike Thompson, U.S. House | No Comments »