Oil in Aspen

The Aspen Institute and the National Geographic Society kicked off the 2010 Aspen Environment Forum Sunday night with a lively discussion of the Gulf disaster. The timing of the forum, which always focuses on climate and renewable energy issues, has definitely cast an air of pessimism here. After all, the announcement from the U.S. Senate and the Obama administration that a climate bill will have to wait for another year at a minimum was extremely disappointing news for the environment and the green energy sector. The tragic loss of Stanford climate change icon Steven Schneider also put a damper on the evening. National Geogrpahic editor in chief Chris Johns correctly credited Schneider as the most persuasive and credible climate change scientist in the country.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, actor and New Orleans activist Wendell Pierce, journalist Joel Bourne, and Shell Oil exec vp deep water drilling John Hollowell comprised the Gulf panel. Tulane president Scott Cowen moderated deftly.

Jackson offered her unique observations from the Gulf and Washington, D.C. As a native New Orleanian, she emphasized the resiliency of her fellow Gulf residents and their incredible optimism in the face of yet another national disaster. She spoke about EPA’s efforts to monitor air, water and sediment and to work with the community on oil spill impact issues and responses. She also took pride in the Administration’s efforts to get $20 billion from BP and she was pretty candid about  her disappointment in BP’s handling and frequent mischaracterization of the crisis.

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Red Card For Paul, Please

The world's new most-famous octopusWe at Heal the Bay hate Paul the octopus. That may seem strange to hear from a group dedicated to the protection of marine life.

The English import, Octopus vulgaris, made his spot-on World Cup picks in a German aquarium. His prognostication prowess demonstrated that either: a) maybe the subtlety and majesty of the so-called beautiful game isn’t that tough to master; or b) Paul knows a helluva lot more about soccer than any announcer on ESPN.

Why do we dislike the German-based cephalopod? Is it because the mollusk never picked a soccer match loser (8 for 8, a 1-in-256 probability)?  Hardly, even though I had Holland in the office World Cup pool.

No, Heal the Bay hates Paul because now he is the most famous octopus on earth.

Our own Flo, the eight-legged vandal that flooded the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, is yesterday’s news, last year’s “in” invertebrate. He’s just another octopus with a mere 15 minutes of fame, like my brother’s latest misguided Korean seafood-eating adventure, or the Detroit ice after a Red Wings’ goal.

Paul’s owners, like the octomom and her kids, are trying to cash in on the oracle’s celebrity. Now comes word that a town in Spain (which won the soccer tournament) even offered to buy Paul to help promote a local festival. There’s nothing worse than a sell-out cephalopod.

Just remember Paul: Fame, like the life of an octopus, is fleeting.

Water Boarded

The definition of torture? A bungled, two-day Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting that flouted the Clean Water Act.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board held a two-day marathon meeting at the end of last week. I’ve been attending board hearings for nearly a quarter century, well over 150 overall.  The Thursday hearing had to be the most screwed-up session I’ve ever attended, and I’m now convinced that this is the most anti-environmental board since the Gov. Deukmejian days. Heal the Bay had seven different items in front of the Regional Board over the session, which took place at the Ventura County government building and then Glendale City Hall.

 Among the important items on the packed agenda:  the Ventura County stormwater permit, the Hyperion Treatment Plant’s discharge permit, a waste discharge requirement for a new development along Malibu Creek in the Malibu civic center area and fecal bacteria Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits for the Santa Clara and Los Angeles rivers.

Unfortunately, logic and a responsibility to uphold the federal Clean Water Act took a holiday last week.

After the 32-hour marathon, exhaustion and anger overwhelmed me.  My faith in the state system’s ability to protect our right to clean water had been severely eroded.  The system isn’t entirely broken, but it is in need of major reform. 

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Day and Night

EPA chief Lisa Jackson tests water in Compton Creek.

Wednesday was a rewarding whirlwind: An extraordinary afternoon in the Compton Creek, a stimulating evening roundtable at the Skirball, and an after-hours meal in Venice. 

A few weeks ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency reached out to Heal the Bay to let us know that chief Lisa Jackson would be visiting the L.A. area and that she wanted to visit Compton Creek.

Heal the Bay contacted Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to set up a tour for Jackson at Compton Creek. The agreed-upon plan was to announce the long-anticipated purchase of the four-acre soft-bottomed section of Compton Creek and a request to Jackson for federal assistance to develop a flood-control improvement plan based on a low-impact development approach rather than raising the walls on the river.

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Fish Fight

Jonathan Gold's diet would put a mako's to shame.

My brother Jonathan Gold, the food writer, will moderate a panel Wednesday night on sustainable seafood at the Skirball Center.  Zocalo is putting on the free event.  The other panelists will be renowned seafood chef Michael Cimarusti, from Providence, and Logan Kock, the chief buyer and seafood encyclopedia from Santa Monica Seafood.  Michael and Logan are two of the most knowledgeable people in the field of sustainable seafood, and definitely a heck of a lot more informed on the issues than the Gold Brothers.  But my focus will be on the moderator.

This will be our first public dust-up on seafood issues since our whale wars over a year ago.  Jonathan has the advantage.  This is definitely a foodie audience and, as moderator, he has control of the mike.  I still have a fighter’s chance because the topic is sustainable seafood and Jonathan may not have been in an ocean since his high school days.

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