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Linking clean-energy laws to economic opportunity

A Bay Area nonprofit has launched a new campaign highlighting how California’s climate-change and clean-energy laws not only protect the environment and public health, but also bring jobs and consumer savings to communities of color and low-income neighborhoods across the state.

UpLiftCAThe Greenlining Institute – a Berkeley based group founded to fight redlining, the practice of denying economic opportunities to people of color – on Monday launched UpLiftCA.org, a site offering stories of real Californians already benefitting from the state’s burgeoning clean-energy economy. More stories will be added in coming months, and a Spanish-language version will be launched in January.

The campaign is being launched even as foes of California’s landmark climate law try to roll back a provision making gasoline subject to carbon-emission penalties starting in 2015, which will causes gas prices to rise somewhat.

“The oil industry and its front groups have shamelessly tried to mislead communities of color about California’s laws to fight global warming, masquerading as consumer advocates when all they want is to protect their own profits,” Greenlining Institute Executive Director Orson Aguilar said in a news release. “We’re going to make sure our communities hear the truth.”

State law requires that a quarter of the money raised by carbon permit sales under California’s cap-and-trade program must go to projects that benefit highly polluted and economically struggling communities. That’s about $272 million in this fiscal year for clean energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, urban forestry and affordable housing near public transit.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery last month announced a series of grants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste disposal – projects that will bring new jobs and cleaner air to places like Perris, Oakland, Tulare and Fresno.

Leonard Robinson, who chairs the California Black Chamber of Commerce’s Energy and Environment Committee and is a former California Environmental Protection Agency Department of Toxic Substances official under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said California is thinking forward.

“Part of the fees that companies are charged for putting greenhouse gases into the air are being invested in California’s most vulnerable and underserved communities to improve health and create local jobs,” he said. “These jobs are real – California added over 3,500 solar power jobs last year alone.”

Greenlining’s website includes simple explanations of how the laws work, and practical information for people and businesses on energy efficiency, low-cost solar power, rebates for plug-in electric cars, and more.

“For too many decades, low income neighborhoods and communities of color were used as toxic dumping grounds,” said Vien Truong, Greenlining’s environmental equity director. “This is a huge chance to right a historical wrong and bring real benefits to our communities, and community advocates are working closely with the state to make sure these benefits are real and get to where they need to go.”

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‘Happy Fracking Day’ with Brown & Newsom

An El Dorado Hills artist who has a sort of personal history with Gov. Jerry Brown has once again immortalized him in sculpture – this time, taking him to task for letting oil and gas “fracking” proceed in the Golden State.

Laura Harling’s “Happy Fracking Day” sculpture won an Award of Merit in fine art at the California State Fair, where it’s on display.

(Click to enlarge)
Happy Fracking Day

The sculpture, 15¼” high and wide, 10½” deep, is described thusly on the artist’s website: “California Governor Jerry Brown and Lt Gov Gaven Newsom celebrate fracking. Only the 1% were invited to the party.”

Fracking Cake

Harling, 67, a Green Party member, said Monday she always been interested in politics and “the long history of environmental destruction by industry is impossible to overlook.

“When I first learned about fracking, it reminded me of the damage caused by hydraulic mining and gold dredging in my neighborhood,” she said. “I believe that fracking will be considered an even worse mistake in the future. I seem to find no end of ideas for my satiric sculptures by following the money.”

Harling – whom the Chronicle reported had worked way back in the day as a state janitor tasked with cleaning a much younger Gov. Jerry Brown’s apartment – has drawn inspiration from Brown and Newsom for past works as well.

It takes two to tango

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EPA proposal on coal power plants creates hot air

Opinions and rhetoric were breaking largely among the usual party lines Monday after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by nearly a third by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

From House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“The president’s plan is nuts, there’s really no more succinct way to describe it. Americans are still asking ‘where are the jobs?’ and here he is proposing rules to ship jobs overseas for years to come. Americans are already paying more for everything and here he is condemning them to higher bills and lower incomes long after he leaves office.

“In many ways, this national energy tax is actually worse than the scheme Americans rejected four years ago. While the president may have kept his promise to make prices ‘skyrocket,’ it doesn’t have to be inevitable. The House has already passed legislation to prevent these rules from taking effect without the approval of the people’s representatives. The question now is: will Senate Democrats listen to the American people and stop this disaster or will they back the president all the way?”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“Climate change is one of the most pressing dangers facing us today. This accelerating crisis threatens our coasts, our crops and our communities – and its damaging and destabilizing effects are already being felt across our nation and around the world.

“The destructive effect of unrestrained carbon pollution is felt not only in rising temperatures and increased, more powerful natural disasters, but also in higher asthma rates in our children. We already restrict mercury and arsenic pollution – it’s time we did the same for toxic carbon pollution. These new standards will strengthen public health, create new jobs, spur innovation and lower electricity rates.

“Like the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act, these actions by the Administration send a resounding message to the world that the United States is serious about dealing with climate change. The Clean Air Act is an appropriate, bipartisan approach to protect people from pollution, and today’s standards build on a foundation of decades of bipartisan laws, including the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed by President Bush.

“We have a moral obligation to act to preserve the beauty of God’s creation for future generations. With these flexible plans to cut carbon pollution, our nation is taking a bold and serious step towards securing a sustainable future for all of us.”

Lots more from familiar California and Bay Area figures, after the jump…
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Steyer urges Brown to convene energy summit

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer has written a letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to convene a “California Energy Summit” with the oil industry, clean energy companies, environmentalists and citizens to discuss things like a halt to fracking and levying an oil extraction tax.

The governor won’t commit.

“We haven’t received the letter yet, but the governor regularly speaks with Tom on climate change issues, as he does with a diverse group of academic, industry and environmental leaders,” Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said Thursday. “We look forward to continuing those discussions.”

Steyer – a former hedge-fund manager who has created NextGen Climate as a vehicle to influence the climate-change debate – wrote to Brown on Wednesday citing the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 96-percent downgrade in its estimate of how much oil current technology can recover from the Monterey Shale.

“In a single but far-reaching action, the federal government has completely dispelled the economic illusion hanging over the ongoing debate over new oil exploration and extraction in the State of California,” Steyer wrote. “With this new report, the Monterey Shale mirage is gone. Now, it is time to hit the reset button, call Big Oil’s bluff and force them to the table in an effort to finally give Californians a Fair Shake.”

Steyer wrote that he knows Brown has “long acknowledged that climate change is a real threat to California and our world. As recently as this week, you rightfully stated that California is ‘the epicenter of climate change.’”

“California deserves a Fair Shake for our climate, for our economy and for our families,” he wrote. “Our state currently gives Big Oil a unique $2 billion tax subsidy that no other state in the country offers. This must stop.”

Steyer is championing a movement to enact an oil extraction tax; California is the nation’s only oil-producing state that doesn’t charge such a tax.

“And local California communities deserve a guarantee that Big Oil cannot rush to extract oil through fracking or other experimental drilling methods until oil companies have proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they have the toughest, safest and most rigorous safeguards in place to ensure that California’s local communities don’t suffer for the sake of Big Oil’s bottom line,” Steyer wrote.

Brown in May 2013 said “the fossil fuel deposits in California are incredible, the potential is extraordinary.” Environmental groups urged Brown to support a fracking moratorium, but the governor resisted. In September, he signed a law creating new fracking regulations, including a permitting process, notification of neighbors, public disclosure of chemicals used and groundwater- and air-quality monitoring.

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, is carrying a moratorium bill now, but the Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Monday to put SB 1132 into the suspense file – essentially putting it on indefinite hold. Mitchell issued a statement Thursday morning saying the new EIA report means “there’s no ocean of black gold that fracking is going to release tomorrow, leaving California awash in profits and jobs. We have the time, the need and, in SB 1132, the mandate to halt fracking while we determine if and how it can be done safely in California. Let’s pass the bill and halt fracking until due diligence can assure us it won’t put workers and residents in danger.”

Steyer concluded his letter to Brown by arguing the new facts “present an opportunity to hold an honest conversation about climate change and oil extraction in California.”

“Now is the time to act, and I urge you to convene stakeholders—from the oil industry and the clean energy, environmental and scientific communities, as well as local citizens — for an historic California Energy Summit to make sure that California gets a Fair Shake,” he wrote.

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Tom Steyer targets senate, gov races in 7 states

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer will focus his anti-climate-change political activism this year on races in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, he announced Thursday.

Tom SteyerSteyer said his NextGen Climate organization will support candidates who have the courage to tackle climate change as a key issue.

“The debate on climate change is settled: it is here, it is human-caused, and it is already having a devastating impact on our communities, but we need to accelerate the level of political support to address this critical issue before it’s too late,” he said in a news reelase. “This means making politicians feel the heat—in their campaign coffers and at the polls.”

The release said NextGen Climate will “use climate as a wedge issue, both to motivate voter turnout with the rising electorate and to demonstrate that being anti-science will hurt our opponents among persuadable voters.” That will include criticizing policy positions that benefit fossil fuels and candidates who take money from the oil and coal industries.

So NextGen Climate intends to be active in:

  • Colorado, where U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner – “a science denier – has taken hundreds of thousands in donations from fossil fuel companies while voting for their interests;”
  • Florida, where incumbent Gov, Rick Scott “is a climate denier and has decimated efforts to ‘preserve environmentally sensitive land;’”
  • Iowa, where U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst “has ‘not seen proven proof ‘ that climate change ‘is entirely man-made’ and former energy CEO Mark Jacobs is ‘not convinced that man-made causes are causing’ climate change;”
  • Maine, where incumbent Gov. Paul LePage “denies that climate change is a threat, rather saying it offers Maine ‘a lot of opportunities;’”
  • Michigan, where U.S. Senate candidate Terry Lynn Land “has the support of the Koch Brothers who are spending millions on her race and have threatened the state’s water and air quality with their dirty energy stockpiles;”
  • New Hampshire, where U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown “looks out for the Koch Brothers and his Big Oil buddies, taking their campaign dollars and voting to protect $24 billion in oil subsidies;” and
  • Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Corbett “favors powerful corporate energy executives over Pennsylvania families.”
  • “Climate change will not be solved by easy answers or quick fixes, but the path forward is simple,” said Steyer. “Our country must have the courage to solve our climate crisis for the sake of the next generation.”

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    Jerry Brown will lead trade mission to Mexico

    Gov. Jerry Brown will lead a trade and investment mission to Mexico – California’s largest export market – in the last week of July, he announced Tuesday.

    California’s neighbor has a role to play in the Golden State’s push to address its energy and environmental needs, Brown had said in his State of the State address in January.

    “Reducing our oil consumption, two-thirds of which is imported by ships and tank cars, will take time, breakthrough technologies and steadfast commitment. It will also require that the countries which burn the most fossil fuel join with us,” he said at the time. “We’ve started building those partnerships with other states and countries like China. We will go to Mexico next. California can’t do this alone.”

    A delegation of California government, business, economic development, investment and policy leaders will join Brown on this mission, which is being organized by the California Chamber of Commerce. The focus will be on boosting direct investment in the state, expanding bilateral economic and environmental cooperation, and connecting California businesses with new opportunities and partnerships.

    Brown met last month with Mexican consuls general from cities across California.

    The governor one year ago led a similar mission to China, during which he met with government leaders including China Premier Li Keqiang, opened the California-China Office of Trade and Investment in Shanghai and signed the first economic and environmental agreements ever between a subnational entity and Chinese Ministries. Brown later last year met with China’s President Xi Jinping in California to sign a climate-change pact; he also has signed pacts in the past year with leaders from Canada, Israel and Peru to combat climate change, strengthen economic ties and cooperate on research.