Tag Archives: California Governor Jerry Brown

California regulators restore emissions-cutting fuel rule

Repost from the Associated Press

California regulators restore emissions-cutting fuel rule

By Judy Lin, Sep. 25, 2015 5:49 PM EDT
Mary NIchols, Barbara Riordan
Mary Nichols, left, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, applauds after the board restored ambitious rules to cut transportation fuel emissions 10 percent within 5 years, during a hearing in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. By a 9-0 vote the board restored rules requiring a 10 percent cut in carbon emissions on fuels sold in the state by 2020, despite oil industry objections that it could drive up gas prices. At right is ARB board member Barbara Riordan. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California regulators on Friday restored ambitious rules to cut transportation fuel emissions 10 percent within 5 years, a decision that gives Gov. Jerry Brown a boost for his climate change agenda.

The rules further strengthen California’s toughest-in-the-nation carbon emissions standards, but oil producers warn the changes could drive up costs for consumers at the gas pump.

The changes are expected to add a few cents a gallon to the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel in the state that already has some of the highest gas prices in the nation. The state estimates a typical commuter will pay an extra $20 to $24 in 2017, increasing to $52 to $56 in 2020.

“We are on a path to reduce our dependence on petroleum and this program is a key piece of that action,” Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said ahead of the vote.

Brown, a Democrat, has vowed to intensify his fight against climate change after the oil lobby helped kill a Democratic legislative proposal earlier this month to slash statewide petroleum use by half in 15 years. The board is the state’s top regulatory agency to enforce rules aimed at reducing air pollution.

Regulators voted 9-0 to re-adopt its low-carbon fuel standard, which requires producers to cut the carbon content of fuels 10 percent by 2020 to help the state meet its emission-reductions goals.

The program was initially adopted in 2009 but the reduction target has been frozen at 1 percent because of a court fight. Friday’s vote allows the state to resume its program; modifies rules in response to industry concerns about price spikes; and gives companies more credits for using renewable hydrogen and other investments to reduce pollutants.

Supporters say the program is worthwhile because it will encourage greater use of cleaner biofuels and electric vehicles, which can be cheaper to operate than those powered by gasoline or diesel.

“This puts it back on track,” Bill Magavern, policy director at Coalition for Clean Air, an environmental advocacy group, said after the vote. “We have other programs that address vehicle technologies and vehicle miles traveled, and this is the one that tells oil companies to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels.”

Oil producers counter that the rules are unworkable and too costly. They said the standard will impact consumers as the companies try to comply with the mandate or face being shut out of the market.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents oil companies, said the low carbon fuel standard jeopardizes the state’s energy future and adds uncertainty.

“California motorists need to know what is coming and how these regulations will impact transportation fuels,” Reheis-Boyd said in a statement.

Unlike other rules the state has adopted requiring cleaner-burning fuel or more fuel-efficient vehicles, the standard, first proposed in a 2007 executive order from then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, calls for counting all the pollution required to deliver gasoline, diesel or alternative fuels to in-state consumers — from drilling a new oil well or planting corn to delivering it to gas stations.

In addition to tailpipe emissions, it includes factors such as whether an ethanol factory uses coal or natural gas to power production or an oil rig uses diesel fuel to drill.

Regulators are targeting transportation fuels because California’s roughly 30 million vehicles account for about 40 percent of the state’s emissions — the largest source. The rest comes from generating electricity and industrial manufacturing, as well as commercial, residential and agricultural uses.

All fuels are measured against a baseline pollution standard. If a fuel falls above or below the baseline, it generates a credit or deficit that other producers can buy and sell to meet the target.

It’s up to fuel producers to figure out how to meet the goal, whether by changing production methods, using ethanol or electric vehicles for transportation or buying credits on the market.

After the rule’s initial adoption, out-of-state refiners and ethanol companies were among those who sued, arguing that transporting the fuels into California alone made them less competitive against in-state producers. They argued the law unconstitutionally limits interstate commerce.

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a 2013 appeals court decision upholding the fuel standard.

Opponents continue to challenge the state’s authority to regulate out-of-state production. Oil firms are also trying to block a similar standard enacted in Oregon, the only other state with a clean fuel standard.

Friday’s move to restore California’s program is not related to Volkswagen drawing international attention for violating separate federal and state rules that regulate emissions from vehicles.

Through the lens of the forest – tree rings reveal drought history

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor:  See paragraph 8 for link to source material.  – RS]

How researchers measured history of California drought

By Valerie Trouet, September 22, 2015
Frank Gehrke, left, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, and Gov. Jerry Brown walk across a dry meadow that is usually covered in several inches of snow as conducts the snow survey, near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year.  Brown took the occasion to annouced that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press
Frank Gehrke, left, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, and Gov. Jerry Brown walk across a dry meadow that is usually covered in several inches of snow as conducts the snow survey, near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Gehrke said this was the first time since he has been conducting the survey that he found no snow at this location at this time of the year. Brown took the occasion to annouced that he signed an executive order requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

In 2005, I moved to the United States from Belgium to study the influence of climate on wildfires in the Sierra Nevada over the last five centuries. As part of this work, I traveled for three months all around the mountain range to collect samples of trees and tree stumps. I stayed in remote service barracks and spent my days tromping through meadows and hiking up steep creeks to find trees that were scorched by past fires.

Thanks to the ample snows that usually fall, the Sierra has been California’s most efficient water storage system. In normal years, the mountain range’s snowpack provides 30 percent of the state’s water. It is the primary source for reservoirs that supply drinking water, agriculture and hydroelectric power. But this year, the snowpack was at just 5 percent of its 50-year average.

When California Gov. Jerry Brown declared the first-ever mandatory statewide water restriction, he chose a Sierra Nevada snow-measurement station as his backdrop. For the first time in 75 years, that station was surrounded only by dirt.

For me, Brown’s announcement worked as a call for action. After my time in the Sierra, I had realized that my main research interest — the interaction between climate and forest ecosystems — could best be pursued amid the majestic landscapes of the American West. So in 2011, I became a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where I now lead a team that uncovers the past climate of California by studying its trees. I knew my research could put this year’s 2015 snow drought in a much longer context.

While there are no written documents about the climate in California from centuries ago that anyone knows of, nature itself has been writing the story of its past in many places — caves, shells, lakes and, of course, trees. My job as a paleoclimatologist is to decipher this story. Trees are remarkable creatures: In California’s Mediterranean climate, they form a growth ring every year, and the width of that ring depends, to a large extent, on that year’s climate. After a wet winter, the ring that forms is relatively wide; after a dry winter, the ring is narrow. By measuring the widths of these rings in trees that have lived for centuries, my team can “read” what the climate was like in each year over that time span. And we can extend this outlook even further by collecting older dead wood.

The amount of snow on the ground at the end of the snowy season in the Sierra is largely determined by two climate components: how much precipitation fell during winter, and how warm or cold the winter was. Temperature determines how much of the precipitation that fell was rain versus snow, and affects the speed of snowmelt. We put two tree-ring data sets together to represent precipitation and temperature over the last 500 years.

By measuring the width of the rings of more than 1,500 blue oak trees in central California, some of the most climate-sensitive trees on the planet, we were able to reliably trace Pacific Ocean storms that have traveled east over central California and brought precipitation to the Sierra Nevada. We complemented this data with a 500-year-long winter temperature record derived from tree-ring data from a variety of trees throughout the American West, which was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

By comparing these two data sets with Sierra Nevada snowpack records dating to the 1930s, we were able to reconstruct the history of snowpack in the region all the way back to the year 1500. The results, which we published last week, made national headlines: The mountain range’s 2015 snowpack level is the lowest it has been in 500 years.

To put that in perspective, this means this winter has been the worst since the first European explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, explored California in the 1540s —about 150 years before the first mission was established. When my team started our work, we thought this year’s snow drought would be extreme, but we did not expect it to be the absolute lowest.

Sadly, while this research sheds light on the past, it’s actually not a very good barometer for the future. It very likely will not take another 500 years to reach the next record snowpack low. California temperatures are only projected to rise over the coming century. Even if the projected strong El Niño in the Pacific dumps loads of rain on Southern California this year, chances are that the Sierra Nevada snowpack will be a less reliable water source for the state going forward. This means fish and wildlife will suffer and, of course, California’s growing population of farmers, gardeners, skiers and residents are only going to keep wanting more, much more.

As I write this, the summer monsoon is rolling in over Tucson, and I am reminded that it brings a chance of redemption after a dry winter in Arizona. But California doesn’t have monsoons. Instead, in the last few days, my Twitter feed has been filled with pictures and stories of the Butte and Rough fires that are raging through the region. To me, they demonstrate the well-studied link between low snowpack, earlier spring snowmelt, and the increased risk of wildfire.

Now the ancient giant sequoia trees that left me in awe when I first saw them are at risk of being felled by drought, and even under the immediate threat of the Rough fire. To a tree-ring scientist, these 3,000-year-old trees are the enigmatic face of the power and resilience of nature. They have doubtless survived many threats and disturbances that we are not even aware of. To walk among these giants for the first time was a dream come true. Little did I realize then that I’d be keeping my fingers crossed for their survival less than a decade later.

Valerie Trouet is an associate professor in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

SB 350 – Bold Bill to Cut California Emissions Sets Off Fierce Battle

Repost from the New York Times
[Editor:  SB 350 passed in the California Senate and is up for a vote in the Assembly.  Please phone or write your Assembly member NOW to encourage a vote for this most important climate bill.  More info:  1) California Climate Leadership, 2) Earthjustice, 3) Natural Resources Defense Council and 4) Cool Davis (including a sample letter).   Find and contact your California legislators here.  – RS]

Bold Bill to Cut California Emissions Sets Off Fierce Battle

By Adam Nagourney, Sept. 4, 2015
Wednesday evening’s commuter rush on Interstate 110 in Los Angeles. Legislation in California’s long-term campaign against emissions calls for a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by Jan. 1, 2030. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

SACRAMENTO — With President Obama back from a trip to Alaska in which he portrayed the fight against climate change as an urgent international priority, California is showing how hard it can be — even in a state overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats — to get an ambitious carbon reduction bill passed.

The state has been at the forefront of global efforts to battle greenhouse gases, enacting mandates to force sharp reductions in emissions over the next 35 years. Its environmental record was applauded by Mr. Obama last week, and Pope Francis invited Gov. Jerry Brown to discuss the fight against global warming in the Vatican this summer.

But a centerpiece of California’s long-term campaign against emissions — legislation requiring a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by Jan. 1, 2030 — has set off a fierce battle here, pitting not only a well-financed oil industry against environmentalists, but Democrat against Democrat. The bill easily passed the Senate, but is faltering in the Assembly because of opposition by moderate Democrats, many representing economically suffering districts in central California. A vote is expected early next week.

The legislation faces an onslaught by the Western States Petroleum Association and other oil industry advocates that, in ads and mailings, assert that a 50 percent cut in petroleum use could result in gas rationing and a ban on minivans.

“This law will limit how often we can drive our own cars,” a narrator in one ad says urgently, an assertion the bill’s sponsors say is groundless. The oil industry has tagged the bill “The California Gas Restriction Act of 2015.”

A defeat would be a setback for Mr. Brown — who has made a battle against global warming a centerpiece of his final years in public life — and for environmentalists who have looked to California to lead the emissions fight at time of strong skepticism about global warming in Washington. Mr. Obama urged California lawmakers to enact the bill in a recent speech in Las Vegas, signaling the importance he is attaching to the issue in his final years in office.

The environmental fight here comes on the eve of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris later this year. There, Mr. Brown and Kevin de León, the State Senate Democratic leader who led the fight for the bill in his chamber, are planning to outline for an international audience California’s campaign against greenhouse gases. On Wednesday, the Legislature passed and sent to Mr. Brown a measure requiring the state’s public pension funds to divest from coal companies.

“The rest of the world is watching very closely what is happening in California, and I think so far they see a success story,” Mr. de León said. “Our economy has grown — we are adding jobs, and we are reducing our carbon emissions. Therefore it is absolutely crucial that this measure passes because it will be a big blow to the rest of the states and the whole world if it doesn’t.”

California has mandated an 80 percent cut in emissions by 2050, using 1990 emissions levels as a baseline. The goal has been championed by Democrats like Mr. Brown and Republicans like former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This bill on petroleum, one of several the Legislature is voting on to put these limits in place, is intended to ensure that California meets this target.

The legislation, Senate Bill 350, leaves it to the state’s Air Resources Board to determine how the 50 percent mandate would be met; it does not mention gas rationing or banning minivans. It also includes no penalties in case the mandate is missed. Opponents, in defending the warnings about rationing, noted that the bill is short on specifics on how the reduction would be achieved; they said they see no other way the mandate could be met.

“I can’t figure out any other way to reach a 50 percent reduction in that frame without doing some pretty dramatic measures,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. “If it isn’t gas rationing, what is it? I keep hearing what it isn’t.”

Mr. Brown, in an interview in his office here, said the oil industry was using fear tactics to try to derail the effort before the Legislature adjourns on Sept. 11, but said he was confident of eventual success.

“You’ve got the oil companies fighting Pope Francis,” Mr. Brown said. “Fighting the scientists of the world. Fighting the governor of California. They are engaged in literally a life-and-death struggle, and I have no doubt who is going to be the victor.”

He added: “It’s a shameless effort to maintain their revenue stream — regardless of what the impact is on everyone else. There is no rationing in the bill. Read it. None.”

The concerns have come not only from Republicans, but also from moderate Democrats who represent communities in central California. Many of these communities are struggling with high unemployment and slow economic growth.

“So much of our economy is driven by the use of petroleum,” said Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, a Democrat from the Central Valley and a leader of moderates in his house. “We don’t know what impacts S.B. 350 will have on it. We don’t know because we don’t know what the plan is. What does that look like? We haven’t heard that answer to that. And in the absence of information, you create your own.”

Kristin Olsen, the Assembly Republican leader, said her party was eager to find ways to curb harmful emissions. “My son has asthma — of course I want clean air,” she said. But she questioned why California had to be a leader in an effort that she argued had such significant economic costs.

“We want to be leaders,” she said, “but not when there are no followers. And at some point we have look at the fact that no one is following California’s lead. We are less than 1 percent of the world. At some point we should work on reasonable cost-effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to improve our air quality. But not at the cost of jobs.”

Ms. Boyd, of the petroleum association, said the bill’s sponsors had erred in trying to push the measure through without explaining how it might work. “We think there should be a lot more detail, and it should be articulated pretty clearly about how one thinks they are going to be about this superaggresive mandate,” she said.

Backers of the bill said reductions would be achieved by, among other things, bolstering the fuel efficiency of existing cars and increasing the number of electric cars on the roads, while pushing urban planning policies that help enable people to walk to their jobs and to shopping districts.

“We don’t have a choice — we have to make these changes,” said Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge fund manager and environmental advocate who has been championing the bill. “In listening to these people talk about how there is going to be rationing, I’m like, stop making up stories and start telling us what will happen under your scenario.”

“We are in the process of changing how we use energy in the United States of America,” Mr. Steyer added. “The way this happens is, the private sector comes up with new ideas, and people either like them or not.”

Mr. de León, the leader of the State Senate Democrats, said that he was preparing amendments to his bill to try to ease concerns. One amendment would give the Legislature more of a say over the final recommendation by the Air Resources Board.

Mr. Brown said that even if this bill were to be defeated, enough other legislation was already in place that he was confident of long-term victory.

“This is not the whole battle,” Mr. Brown said. “This bill has become a lightning rod. It’s important. But California is way down the road in terms of the thrust and momentum that has been building up for over a decade.”

Call For Crude-By-Rail Moratorium In California After Train Derailment

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Call For Crude-By-Rail Moratorium In California After Train Derailment

2014-12-09, by Mike Gaworecki

A train derailment last week has prompted a California state legislator to call for a moratorium on crude-by-rail shipments through the state’s “most treacherous” passes.

Twelve cars derailed on a Union Pacific rail line along the Feather River northeast of Oroville, CA in the early morning hours of November 5th. The state Office of Emergency Services responded by saying “we dodged a bullet” due to the fact that the train was carrying corn, some of which spilled into the river, and not oil.

State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a vocal critic of the state’s emergency preparedness for responding to crude-by-rail accidents, does not think California should wait around for a bullet it can’t dodge before taking action. Hill sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown calling for a moratorium on shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and other hazardous materials via the Feather River Canyon and several other high risk routes throughout California.

“This incident serves as a warning alarm to the State of California,” Hill wrote in the letter. “Had Tuesday’s derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination in the Feather River, flowing into Lake Oroville and contaminating California’s second largest reservoir that supplies water to the California Water Project and millions of people.”

Hill’s letter goes on to mention the fact that increased use of crude transport by rail due to the fracking boom has also led to many more “fatal and devastating rail accidents involving large crude oil spills,” specifically raising the specter of the derailment and explosion of a train in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in 2013, which killed 47 people and spilled 26,000 gallons of crude into the Chaudière River.

There is a need for a moratorium, Hill argues, because a train carrying one million gallons of Bakken crude—the same type of oil that was being transported through Lac-Mégantic—travels through the Feather River Canyon every week, and there are plans for a second of these “bomb trains” (so called due to the highly volatile nature of Bakken crude) to be added soon.

According to Hill, the trains travel through some of California’s most remote regions where the risk of derailment is especially high and “emergency responders are ill-equipped to quickly respond in these regions to prevent and mitigate major environmental and public health harm.”

Crude-by-rail has taken off in the U.S. because there is simply not enough space in existing pipelines to transport the glut of oil being produced across North America. This has led to more oil being spilled by train accidents in 2013 than in the previous three decades combined. According to Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data, last year saw some 1.15 million gallons of crude oil spilled by rail incidents, compared to just 800,000 gallons between 1975 and 2012.

It just so happens that there are no pipelines bringing crude to California, however, so the state is bracing itself for a massive increase in the number of oil trains. In 2011 there were 9,000 carloads of oil shipped by rail into the Golden State, but that number is expected to swell to 200,000 carloads by 2016.

So far this year, California has imported nearly 4.4 million barrels of oil by rail through September, compared to just 3.3 million barrels from January to September in 2013. To put that in context: the 6.3 million barrels ultimately shipped via rail to California refineries last year represented a 506% increase over the 1 million barrels shipped by rail in 2012, but was still just 1% of total oil shipments into the state. However, crude-by-rail shipments are growing so quickly that they are expected to reach as much as 150 million barrels by 2016, some 25% of total imports.

When reached for comment, the governor’s office deferred to the California Office of Emergency Services. Kelly Houston, deputy director of the OES, told DeSmog, “We share Senator Hill’s concern about the increase in crude oil coming into California by rail,” but that ultimately any decision on a moratorium would have to come from the Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration.

Houston stresses that the state is working to make crude-by-rail shipments safer, pointing to a report released by the state this past June, “Oil by Rail Safety in California,” and the work being done with railroad operators and federal regulators to improve California’s safety and emergency preparedness standards. “We’re going to have an increased risk because we don’t want to stop commerce into the state,” Houston says, “but what we want to do is increase safety and preparedness.”