California Scrooge

image_1What did you get for the holidays?

Due to California’s unprecedented financial crisis, the environmental, scientific, education, transportation and construction community got one big lump of coal.  Were we naughty this year?  Not hardly.  The naughty were the state legislature and the Governor, which both failed to agree on a budget plan that met the laugh test in the financial community.

As a result, California (always described as something like “the eighth largest economy in the world” ) can’t sell a bond.  How the mighty have fallen.

The media have done a strong job covering the budget wars and the potential impacts to state employees (10% mandatory layoffs, forced two-days-a-month furloughs, and no more cash by the end of February), but they haven’t delved into the impacts of the state’s inability to sell a bond.

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Restoring the Bay

smbrc-dolphin The  Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission unanimously approved a new Bay Restoration Plan on Thursday.  Dr. Shelley Luce, executive director of the Bay Commission, and her dedicated staff put together the new recommendations: the long-awaited sequel to the original 1995 plan.  Since the mid-90s, a lot has happened to help restore the Bay. Hyperion and the County Sanitation Districts’ Carson sewage treatment plants were upgraded to meet Clean Water Act requirements.  Numerous dry weather runoff diversions have made a number of polluted beaches safe for swimming during the summer. Land acquisitions have included Ballona Wetlands, Ahmanson Ranch, the Soka property and the terminus of Topanga Creek and Lagoon.  All great stuff.

But the Bay still has a long way to go.  Shelley’s crew, with the help of all of the Commission’s member agencies, has taken an updated approach to restoration.  There is a big push for a low-impact development and green infrastructure approach to reducing stormwater pollution.  In other words, capture runoff on-site and infiltrate it to replenish groundwater or capture it and reuse it on site.  Also, there are measures to enhance urban watersheds, protect local streams, and ban plastic bags and single-use plastic food packaging.

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Grand Slams

solis-lubchenco_175x4371Thursday’s appointments of Hilda Solis as Secretary of Commerce and Prof. Jane Lubchenco as chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration (NOAA) weren’t just strong for the environment.  They were two grand slams.  In the same inning.

Whom would you choose over Solis to catalyze the green jobs movement in America?  She’s been great on environmental justice issues and a friend of labor.  As for Lubchenco, she’s one of the nation’s most respected marine biologists, can speak both nerd and English, is a champion for solving the climate crisis, and understands ocean science and policy issues including overfishing as well as anyone out there.

All in all, two great picks that will help the nation move to a green economy and to environmental protection before irreversible consequences become overwhelming.

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And You Thought S.M. Bay Was Bad

pilotchnl_first_flush_11081Winter is upon us.  Cold temperatures.  Rain. Mudslides.  The first snow of the year.  Bad driving.  And the holiday tradition of an ungodly amount of trash flushed into local bays and ending up on our beaches.  Trash is what you can see.  The fecal bacteria counts explode to levels that microbiology labs have trouble measuring accurately.  As bad as we have it here, Imperial Beach in San Diego County is a thousand times worse.

For them, rainy season means all of Tijuana’s trash becomes Imperial Beach’s trash and with it comes an overwhelming volume of raw sewage.  Not good for the Tijuana River, and even worse for the estuary and surfers at IB. The pictures we received from Ben McCue of WildCoast are epic in the magnitude of environmental desecration.

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Something Fishy

Mercury WarningThe FDA released a report urging the Feds to give contaminated fish a break. After all, the cardiac benefits of eating fish versus a Big Mac are well documented.

As usual, the FDA misses the point in its recommendations.

As a reminder, the FDA are the same guys that recommended an “unsafe” DDT level in fish of 5 parts per million, well above the level for hazardous waste and over 50 times higher than EPA’s often cited recommended level. Why? The FDA balances economic impacts and public health on the backs of consumers.

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Tourist Trap

Manta ray in the Sea of Cortez...and on local menus in Mexico.

Manta ray in the Sea of Cortez...and on local menus in Mexico. Photo: Paul Ahuja

I spent the last week on the Sea of Cortez with 19 other Aspen Institute Catto Fellows. I was fortunate enough to receive the two-year energy and the environment fellowship along with environmental leaders from all over the world and all professional sectors. Our latest session took us to La Paz.

On our first night in Mexico, I met an old friend, former Heal the Bay educator and marine biologist Paul Ahuja. Paul left the States to go to La Paz to study manta rays, perhaps the most graceful creature in the sea. Paul told me that he identified through photo-documentation more than 50 different individual mantas off La Paz. Within two years there were none. The mantas have not returned to La Paz in three years.

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California Academy of Sciences

img00001I ventured with the family to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park the day after Thanksgiving. No one else, other than the two quarter-mile lines of folks that put Disneyland to shame, had similar ideas.

I had read so much about the largest public LEED Platinum-rated facility on Earth that I wanted to check it out. The green roof, straight out of the “Teletubbies,” is absolutely stunning and it contains over 1.7 million native plants and can capture up to 3.6 million gallons of rainwater.

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