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Boxer: NRC has dropped the ball on nuclear safety

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 at 12:25 pm in Barbara Boxer, energy, U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer lit into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Wednesday for not living up to its mission of protecting the public and the environment by acting on recommendations following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Boxer, D-Calif., wielding the Environment and Public Works Committee’s gavel for one of the last times before the GOP takes control of the Senate next month, noted at the hearing that the Fukushima catastrophe – meltdowns caused by damage from a tsunami triggered by 2011’s huge earthquake – still isn’t completely under control, and “is a warning to us that we must do more to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants here in the United States.”

Diablo Canyon Power PlantYet despite the NRC’s assurances, “the reality is that not a single one of the 12 key safety recommendations made by the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force has been implemented at nuclear reactors in this country,” Boxer said, adding the agency’s “failure to heed these experts’ warnings is especially relevant at California’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant.”

“Even after learning of newly-discovered strong earthquake faults close to the power plant, the NRC has declined to act on its senior inspector’s warning that the reactor should be shut down if it did not come back into compliance with its seismic licensing requirements,” she said. “Approximately 500,000 people live and work near this power plant, and it is my responsibility and yours to protect them. The commission must make safety the highest priority.”

Among the witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing was former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, who also is a former member of the California Seismic Safety Commission.

Blakeslee had authored AB 1632, which required PG&E to conduct seismic hazard research of the faults near the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. PG&E just published the Coastal California Seismic Imaging Project Report two months ago, and “the results were astonishing,” Blakeslee said in his prepared testimony. The report documents the presence of a number of earthquake faults discovered after the design and construction of the plant that have been found to be larger and more dangerous than previously understood.”

“There is no getting around the fact that PG&E has consistently downplayed seismic hazards on the coast near its nuclear plants,” he said. “Especially disturbing is that during these past decades the NRC has repeatedly relaxed its seismic standards to accommodate the operation of Diablo Canyon.”

“It is time to end this hodge-podge of licensing rationalizations,” Blakeslee said. “We know a great deal more about seismic issues than we did when Diablo Canyon was licensed. It’s time for the NRC to reassess the seismic standards for the plant and submit them to a formal licensing amendment process. The thing that both PG&E and NRC fear most is a public hearing in which they would have to justify what they have done. It is also what we need most to assure seismic safety, and it is what the public deserves.”

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Brown names Bay Area lawyer as Cal/OSHA chief

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 at 11:45 am in Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown has named a Bay Area attorney with a background in organized labor as the permanent chief at Cal/OSHA, the Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Juliann SumJuliann Sum, 58, of Berkeley, has served as acting chief since September 2013 at the agency tasked with watchdogging California workers’ health and safety through its research and standards, enforcement, and consultation programs.

Sum was special advisor to the director at the California Department of Industrial Relations from 2012 to 2013 and held several positions at the University of California, Berkeley from 1994 to 2012, including project director at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and attorney and industrial hygienist at the Labor Occupational Health Program.

She was an associate attorney at the Environmental Law Foundation from 1994 to 1995; a litigation associate at Carroll, Burdick and McDonough LLP from 1991 to 1994; and an industrial hygienist and business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 from 1979 to 1986.

Sum holds a law degree from the UC-Hastings College of the Law and a Master of Science degree in environmental health sciences from the Harvard University School of Public Health.

This position requires Senate confirmation and the annual salary is $139,092. Sum is a Democrat.

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Assembly committee chairmanships assigned

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 at 11:12 am in Assembly, Bill Quirk, Jim Frazier, Kansen Chu, Phil Ting, Rich Gordon, Rob Bonta, Susan Bonilla, Toni Atkins, Tony Thurmond

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, rolled out her committee-chair choices Wednesday for the upcoming 2015-16 session, with Bay Area members taking some key slots. From the Bay Area:

    Freshman Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), will chair the Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services.
    Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, keeps her chair at the Business and Professions Committee.
    Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, keeps his chair at the Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee while also picking up the Health Committee’s chairmanship.
    Freshman Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, will chair the Human Services Committee.
    Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, who formerly chaired the Human Services Committee, instead picks up the gavel at the Judiciary Committee.
    Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, will chair the Public Safety Committee.
    Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, will chair the Revenue and Taxation Committee.
    Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, will continue chairing the Rules Committee.
    Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, who used to chair the Accountability and Administrative Review Committee, will now instead chair the Transportation Committee.
    Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, will chair the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.

Full committee rosters will be assigned before the year’s end.

See a full list of committee chairs, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

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Lofgren defends Obama at immigration hearing

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 at 2:28 pm in Immigration, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren

Rep. Zoe Lofgren rose to President Obama’s defense Tuesday during the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on his “executive overreach on immigration.”

In his opening statement, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the president “has just announced one of the biggest constitutional power grabs ever by a president.”

“The Obama Administration has crossed the line from any justifiable use of its authority to a clear violation of his constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws,” Goodlatte said, adding there’s a difference between setting prosecutorial priorities and “setting enforcement-free zones for millions of unlawful aliens.”

“By boldly proclaiming that there will be no possibility of removal for millions of unlawful aliens, President Obama eliminates entirely any deterrent effect our immigration laws have,” he said. “He states plainly that those laws can be ignored with impunity. Such actions will entice others around the world to come here illegally, just like his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program encouraged tens of thousands of unaccompanied alien minors and families from Central America to make the dangerous trek to the United States.”

“By acting lawlessly and assuming legislative power, the Obama Administration is driving full speed ahead to a constitutional crisis, tilting the scales of our three-branch government in his favor and threatening to unravel our system of checks and balances,” Goodlatte concluded. “Rather than working constructively with the new men and women Americans elected to represent them in Congress, the President is making his relationship with Congress increasingly toxic by unconstitutionally acting on his own. Tragically, President Obama’s shortsighted actions have further set back congressional efforts to enact legislation to reform our broken immigration system.”

But Lofgren, D-San Jose, who is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, said while the president can’t change the law, he can take action within it – as has every president since Eisenhower.

“The President’s actions are lawful. They are also smart, because they will allow DHS to focus limited resources on serious criminals, recent arrivals, and gang members. Finally, they are consistent with basic American values, like accountability, family unity, and compassion, Lofgren said.

“The legal question isn’t even a close one,” she later added. “The President has clear legal authority to defer removals when it’s in the national interest. Chief Justice Roberts reaffirmed that principle just two years ago – our immigration laws recognize this authority – past Presidents have used this authority regularly. Our President is doing so now and I, for one, am grateful that he is.”

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Ron Nehring to address ALEC summit meeting

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 at 12:01 pm in Republican Party, Republican politics

Ron Nehring, the former California Republican Party Chairman and 2014 Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, will address the opening session of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) States and Nation Policy Summit on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Ron NehringALEC’s website says it “works to advance limited government, free markets and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.”

It’s basically a forum through which conservative state lawmakers and the private sector collaborate on legislation that’s then pushed in multiple states, from business bills favoring lower taxes, privatization, and relaxed regulation to things such as stand-your-ground self-defense laws and voter ID requirements. Funded mostly by major corporations and conservative benefactors including the Koch brothers, it has become a target for liberal activists.

The summit is the group’s annual, national post-election meeting focusing on the legislative agenda for 2015; ALEC’s next national meeting will take place in San Diego, California this summer.

Nehring’s news release said his opening remarks Wednesday will review election results across the country, and recommendations for 2016 including “the critical importance of growing support for candidates supporting limited government and free markets in America’s immigrant, suburban and urban communities; building coalitions; and recognizing the role of candidates’ personal narratives in addition to their philosophy.”

Nehring lost this year’s race to incumbent Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, 57.2 percent to 42.8 percent.

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Campos aims to curb police militarization, drones

By Josh Richman
Monday, December 1st, 2014 at 12:16 pm in Assembly, Civil liberties, Nora Campos, Public safety

Local police forces’ militarization would be curtailed on the ground and in the air, under bills introduced Monday by a South Bay lawmaker.

Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, introduced a bill that would forbid local law enforcement agencies from buying surplus military equipment without public input and approval from their local elected governing body, like a city council or a county board of supervisors.

Nora Campos“My bill is intended to help California communities and local law enforcement find the balance that is right for them. We are not a military state and our neighborhood streets shouldn’t be turned into warzones,” Campos said in a news release.

“Excessively militarizing the police isn’t necessarily in the best interest of a community,” she continued. “It does nothing to improve community relations when routine police actions, including crowd control, center on heavy military weaponry. Obviously, there are situations that require a strong law enforcement response and I will always support efforts to keep our law enforcement officers safe.”

Campos introduced another bill Monday that would require warrants for human surveillance collected by airborne drones; destruction of drone-collected data within one year; and limits on sharing that data.

“We must ensure that information collected by drones is not used against law-abiding people, and that people’s civil rights remain intact,” Campos said. “This is a common sense bill that stands on our tradition of fair treatment and justice under the law.”

The bill provides exceptions. For example, law enforcement agencies wouldn’t have to get a warrant before using a drone in response to exigent circumstances, traffic accidents, fires, environmental disasters, and searching for illegal vegetation in wilderness areas.

Gov. Jerry Brown in September vetoed another bill on this subject, AB 1327 by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, Campos noted, but “drones are here to stay and my bill will be a vehicle for finding the right balance. I look forward to working with all the interested parties.”

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Kashkari’s 20-point defeat margin is slipping away

By Josh Richman
Friday, November 28th, 2014 at 1:59 pm in 2014 general, Neel Kashkari

Republican former gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari is holding onto his margin of defeat by his fingernails.

NEEL KASHKARIIf that doesn’t make sense, it’s because practically nobody ever expected Kashkari to beat Gov. Jerry Brown – but some political pundits had wondered whether he could even get within 20 percentage points of the popular Democratic incumbent.

The dynamic duo of Phil Trounstine and Jerry Roberts over at Calbuzz were keeping an eye on the 20-point margin, for example. And when I interviewed Jack Pitney – a former GOP operative who now teaches politics at Claremont McKenna College – in late October for my pre-post-mortem on Kashkari’s campaign, he had told me that given the lopsided race’s low expectations, “if he gets anywhere north of 40 percent, that’s a moral victory for him.”

Kashkari’s campaign on the day after the election proudly noted he was at 41.3 percent, meaning he had far outperformed the GOP’s voter registration (28.1 percent) and done better than 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman (40.9 percent).

But that failed to account for how pathetic it would be for a candidate to essentially get no votes beyond his own party, and for the fact that Whitman – who ran before the dawn of our top-two primary – faced Brown along with four other third-party candidates who together drew 5.3 percent of 2010’s vote. (Two were Libertarian and American Independent candidates, arguably to Whitman’s right, drawing 3.2 percent.)

Now that might be moot, because as the post-election canvass has proceeded, Kashkari’s share of the vote has dropped bit by bit.

As of Friday afternoon, he’s at 40.0 percent. And the Secretary of State’s office reports 30 of the state’s 58 counties – including San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma – are still processing vote-by-mail, provisional and other ballots during the 28-day post-election canvass period.

So much for moral victories.

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Three Bay Area members in Assembly leadership

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 at 4:14 pm in Assembly, David Chiu, Evan Low, Kevin Mullin, Toni Atkins

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins announced the members of her floor team Tuesday, tapping two Bay Area freshmen and one returning incumbent to top leadership posts for the 2015-16 session.

Atkins, D-San Diego, named Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, as Speaker pro Tempore; David Chiu, D-San Francisco, as Assistant Speaker pro Tempore; and Evan Low, D-Campbell as Assistant Majority Whip.

She also named Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, as Majority Floor Leader; Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, as Assistant Majority Floor Leader; Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, as Majority Whip; and Jim Cooper, D-Sacramento, as another Assistant Majority Whip.

The Speaker pro Tempore and his assistant fill in for the Speaker when she’s not around, including presiding over meetings of the Assembly. The Majority Floor Leader and his assistant serve as the Speaker’s personal representative on the floor, making motions and points of order as needed to keep things moving. Whips keep track of vote counts and keep caucus members in line for important legislation.

“Monday is the Assembly’s first floor session for the 2015-2016 term, and I believe we should hit the ground running,” Akins said in a news release.

The appointments will take effect when the caucus formally elects Atkins as Speaker at Monday’s organizational session; committee chairs and members will be announced next week.

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Boxer urges Justice Dept. probe of Ferguson PD

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 at 1:12 pm in Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren

The Justice Department must thoroughly review the Ferguson Police Department to determine whether there’s a pattern of excessive use of force, mistreatment of prisoners, or racial profiling in its searches and arrests, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter Tuesday.

Barbara Boxer“I am writing to express my strong support for the Department of Justice investigation into whether the Ferguson Police Department has engaged in discriminatory policing practices,” wrote Boxer, D-Calif. “It is imperative that we find out if there is a pattern and practice of civil rights violations in Ferguson.”

Boxer noted a lack of diversity on the St. Louis suburb’s police force. “As part of this probe, I would urge you to determine whether the lack of diversity in the Ferguson Police Department contributed to the culture of distrust between local residents and police.”

Meanwhile, here’s how some Bay Area House members reacted on Twitter to the Ferguson situation:

Pelosi and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, were among more than 200 who retweeted Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.:

And Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, was among more than 2,200 who retweeted civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.:

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Barbara Lee blasts Obama’s Afghanistan expansion

By Josh Richman
Monday, November 24th, 2014 at 10:05 am in Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Barbara Lee, Obama presidency, U.S. House

President Obama has re-broadened U.S. troops’ combat role in Afghanistan.

The decision made in recent weeks extends previous plans by authorizing U.S. troops to carry out combat operations against the Taliban to protect Americans and support Afghanistan’s security forces as part of the new ISAF Resolute Support mission next year, Reuters reports.

Obama had announced in May that U.S. troop levels would be cut to 9,800 by the end of the year, by half again in 2015 and to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul by the end of 2016. Under that plan, only a small contingent of 1,800 U.S. troops was limited to counter terrorism operations against remnants of al Qaeda. The new orders will also allow operations against the Taliban.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)And Rep. Barbara Lee – a staunch critic of the U.S. war in Afghanistan ever since being the lone vote against authorizing military force days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks – is not amused.

“After more than a decade of open-ended war, I am deeply troubled to see the Administration expanding the role of U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement issued Sunday. “Many military and foreign policy experts agree that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. The future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan people.

“Our brave servicemen and women have performed their mission with courage, valor and commitment in an impossible situation,” she said. “It is time to stop endless war and bring our servicemen and women home to their families.”

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