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Blog Posts: California

May 26th, 2015

Exclusive: Water Defense Video Shows Tar Balls, Oil Slicks Near Kern County Irrigation Site

By Darcey Rakestraw

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published Water Defense’s results of testing it has conducted on recycled oil field wastewater used to irrigate crops in California. Over a two-year time period Water Defense’s Chief Scientist, Scott Smith, collected samples from treated water sold to the Cawelo Water District. The results? The water contained powerful industrial solvents toxic to humans—higher than he’d seen previously at oil spill sites. Industry officials and the water district told the Times they think the water is safe for crops, citing that they are complying with testing requirements.

In a video released today, Scott takes us to the meeting point of the freshwater and the recycled water for irrigation. Scott told us the tar balls and oil slicked water he saw were just like what he witnessed from the Gulf oil spill. We talked to him about how this practice has been monitored, and what this news means for advocates for our food and water.

Darcey Rakestraw: You’re obviously passionate about exposing water contamination from the oil industry. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in this work?

Scott Smith: The world is running out of clean water and we must educate millions of people quickly if we are to protect our water resources for future generations. I am passionate about diagnosing water contamination problems and solving them with environmentally responsible solutions. The real problem in California and many other states stems from elected officials and regulators not serving the best interests of the people they represent, allowing the oil industry to pollute while refusing to adequately test the water or enforce proper testing.

My life and business were wiped out in oil contaminated flood waters in 2006. When I realized that there was no effective technology to remove oil from water, I became obsessed with developing a technology that could. developed one based on biomimicry, which was adopted in the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in 2010. My invention helped preserve and protect the sensitive wetlands of the Gulf Coast.

While working side by side with fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico, I witnessed people getting very ill from the oil contaminated water and yet the water was being declared free of oil using testing methods that were incomplete and gamed. Believe it or not, it was the elected officials and regulators that were gaming the test results.

When I discovered this, I felt obligated to educate the rest of the world in order to drive changes in water testing. I made it my life’s mission and developed new testing methodologies that could not be easily gamed and could detect the full gamut of chemicals in the water, from oil and related chemicals to endocrine disrupting metals and metalloids. You can’t solve any problem until you identify the problem.

DR: How did you join up with Water Defense?

SS: In 2013 during the ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, I was testing and identifying oil and chemicals downstream while the regulators and elected officials were declaring the water safe and clear of contamination. I ended up on a few YouTube channels and in the news. It was at this time, John Pratt and Mark Ruffalo of Water Defense found me, reached out to me on Twitter, and set up a meeting with me later in the year. Shortly after that they asked me to join them at Water Defense. We have done a lot of work since then on putting together a system that will empower people and communities to know how their water is being harmed by polluters. Mark told me this was where the environmental movement was weak. They did not have good, easy to deploy, independent and relatively inexpensive water testing. Most polluted communities had to rely on state agencies or the polluters to get test results. We saw in Dimock, Pennsylvania how the state agencies were withholding test results to keep from embarrassing themselves. They did not want to take responsibility for the contamination that was happening on their watch.

In all my travels I have come to see that this is the norm. We came to realize that we must let data lead the debate and that we were not getting great public water data. This is a game changer. Water does not lie. We can’t solve the problem without knowing what the problem is. Now we are armed with credible data. We can give that data openly to the public. Now they can debate with real science that is free from political contamination. They can literally take control of their own water quality. That changes everything. We have to put polluters on notice. We are watching you. We are there. The jig is up. They cannot be expected to regulate themselves and the entire way we monitor water on the state level could use real updating.

DR: How did you decide to focus on this issue (testing recycled wastewater used on California crops), and how did you commence collecting and testing the samples cited in the Times article?  

SS: Initially, a few people concerned about the issue contacted me. They wanted to know if the recycled oil wastewater sold to farmers and used in the irrigation of crops (i.e. almonds, tangerines, grapes, etc.) being promoted by the fossil fuel industry and state officials was free of chemicals of concern. I always viewed California as a leader in protecting the environment and quite frankly could not even believe what people were telling me. I thought that in no way could it even be possible that oil wastewater could be used to irrigate the food we eat everyday throughout the country. Since the Gulf oil spill in 2010, I have been to over 50 disasters where I have conducted water testing. So, I agreed to go to Kern County, California to investigate. Needless to say, I was absolutely shocked when I found myself surrounded by food crops with the smell of oil coming off the irrigation water. It was worse than what I smelled during the BP Gulf oil spill. When the test results came back we found dangerous and toxic chemicals in the irrigation canal system. This water was presumably already treated. The levels of these toxic chemicals exceeded what I have tested in official oil spill disasters. But this was not even an official oil disaster in Kern County. This was irrigation water to which workers and the community were exposed. If this were any other industry or a company not involved in oil production, regulators would have stepped in and fined the responsible party and/or shut them down. Its incredible.

DR: Were you alarmed by the findings, or did you expect the wastewater to show these levels of contamination?

SS: I found it incomprehensible that not only does the State of California allow this to go on, but that municipalities within the State actually brag about the practice of using oil wastewater for irrigation with incomplete and inadequate water testing.

DR: In a video on the Water Defense website, you talk about how companies and local officials typically take “instantaneous” water samples from the surface to test for contamination, but your testing involves testing the entire water column over time. Can you expand on why this approach is better?

SS: The instantaneous water testing is equivalent to a split second picture or a still camera. Water Defense cumulative water testing, on the other hand, is essentially a video security camera that monitors what exactly is flowing through the water over time. It is not an issue of Water Defense testing being better per se, but more complete in that if the chemicals are in the water, cumulative water testing will find them. While the instantaneous testing is helpful, and has its place in the toolbox of water testing, you can easily get a non-detect for that split second in the water when there are actually dangerous chemicals present. Instantaneous testing is subject to variability versus cumulative testing, and this can lead to false non-detects for instantaneous testing. Lastly, if testing isn’t ongoing and independent, it is impossible to know what is in the water. The good thing about our testing is that it’s very easy to deploy and very difficult to foul. We also happen to be independent. We are just trying to get the truth out to people and let them decide for themselves. People deserve to be told the truth. We believe water doesn’t lie. When testing is given priority then we can solve the problems.

DR: What did you think about the response of water officials quoted in the article? They seemed to downplay the findings.

SS: I really feel for the water officials as they are in a tough spot. They are confused and scared. I look forward to working with them in a cooperative and transparent way to preserve and protect the precious and declining water in California. There is no reason to be confused or scared because we can all work together to monitor the contamination and stop it. This doesn’t have to be this way. But someone has to be responsible here. Someone has got to oversee what is happening here. There seems to be a huge lack of oversight. It may cost more money on the front end, but when people start getting sick it’s only going to cost that much more. We don’t want to wait for the worst-case scenario, when all it takes is a little bit of common sense to know that if you aren’t careful you will be harming people.

DR: What other projects are on the horizon for you and Water Defense that you’d like to tell us about?

SS: I have never been more optimistic and excited about the future because it is our plan to make Water Defense open-source cumulative water testing a common thing. This is not rocket science. The Water Defense testers can be deployed by anyone. They are pretty much fool proof. We want to empower millions of people to be citizen scientists and monitor all the waterways in the country. In a few months, we plan to formally launch the “We Are There” campaign. It will be focused on taking action in the field with citizen scientists to deploy Water Defense open-source cumulative water testing to find water contamination. We want to bring people together to remove and stop the contamination. I have also recently consulted with the EPA on the proposed changes to oil and chemical spill regulations. This would include adoption of open-source cumulative water testing along side the grab sampling being used today.

The good news is each person that reads this can take part in changing the laws to better preserve and protect our water. By writing to his or her elected officials and demanding they contact the EPA to support these changes, people will be doing a lot to keep this type of thing from continuing to happen.

To learn more about Water Defense, visit their website, waterdefense.org.

To take action to protect California’s water, sign our petition to Governor Jerry Brown asking him to ban fracking.

April 29th, 2015

California Drought: Will Governor Brown Stop the Biggest Water Abusers?

By Wenonah Hauter and Adam Scow

1504_CA-Drought-BlogThumbBy now, the whole nation is aware that its fruit and vegetable basket, California, is in the fourth year of an unprecedented drought. One NASA scientist recently projected that the state may only have roughly a year’s supply of water left in its reserves. While that number is not entirely cut and dry (pardon the pun), it’s clear that California’s water crisis is real and that solutions are late in coming. For the first time in the Golden State’s history, its Governor, Jerry Brown, has placed mandatory water restrictions on residents and municipalities.

We can all agree that individual water conservation – efficient toilets and washing machines, shorter showers and smarter landscaping – should be expanded and embedded in our culture. But restrictions on households are not enough to dig us out of our water woes. Given that residential and municipal uses account for less than fifteen percent of California’s annual water use, we must ask: who is guzzling California’s water and what should Governor Brown do to rein in these users?

Below we identify some of California’s most egregious water abusers and offer some commonsense steps for Governor Brown’s consideration.

Big Agriculture

The Almond
On the desert-like west side of the San Joaquin Valley, almond orchards stretch as far as the eye can see. But this nut empire is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood: in the past five years, skyrocketing global demand for the cash crop has enabled it to double in size and become the second-biggest water consuming crop in California. The arid climate and selenium-laced soils in this region make it a kind of madness to grow this thirsty crop here, where it takes more than double the water to grow almonds than in Northern California. Agribusiness giants like Beverly Hills-based billionaire Stewart Resnick are raking in profits from these crops, about seventy percent of which are exported overseas. The Westlands Water District, where many of these orchards are based, has pumped more than one-million acre feet of groundwater in the past two years – more water than Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco combined use in a whole year – to produce these nuts, threatening the region’s water supply, and causing the ground to sink as much as a foot per year in some places. What’s more, most of this crop is exported abroad—meaning, effectively, the water is exported along with it.

Factory Farms
Industrialized animal agriculture is notoriously water-intensive. For example, Food & Water Watch estimates that it takes 150 million gallons of water a day to maintain the dairy cows on California’s mega-dairies. That calculation does not include the large quantities of water needed to raise the feed for dairy cows in California or to move manure into storage systems; it is just the water given to cows to drink and used to wash cows and buildings. A lack of available numbers tallying the meat industry’s water use in California presents a problem as the State seeks to tackle the drought crisis.

Alfalfa
Of all crops grown in California, alfalfa uses the single largest share of agricultural water, so it clearly deserves attention. Like almonds, alfalfa is exported overseas, but is also used to feed dairy cows in California. Alfalfa is grown in some of the state’s hottest and driest areas, including the Imperial Valley, and is exported to feed livestock. Interestingly, though, acreage devoted to growing alfalfa in California is expected to shrink 11 percent this year, according to Tom Philpott and Julia Lurie in this recent Mother Jones piece, as the agricultural industry increases production of cash crops like almonds and other “pricey nuts.”

Big Oil

It’s estimated that each year, the oil industry in California uses eighty-two billion gallons of water – enough to supply both San Diego and San Francisco for a year. While agriculture dwarfs the oil industry in terms of overall water use in California – where more than one million people lack access to safe drinking water – it’s well-documented that the industry’s dirty practices like fracking, acidizing and cyclic steam injection are permanently contaminating and destroying water California can’t afford to lose. What’s more, recent reports have brought to light that this industry has been illegally injecting billions of gallons of its wastewater into protected drinking water aquifers.

Bottled Water

California is home to over 100 bottled water facilities that every year bottle millions of gallons of water for private profit. In Sacramento it is estimated that each year, the notorious multinational water hog, Nestlé, pumps around fifty million gallons of local groundwater to be bottled and sold for 1,000 times the cost of tap water. Nestlé pays just shy of $1.00 per 748 gallons of water it taps from Sacramento’s municipal water supply, then resells it for thousands of times more in environmentally damaging plastic bottles. While Food & Water Watch has always opposed bottled water, during a historic drought the moral imperative for ending this practice is crystal clear.

Solutions

As he calls on California’s 38 million residents to conserve, Governor Brown must also take bold action to rein in uses by these corporate water abusers. The Governor oversees the State Water Board, which is empowered under the California constitution to manage water for the public good. To serve that imperative, Governor Brown should quickly take the following first steps:

  1. Align California agricultural production with the realities of the State’s water supply. The State routinely promises water users, including industrial agricultural users, five times more surface water than it can provide. The State must reduce demands to meet the reality of California’s water supply.
  2. Manage groundwater as a public resource to prevent depletion. The State, albeit poorly, manages surface water for the public good, but groundwater – the State’s water savings account for future generations – is largely managed privately. The State should start with immediate, sensible restrictions on groundwater pumping. In the long-term, the State should retire from production the toxic, arid lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that we do not have the water to support and compensate producers fairly for their losses.
  3. Place an immediate moratorium on fracking and the bottling of California’s water for private profit.

It’s Californians’ job to exercise their democratic rights, starting with signing this petition urging the Governor to take these bold actions. While some have suggested that people boycott almonds or make other changes in their diet, the realities of the global food system are such that corporate agribusiness will continue to abuse our water and simply export the crops we wouldn’t be buying. In other words, we can’t shop our way out of the crisis.

It’s time for Jerry Brown to exercise courageous leadership that fixes the long-time mismanagement and corporate abuse of water that threatens the future of California’s economy and agriculture. There are no easy shortcuts: the governor must govern.

Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, and Adam Scow is the organization’s California Director. 

December 16th, 2014

Don’t Let Fracking Destroy Her Legacy

By Alex Nagy

Dianne Thomas

Dianne Thomas, anti-fracking activist.

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Dianne is one of the amazing people I get to work with as the Southern California Organizer for Food & Water Watch. Dianne and her late husband worked hard to build a home in Carson, California to leave behind for their children, but the oil and gas industry could destroy their legacy.

When Dianne found out that Occidental Petroleum (“Oxy”) was planning to drill 200 new wells over the next 10 years, she asked if there would be fracking: they answered yes. The night before, she had caught a special on TV about extreme oil extraction — she saw homes cracking and falling apart because of fracking.

That’s when Dianne and her neighbors reached out to Food & Water Watch. They had heard about the work we were doing with communities to ban fracking.

Dianne and I started to meet weekly to strategize about the campaign — how to get Carson’s story in the news and how to build more public support. It was clear that Dianne was passionate, and as a skilled community activist she would give Oxy a fight. I helped by providing the information and resources to fight this fracking proposal, including reports from our research team and insight from other organizers working to stop fracking in towns across the country.

With your support, we can continue to partner with local activists like Dianne and provide the resources to ban fracking!

While the City Council was considering Oxy’s proposal, we convinced them to put a 45-day hold on all new drilling in Carson. During that time, the community rallied support to convince the Council to put a permanent ban on new drilling. At several City Council meetings, there were so many people that supported the ban, we couldn’t all fit in the room!

Oxy used a lot of dirty tricks to overturn the temporary ban and get approval to start drilling. They even bribed people by offering gift cards to generate support for fracking at City Council meetings. They also pulled some powerful political strings, with a local paper reporting that Governor Jerry Brown called Carson’s mayor to urge him to kill the fracking ban. Clearly the community was doing something right if Big Oil and Gas were trying so hard to shut them down.

When it came down to it, we knew the vote was close. The movement against fracking in Carson was strong, but Oxy’s connections were powerful and they had spent a lot of money to fight the ban. Unfortunately, Oxy’s money and lobbying won out, and the Council voted against the ban on drilling.

But our fight is far from over — we are continuing to work together to keep fracking out of Carson, and out of other communities in California and across the country. We know we can’t let up, that we have to work even harder because if we don’t stop it, new oil drilling could start in Carson in 2015. Will you stand with us to ban fracking in communities across the country by making a generous gift?

Dianne is in this fight because Carson is her home, it’s where she bought a house and has worked hard to create a legacy for her children and grandchildren. I’m committed to this work because, like Dianne, I can’t just sit by as some corporation comes into a community and destroys the land, water and health of real people. This is all of our fight, because no one should be at risk of the dangers of fracking.

November 5th, 2014

Using Our Voice and Our Votes to Fight Corporate Interests

By Wenonah Hauter

1411_FBHL_ElectionsQuote-C1I can’t say that I was surprised as the returns came in from the bruising midterm election last night. It’s no accident that a group of die-hard reactionaries were elected in many states from the flood of dark money, in combination with low turnout and shocking voting rights abuses. Once again, the Democratic strategy of sounding “Republican Light” and relying on TV ads to win seats in a handful of swing states has proven ineffective.

The fact is, no matter which party is in control of Congress, our way forward remains clear: We must continue to organize and keep elected officials accountable on the issues we care about.

While news programs spent most of yesterday and today talking about big wins for the Republican Party and corporations, the American people still managed to make a considerable difference. Voters went to the polls in Reading, Pennsylvania and Sussex Borough, New Jersey to prevent corporations from privatizing their respective water systems. In addition, the people of Athens, Ohio, San Benito County and Mendocino County, California and Denton, Texas all successfully voted to ban fracking in their communities.

This midterm election put communities and corporations up against one another in a very unfair fight. Plain and simple, Big Oil and Gas tried to use money to bludgeon its opposition. In San Benito County alone, the oil industry spent about $2 million in order to spread misinformation about fracking and lead residents astray.

But what did local residents have to fight against this dangerous campaign of lies? They wielded true facts about fracking, backed up by independent scientific research. And these dedicated activists pounded the pavement, talking with neighbors and building a network of trust.

People dedicated to banning fracking in their communities may have been outspent 13 to 1. But they still managed to win, and preserve the wellbeing of the places they live for future generations. To date, 136 communities in the U.S. have banned fracking, and that number is only likely to grow.

By gutting campaign finance laws, the U.S. Supreme Court put a gaping wound in our democratic process. The Koch Brothers and other greedy sources of dark money have given corporate interests a soapbox and a megaphone to push a dangerous, selfish agenda.

Things will be very tough in Congress now, and we expect more McCarthy-like tactics. But Food & Water Watch and our supporters will not be cowed or frightened.

We will continue to fight for our right to clean drinking water and safe food; for our right to know what ingredients are used in our food; for our right to preserve our health and our environment; for our right to create a better, healthier world for our children and future generations.

That’s why no matter what the results of the elections at any given time, we must continue to raise our voices and engage politically so that we can build the political power to create the world we want for our children and grandchildren.

That’s what we’ll continue to do in 2015.

October 25th, 2014

Filmmaker: Dear Governor Brown is about “Democracy versus Dollars”

 

Bunker Seyfert portrait

“Dear Governor Brown” filmmaker Bunker Seyfert

Food & Water Watch’s new “Dear Governor Brown” video series highlights the grassroots movement to ban fracking in California. The first videos, released this week, encourage viewers to support two fracking bans on the November ballot: Measure J in San Benito County, and Measure P in Santa Barbara County. Additional videos will be released throughout the end of this year.

Bunker Seyfert, the filmmaker behind this compelling series, travelled to 15 California cities and interviewed 32 different people. Seyfert is no stranger to moving around. Born in Los Angeles, Bunker spent his childhood in Mexico, Germany,and Long Island, New York.

“Having moved around a lot as a younger person, I became interested in people’s stories,” Seyfert said. “I got into filmmaking because it struck me as the best way to communicate those stories to the largest audiences. It makes sense that I chose documentary as my form, since it often requires travel. I think I’m traveling most of the time. And I love it.”

In fact, Seyfert has crossed the United States eight times over the past four years. He has shot videos about fracking fights in New York – where he first became interested in the issue – as well as in Texas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

“I was most shocked by my interviews in West Virginia, where permitting and environmental regulations are incredibly lax,” Seyfert said. “People had natural gas bubbling up right in their front yards.”

It’s a different scene in California, with its long history of environmental stewardship. “In California, the story is about protecting what people have already worked so hard to protect,” he said. “People understand the problems with fracking, they understand what’s at stake – polluted air and water – and they’re mobilized against it. The only reason it seems like a fight is that there are millions of dollars being poured into it by one of the wealthiest industries in the world.”

The filmmaker makes a poignant connection between the grassroots movement against fracking in California and those who cover fracking. “In the community movements to ban fracking, people are working hard, but there’s also this sense of joy, of collaboration,” Seyfert said. “It’s the same among those of us who are documenting it. We share content. We help each other out.”

In addition to the “Dear Governor Brown” series, the filmmaker is currently working – primarily as a camera operator – “on about 15 other projects,” covering fracking, mountaintop removal, and other topics of interest to those following Food & Water Watch. He is particularly looking forward to the upcoming release of a feature-length documentary “The Commons,” by a Delaware geophysicist about the resurgence of community-based efforts to protect our common resources.

“That’s really what the ‘Dear Governor Brown’ videos are about, too, isn’t it?” asked Seyfert. “People fighting corporate power, democracy versus dollars.”

 

 

June 2nd, 2014

The Tricks and Ploys of the Corporate Water Barons

By Mary Grant 

The lengths some companies will go to stop communities from gaining local control of their water systems can seem completely crazy. Tomorrow, voters in California’s Monterey Peninsula will go to the polls to decide whether to take the first step toward buying their water system from American Water’s California arm.  Read the full article…

May 9th, 2014

Field Notes: California Rising Up Against Fracking

Posing for a photo after Beverly Hills becomes the first California city to ban fracking, (left to right) Councilmember John A. Mirisch, Councilmember Nancy H. Krasne, Food & Water Watch volunteer Lauren Steiner, Mayor Lili Bosse, FWW Organizer Brenna Norton, Councilmember William W. Brien M.D., Vice Mayor Julian A. Gold M.D.

By Tia Lebherz and Brenna Norton

Since Tia’s blog last week about the campaign to ban fracking in Butte County and other places across California, the movement to ban fracking in the Golden State has experienced much momentum.  

This week, Beverly Hills became the first city in California to enact a ban on fracking and related well stimulation techniques. The ordinance also prohibits these activities from any site outside city limits that would drill and extract oil and gas underneath the city. The City Council first voted unanimously for a ban on April 21st (Earth Day), and on Tuesday night, the final vote put the ban into effect. Food & Water Watch worked closely with superstar fractivist Lauren Steiner on the effort, with the support of Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations.

“This is not a ‘not in my backyard issue’ – it should not be in anyone’s back yard,” said Councilmember John Mirsch. “But this issue goes beyond that. And we also need to think long-term even if our city is not a center of drilling. Injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals at high pressure into the earth can’t be good. Asbestos and smoking was once also considered safe. Fracking is not worth the risk.”

On the other side of L.A. County, on April 22, the City Council of Compton voted to place a moratorium on fracking to protect their community from the threat of Occidental Petroleum and other oil companies invading the community to drill for oil in the Dominguez Hill oil field. Occidental has been hinting about the possibility of drilling in Compton, since they face strong opposition in neighboring Carson to their proposal to drill over 200 new wells.

Santa Barbara County Water Guardians deliver 20,000 signatures to put a fracking ban on the county’s November ballot.

The fight to protect Carson is now in full swing. After the Carson City Council unanimously enacted a 45-day moratorium on all oil and gas development, last week the Council split on whether to extend the moratorium for another 10 months. Two councilmembers voted for the moratorium, two voted against it, and one member abstained. While the vote was disappointing, there are numerous ways to stop the project, and we will continue to work and support the community’s efforts to stopping the project and protecting their community.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles the City Attorney is now drafting a moratorium ordinance as directed by the City Council, which voted unanimously to advance the ordinance. It will return to the full L.A. City Council for a final vote to be ratified in the coming months.

In San Benito County, home of Pinnacles National Park, San Benito Rising successfully submitted over 4,000 signatures to bring a vote to ban fracking to the November ballot. And in Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara County Water Guardians collected an impressive 20,000 petition signatures in an all-volunteer effort in under four weeks. The Water Guardians are now waiting to see whether the County Board of Supervisors will adopt the measure or place it on the November ballot for voter approval.

Finally, our friends at Frack-Free Butte County launched an indiegogo website complete with a fantastic video documenting their campaign. Stay tuned for more exciting updates in the near future!

The Fight for Public Water Is on in Monterey

By Katherine Cirullo

In its latest effort to undermine the public interest, California American Water (Cal-Am), a subsidiary of American Water, has poured $2.2 million so far into defeating Measure O, outspending Monterey’s local public control campaign by about 45 to 1. But money can’t truly buy votes and corporate scare tactics shouldn’t fool the Monterey Peninsula community. Ratepayers in Felton, California benefitted from a public acquisition of Cal-Am water, and the Monterey community surely would as well.

On June 3, Monterey Peninsula residents will vote on Measure O, which local group, Public Water Now, collected some 8,400 signatures to place on the ballot. If passed, Measure O would set the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District on a track to purchase the water system, primarily by funding a study to determine whether a public takeover of Cal-Am is “feasible and beneficial.”

Not-so-shockingly, Cal-Am, the sole contributor to the “No on O” campaign, seems to be emptying its pockets to make sure Measure O doesn’t pass, but perhaps this is because it fears the truth: studies show that public ownership of municipal water systems benefits communities by providing lower rates and more dependable, safer water service, and many voters in Monterey know this. Read the full article…

May 1st, 2014

From “Pay-to-Pollute” to “Free-to-Pollute” in California

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

On April 25, Governor Brown’s California Air Resources Board (CARB), the agency charged with reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions, approved new amendments that weaken its cap-and-trade program — a dubious scheme that allows California’s biggest polluters to pay to keep on polluting.  E&E Newswire reports that these changes will make it “less expensive” for companies to adhere to the cap-and-trade program by giving them more free allowances.

CARB is also expanding their offsets program to accept coalmine methane capture projects as part of a new sector of auxiliary offsets (E&E Newswire, April 28). Not only are these amendments a continuation of pay-to-pollute, but also an extension of allowing big polluters to pollute for free — putting us right back where we started.

These changes mean that CARB is now going even easier on polluters, making it cheaper for them to comply and giving them yet another loophole to avoid reducing emissions. How does this help to permanently reduce emissions? It doesn’t. These changes strengthen the pay-to-pollute mentality of cap-and-trade and offset schemes, and further weaken the chance of any real pollution reductions.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have already gone above 400 ppm twice this year, 50 ppm higher than what scientists say is needed to have a healthy and stable climate. The climate crisis is here and Governor Brown should not be coddling the industries responsible for getting us here in the first place. Issuing more free allowances to some of the biggest offenders is backwards and completely ineffective.

E & E Newswire’s Debra Kahn reports… 

“Petroleum refiners, industrial gas manufacturers, steel and aluminum processors, food manufacturers, breweries and apparel manufacturers will receive all of the allowances they should need for free through 2017, rather than 75 percent as previously planned. From 2018 through 2020, they will receive 75 percent, up from 50 percent.”

CARB cites that giving away these allowances for free will “extend transition assistance for the industrial sector through the second compliance period (2015-2017) as businesses undertake needed investments to cut their emissions.” But these sectors don’t need assistance; they include multi-million and billion dollar industries that can afford to invest in the technologies they need to reduce their pollution now and in the near-term.

But it gets worse. The newly approved class of offsets from coalmine methane capture is one of the most backward options yet. Coal is one of the highest polluting fossil fuels around and it doesn’t just cause methane emissions. Mining and burning coal also emits carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter, mercury and several other harmful pollutants and greenhouse gasses (GHGs).

Generating offsets from capturing methane emissions at coalmines allows a polluter in California to pay another polluter (the coalmine) for capturing its methane emissions. But what happens to the methane once it is captured? It can either be destroyed through flaring, which creates CO2 emissions as a by-product, or the coalmine can make further profits by selling the captured methane for end-use options like generating heat, electricity and other forms of fuel.

Not only will emissions continue at the source in California, but also methane would simply be exchanged for other GHGs released from flaring the methane or using it for fuel.

Instead of furthering its pay-to-pollute, or with these changes free-to-pollute, schemes, Governor Brown, who talks a big game about fighting climate change, needs to work for real emissions reductions. The only true options to reduce emissions are to stop pollution at the source without exceptions, and replace highly polluting fossil fuels with renewable energy. Governor Brown must stop putting profits over people, the environment and our future.

 

 

April 25th, 2014

California Oil and Gas Industry Promotes Itself

By Hugh MacMillan 

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), a trade group for oil companies, recently released a report on the economic footprint of the oil and gas industry in California. Not surprisingly, Oil and Gas in California: The Industry and its Economic Contribution in 2012, completely skews the picture on fracking, ignoring the social costs of this highly controversial process. 

The report frames a false choice – employment supported by the oil and gas industry or no employment at all. It exaggerates the economic effect of companies spending money to drill and frack, and it ignores the significant harm that fracking, acidizing, and even acid fracking impose on public health, communities, the environment and our climate, whether onshore, or just off the California coast.

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