Environmental news from California and beyond

Category: Air Pollution

Oil pipeline protesters to greet Obama in San Francisco

President Obama may face a San Francisco protest against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline

When President Obama arrives Tuesday at San Francisco's W Hotel for a fundraiser, he may see some familiar faces from his 2008 campaign -- but they won't be friendly ones.

Several hundred former ardent supporters of the president are expected to attend a rally opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring Canadian tar sands oil through the U.S. heartland to the Gulf of Mexico. The State Department is expected to soon issue a decision on whether to permit the conduit.

The rally, organized by CREDO Action, is a bellwether for the reelection dissatisfaction Obama could face among those who voted for him based on his environmental promises, a number of which have crumbled since he took office -- including the demise of cap-and-trade legislation and the postponement of major air regulations.

“The Bay Area and Northern California were huge sources of grass-roots donations and energy for the Obama campaign in 2008," said CREDO Action campaign manager Elijah Zarlin, a former author of the Obama campaign's fundraising emails who is organizing the rally. "If he wants these people back strongly for him in 2012, he needs to hear us on this and seize this opportunity to lead. This is a great opportunity to deliver this important message directly to the president, and to his high-dollar donors who are in a unique position to talk to the president about this issue."

Rally attendees are planning to use the call of "Yes You Can," a twist on Obama's 2008 campaign motto, to suggest that the president can reject the Keystone application and fulfill his promise to end "the tyranny of oil," as he said during his first White House campaign.

There's no word yet on how close the protesters will be allowed to get to the president or his supporters, who will be paying $7,500 apiece to attend the dinner.

"The Keystone pipeline is a desperate attempt to maintain our disastrous reliance on fossil fuels that will be essentially 'game over' for climate, which is exactly what President Obama ran against in 2008,” said Becky Bond, political director of CREDO Action. "The corruption and conflict of interest that we've seen in the State Department's handling of the review process are exactly the type of insider, closed-door cronyism that President Obama said he would change."


California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

Australia moves closer to law establishing carbon tax

Climate skeptic admits he was wrong to doubt global-warming data

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: President Obama speaks at Greensville County High School in Emporia, Va., on Oct. 18, part of his three-day bus tour to promote his jobs legislation. Credit: Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images

California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

Oil refinery
The California Air Resources Board, after three years of contentious debate, on Thursday approved the nation's first state-run cap-and-trade program, which will for the first time put a price on carbon emissions.

The unanimous vote paves the way for the carbon trading market, which begins in 2013 and will eventually require 85% of the state's largest polluters to either emit less carbon or purchase credits on a market that the air board will regulate.   

The market is projected to exchange about $10 billion in carbon allowances by 2016, which would make it second largest in the world behind the European Union.

The program is part of AB 23, the state's 2006 climate change law that mandates a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Said board Chairwoman Mary Nichols: "We've done something important."


Australia moves closer to law establishing carbon tax

California falls behind Massachusetts in energy efficiency

Climate skeptic admits he was wrong to doubt global-warming data

--Julie Cart

Photo: Valero Energy's Wilmington refinery in a 2010 photo.  Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

Climate skeptic admits he was wrong to doubt global-warming data

MullerRemember when scientists who had cast doubt on global temperature studies boldly embarked on an effort to "reconsider" the evidence?

They have. And they conclude that their doubt was misplaced.

UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller and others were looking at the so-called urban heat island effect -- the notion that because more urban temperature stations are included in global temperature data sets than are rural ones, the global average temperature was being skewed upward because these sites tend to retain more heat. Hence, global warming trends are exaggerated.

Using data from such urban heat islands as Tokyo, they hypothesized, could introduce "a severe warming bias in global averages using urban stations."

In fact, the data trend was "opposite in sign to that expected if the urban heat island effect was adding anomalous warming to the record. The small size, and its negative sign, supports the key conclusion of prior groups that urban warming does not unduly bias estimates of recent global temperature change."

Researchers conclude that "[t]he trend analysis also supports the view that the spurious contribution of urban heating to the global average, if present, is not a strong effect; this agrees with the conclusions in the literature that we cited previously."

The literature they cite is the basis for the conclusion that Earth has been warming in an unnatural way during the period of human industrialization.

The paper, made available Thursday, amounts to the second time that Muller et al have had to back away from a key plank of climate skeptics' argument that Earth is simply on a natural temperature path and man-made greenhouse gases are not warming the atmosphere.

Several months ago, when called before a congressional panel that likewise has been skeptical of climate research, Muller acknowledged that his team was finding no smoking gun to indict climate scientists.

At the time, Muller told the House Science Committee that the work of the three principal groups that have analyzed the temperature trends underlying climate science is "excellent .... We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups."


Federal biofuel mandate flawed, report finds

Australia moves closer to law establishing carbon tax

'MythBusters' asks: Are motorcycles greener than cars?

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: UC Berkeley physicist Richard Muller.

Group launches online environmental accident map

The environmental monitoring group SkyTruth launched an online map that tracks pollution accidents
The nonprofit environmental monitoring group SkyTruth on Thursday launched a real-time alert system that uses remote sensing and digital mapping to track pollution events in the United States.

The SkyTruth Alerts system shows air and water pollution, toxic spills and other incidents on an interactive map, noting the time of the event and whether toxic materials are involved. Users can track specific geographic areas and receive updates via email or RSS feeds.

The group culls satellite images, aerial photography and reporting data from federal and state emergency response agencies to compile the maps.


Gov. Jerry Brown signs ban on chemical BPA in baby bottles

Pregnant California women show high levels of flame retardant

Texas fire: Chemical plant processes toxics, produces pesticide

-- Julie Cart

Photo: Fires burn off oil near the crippled BP well site in June 2010. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times


Australia moves closer to law establishing carbon tax

The Australian government's goal of implementing a carbon tax passed its toughest test today as the lower house of Parliament overwhelmingly approved a package of bills that institutes a phased-in carbon tax, to be followed by a carbon-trading system.

The 18 bills now go to the Senate, where the law is all but assured of passage in mid-November.

According to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the system will reduce Australia's carbon emissions by 159 million tons by 2020. Australia is the largest per-capita carbon polluter, with an economy deeply dependent on coal.

The first phase of the law will tax carbon at $22.90 a ton beginning in the middle of next year. The surcharge will rise modestly until mid-2015, when the carbon-trading system will take effect. Other bills call for a national emissions caps, exempting farming and other agricultural sectors.

The tax will not extend to the price of gas for consumers, although rail, shipping and large trucking businesses will pay the tax indirectly on fuels such as diesel.

Australia’s biggest carbon emitters -- power companies, mining companies and industrial manufacturers -- immediately attacked the legislation, and the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, vowed a “pledge in blood” to repeal the law should he become prime minister.

The Australian law would go well beyond what the California Air Resources Board is considering. The board voted in August to reaffirm its cap-and-trade plan, which put the nation's first state carbon-trading program back on track.

California's on-again, off-again rules have been years in the making and are meant to complement AB 32, the state's landmark climate-change law that mandates a reduction in carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. The air board adopted a preliminary carbon-trading plan in late 2008 but was sued by environmental justice groups in 2009.

The state plan calls for capping greenhouse gases at more than 600 industrial plants and allowing companies to buy and sell emissions permits. It is modeled on Europe's 6-year-old cap-and-trade system. California is considering whether to work with Canada under the Western Climate Initiative, a collaboration involving the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

California's program would be North America's biggest carbon market, three times larger than a utility-only system in 10 Northeastern states. By 2016, about $10 billion in carbon allowances are expected to be traded through the California market.


Clean natural gas? Not so fast, study says

Rising sea levels could take financial toll on California beaches

EPA scolded on greenhouse gas report review process

-- Julie Cart

Photo: People walk across the frozen Songhua River near smokestacks at Jiamusi in China's Heilongjiang province in 2005. Credit: Greg Baker / Associated Press

Get your EVs running: First National Plug In Day is Oct. 16

NissanLeafRedElectric-vehicle enthusiasts from New York to California will wheel into the streets en masse Sunday as part of National Plug In Day. Twenty-one cities, including Santa Monica, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Orange in California, will  hold electric car parades and tailpipe-free tailgate parties to celebrate -- and test drive --currently available plug-ins from Nissan, General Motors, Tesla and SMART, and soon-to-be available models from Mitsubishi, Toyota, Ford and Coda.

"We wanted to get the word out to the American public that electric cars are here now and viable," said Paul Scott, co-founder of Plug In America, which teamed with the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Assn. to organize the nationwide event. "In the past, a lot of our activities had been centered around California because that was virtually the only state you could get an electric car.  Now the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster are in most states and have new drivers who are excited about their cars."

About 400 electric cars, trucks and motorcycles are expected at the Santa Monica parade Sunday. The EVs will start their trek at Santa Monica City Hall and drive down Main Street starting at 10 a.m. Ed Begley Jr. and "Revenge of the Electric Car" director Chris Paine are expected to attend.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Nissan Leaf. Credit: Nissan USA

Texas fire: Chemical plant processes toxics, produces pesticide

A fire broke out Monday morning at the Magnablend chemical plant in Waxahachie, Texas

The Magnablend chemical plant in Waxahatchie, Texas, where a raging fire broke out this morning, processes tons of toxics, and uses large amounts of anhydrous ammonia, which is caustic, hazardous and can cause breathing problems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's risk management plan.

The plant, about 30 miles south of Dallas, also is listed as a pesticide producer, and mixes or produces chemicals used in agriculture and the petroleum industry, including fluids for hydraulic fracturing (the most common of which are benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene).

Nearby facilities include two other agricultural chemical plants.

Here is a list of chemicals released or transferred at the plant, in pounds, by year, according to the EPA:

COPPER COMPOUNDS                 5  
CERTAIN GLYCOL ETHERS               250 250  
ZINC COMPOUNDS 5 5         800 35 250  
FORMIC ACID                 250  
METHANOL 40 40 45 45 45 45 2,412 1,680    
ETHYLENE GLYCOL 1 1 1       8,700 5 505  
DAZOMET                 250  

The plant is located in the Upper Trinity watershed, which has reported contaminants in fish tissue, including chlordane, a chemical formerly used in pesticides, and PCBs, according to the EPA.

More information on the Magnablend chemical plant in Texas.

BPA ban passes California state Senate

Pesticide exposure linked to prostate cancer

High levels of toxic PBDE found in pregnant California women

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: The Magnablend chemical plant in Waxahachie, Texas. Credit:

Supreme Court rejects builders' challenge to pollution rule


This post has been updated. See below for details.

The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to review a case in which builders in the San Joaquin Valley sought to overthrow restrictions on air pollution associated with sprawl.

The National Assn. of Home Builders had sought to overturn a rule that requires developers to mitigate additional air pollution associated with large developments -- such as increased automobile traffic with longer commuting distances.

The so-called indirect source rule, adopted in 2005 by the San Joaquin Unified Air Pollution Control District, was aimed at steering development to areas close to public transportation, providing pedestrian-friendly shopping areas, and encouraging alternative means of travel, such as bicycle lanes. Developers who could not comply were required to pay a fee that would be used to fund pollution offsets elsewhere.

Earthjustice, an environmental group that participated in the case, praised the rejection by the nation's highest court. "We were glad to stand with the San Joaquin air district to defend this rule,” said Paul Cort, an attorney for Earthjustice. “No special interest should have a free ride in a region where schools and parents are frequently warned to keep children indoors on bad air days.”

The regulation had withstood opposition in 2008 in a lower federal court in Fresno, and had been appealed to the nation's highest court.

[Updated, 1:50 p.m.: "We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not elect to hear our case," Amy Chai, a senior counsel for the Nationial Assn. of Home Builders, said in an email. "However, the Supreme Court receives thousands of petitions every year and hears only a fraction of those cases, so it is rare to have a case taken by the Court."]

The heavily agricultural San Joaquin Valley, along with the Los Angeles area, suffers from some of the dirtiest air in the nation and a high rate of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

[Correction: A previous version of this story said the pollution rule was aimed at greenhouse gases. It was intended to curtail emission of nitrogen oxides and particulates, an effort that also would have a beneficial effect on emission of greenhouse gases.]


Clean natural gas? Not so fast, study says

EPA scolded on greenhouse gas report review process

'MythBusters' asks: Are motorcycles greener than cars?

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: A housing development along the San Joaquin River in California's Central Valley. Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez / For The Times

Decision postponed, again, on Yellowstone snowmobile rule


Once again the National Park Service has punted instead of issuing a final rule regarding the number of snowmobiles it will allow to operate each day in Yellowstone National Park.

Supt. Dan Wenk announced Thursday that the issue required additional analysis and that the park would implement an interim policy of allowing up to 318 commercially guided snowmobiles in the park each day, and 78 commercially guided snowcoaches.

Wenk said that when the winter use season starts Dec. 15, the same rules that have been in place the last two years will still apply. 

He said a final "sustainable" rule is expected before the start of the 2012-13 season. 

The debate over the use of snowmobiles in the nation's oldest park dates to the Clinton administration, when the use of the machines was to be phased out because of concerns about noise, air and sound  pollution, as well as visitor and wildlife safety. That rule was reversed by President George W. Bush.

The issue of snowmobiles in the park has been studied for more than a decade, at a cost of more than $10 million.


Secluded park threatened with closure

Yellowstone park releases report on grizzly attack

EPA scolded on greenhouse gas report review process

-- Julie Cart 

Photo: A bison crosses the road ahead of snowmobilers at Yellowstone National Park in a 2003 photo. Credit: Craig Moore / Associated Press 

EPA scolded on greenhouse gas report review process

Opponents of the federal government's efforts to rein in planet-warming greenhouse gases were trumpeting victory Wednesday over a report by the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general that chided the agency for its peer-review process on a scientific document.

At issue is how the agency subjected a "technical support document" to scrutiny before finding that greenhouse gases posed a danger to the public and therefore merited regulation.

Few decisions by the agency have met with more uproar than the so-called endangerment finding on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases -- despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that the EPA had the statutory authority to regulate such emissions.

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a denier of the scientific consensus that human activity is causing the planet to warm, had requested the review last year in his role as ranking GOP member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

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