Just drill, baby!

Obama's call for expanded offshore drilling in U.S. sends a mixed message to green energy investors.

So the Obama administration has proposed to open the Atlantic coast from Delaware to northern Florida for offshore oil exploration. That’s up to 167 million acres of ocean floor.  And now that the pesky polar ice cap is melting away, the entire northern slope of Alaska can open for business, up to 130 million acres.

Heck, the administration gave Copenhagen the old college try, so I guess it was time to appeal to all of President Obama’s Tea Party followers. Time to drill, baby, drill.

The extra oil will make such a difference for America. Alaskans will get a little extra in their annual petroleum dividend check. That will come in handy for those that have to relocate their homes because of sea level rise and permafrost melt associated with global warming and greenhouse gases.

Of course, all of this American oil will help us quickly move to the green energy economy many of us have been clamoring for. I’m sure the U.S. will get right on it once we’ve drained all our offshore and onshore resources (don’t forget shale!). As my Dad always used to say: Waste not, want not! (The rallying cry may have led to the Gold family addiction to massive burritos.)

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Power Play

Nukes like San Onofre may be exempted from the state's already watered-down policy on once-through cooling.

Good things come to those who wait. Unless you’re a fish.

Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office finally allowed the State Water Board to release a modified once-through-cooling power plant policy. The governor’s office held the policy hostage for months while every major power generator in the state lobbied heavily to weaken the last draft. What a surprise. The power brokers won. They should at least say “Thanks for the fish” like the dolphins in the “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

For those keeping score at home: The State Water Board had already weakened the last version of the policy because of power industry lobbying, but the California Energy Commission, the Public Utility Commission and the California Independent System Operator supported the draft.

The environmental community largely welcomed the draft policy, but still wanted some of the loopholes filled, such as making the preferred compliance method one that does not rely on seawater for cooling power plants and instead requires air cooling.

Meanwhile, despite over two years of a painful public process, a technical advisory committee review and numerous opportunities to comment on the policy, the power industry by and large wanted to maintain the status quo.

Numerous lobbying trips to the governor’s office led to severe erosion of the technically sound policy. What did the power industry get for its troubles? Ka-ching!!  Here goes:

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A Collapse of Governance

The U.N. has once again failed to act to protect such endangered species as Atlantic bluefin tuna.

I always thought that a species was endangered if the organism’s population plummeted to a fraction of historic levels.  In California, the scourge of DDT and PCBs led to the listing of the California Brown Pelican on the federal endangered species list.  With listing comes additional protection. Recently, the Brown Pelican recovered enough to be taken off the list.

But last week a United Nations body came up with a new definition of endangered species that simply boggles the mind.

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Butts on the Beach

The California Assembly approved on Monday a sweeping ban on smoking at state parks and beaches. Sen. Oropeza’s SB4 is part of the Clean Seas Coalition package of bills to combat the marine debris crisis. Major props go to the Surfrider Foundation for its successful efforts as the sponsor of the bill.  Cigarette butts are the No. 1 item found in the sand on Coastal Cleanup Day and at Heal the Bay’s other beach cleanups.  Despite the fact that Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Long Beach and Malibu have banned smoking on the beach, butts remain a big problem.

Over the past five years, volunteers have picked up between 7,000 and 37,000 cigarette butts annually on the beach. (Styrofoam pieces and bits of plastic follow closely behind in the Hall of Shame.) 

Despite the beach smoking bans, volunteers still find butts at most beaches with prohibitions. There’s been a reduction since the laws went into effect, but butts continue to be the most common litter found on the beach.

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Baby Blues

Poor circulation at Baby Beach in Dana Point has historically led to poor water quality grades.

With April right around the corner, the official beach monitoring season is upon us. Under AB 411, all heavily visited beaches near a potential pollution source statewide must be monitored once a week from April to the end of October.  The monitoring program provides critical information to better inform the public of the potential health risks of swimming at potentially polluted beaches.

This April, families can finally return to Baby Beach in Dana Point. Due to the state budget crisis, the Orange County Health Department cut water quality monitoring at the popular enclosed beach near the Ocean Institute aquarium.  Baby Beach has long been a destination for families to take their young children to swim in the ocean without the fear of rip currents and breaking waves.  Unfortunately, since November, kids swimming at Baby Beach did so at their own risk because their parents didn’t have any water quality information. 

Considering that Baby Beach has been on the Beach Report Card’s annual beach bummer list multiple times, the cessation of the fecal bacteria monitoring program definitely put public health at risk.

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Japanese Delicacy

The so-called apology from the owners of the Hump, posted on their website, speaks for itself:

”The charge against the restaurant is true: The Hump served whale meat to customers looking to eat what in Japan is widely served as a delicacy … We sincerely apologize. We pledge to work hard to re-earn the trust of the public and respect of our customers.”


Media Splash

Media attention rightly places heat on the Hump's owners. Photo: chewgooder.wordpress.com

About 100 outraged protesters came out to the beleaguered Hump restaurant during lunchtime today, shouting their displeasure with the Santa Monica eatery serving endangered whale meat. The Hump didn’t even bother opening due to the buzz surrounding the protest. 

Sea Shepherd organized the rally and members of  “The Cove” production team, Pelican Rescue and PETA all turned out in force. A couple of folks came dressed in Orca costumes, amid shouting and protest signs that included “Dump the Hump,” “Free Willy,” “The Hump Blows” and “Just Sei No!”  One sign included owner Brian Vidor’s supposed phone number.

Sea Shepherd will continue holding court at The Hump all day and into the night.

Media coverage of the protest was extensive, including broadcasters from Japan. Keeping the public pressure on the restaurant encourages the strongest possible actions from the Feds, which have filed charges against the restaurant for violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Hopefully, the Feds will seek at least $200K fines and jail time.

Also, Santa Monica’s city attorney should report back to the City Council at the March 23 meeting about possible action against the Hump, which sits on city-owned land. Short of putting human body parts on the menu, there isn’t anything worse than serving whale to restaurant customers. So business license revocation or lease termination are critical potential actions that the Santa Monica City Council could take. Stay tuned for possible Santa Monica government action.

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City to Investigate the Hump

At last night’s Santa Monica City Council meeting I spoke during public comment about what should be done about the Hump’s egregious and illegal serving of endangered whale meat.

Santa Monica City Attorney Marsha Moutrie responded that her office will investigate the illegality of The Hump’s actions at a restaurant located on city property at the airport.

The standard lease clause allows the city to terminate a lease in the event that the owners commit a crime, Moutrie said. Also, the city can revoke a business license for illegal activity.

Moutrie promised to come back to the city council with the results of the office investigation by the next council meeting in two weeks.

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Sei It Ain’t So!

The Hump in Santa Monica is under fire for allegedly sourcing endangered whale meat from the back of a Mercedes.

By now you’ve probably heard that Santa Monica restaurant the Hump allegedly served endangered Sei whale meat to the team that put together the brilliant, Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove.” Endangered whale served in our own backyard, less than two miles from my house and the offices of Heal the Bay, Santa Monica Baykeeper and the NRDC!

When my wife Lisette first called me about the New York Times piece I thought she was citing The Onion, not the Times. Then I got pissed.

I sent an e-mail to some Santa Monica city councilmembers asking them to take action immediately. Santa Monica is known as one of the most environmentally sensitive cities in the nation, so a local sushi house selling whale is an outrage and an embarrassment.

Councilmember Kevin McKeown, a vegetarian, responded by asking City Attorney Marsha Moutrie to investigate if a violation of the law is grounds for revoking the Hump’s business license.

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Tough Parenting

Santa Monica High School competed admirably Saturday at the National Ocean Science Bowl Regionals at USC. They learned some life lessons during an exhausting day, and so did I.

The team, led by fellow Bruin alum and biology teacher Ingo Gaida, has a history of success in the event, including a national championship and a top five placing. The regional, run by USC and JPL, included schools from Los Angeles and Orange counties. My son Zack serves as  the marine biology expert on the team so I decided to watch my fellow ocean nerds in action. The grueling competition started at 8 a.m. and didn’t finish until after 6 p.m. Samohi played about ten 45-minute matches before the final outcome. I have a chronic heart condition, atrial fibrillation, and the contest put my ticker to the test.

Samo’s team, made up of senior Sky Crane and three juniors including my son, Dana Ritchie and Madeline Youngs, won its first seven games easily before running in to Arcadia High’s team. Those brainiacs squeaked by Samo by seven points. Because it was a double elimination tourney, Samo still had a chance. The kids won another game before facing their arch-nemesis again. This time Samo beat Arcadia setting up a winner-take-all final game. The champs would get a free trip to Florida to compete in nationals.

I’m a huge sports fan, a homer that suffers with every Lakers, Dodgers and Bruins loss. (Don’t get me going on the current Lake Show roadie — a roadie with No D!) I couldn’t even watch the final game because of the pressure. I couldn’t even imagine how the 16- and 17-year old kids felt.

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