Southern California environment news and trends

JetBlue's 405 special: Carmageddon's carbon Armageddon in the sky

To borrow from The Clash, it's Carmageddeon Time! Jet Blue's offering $4 flights between Long Beach and Burbank. (A fiver if you want leg room.) And JetBlue is one of the few airlines that — when you book with them — directs you to a place where you can offset your carbon because riding in a great big jet plane takes great big combustion engines that burn great big fuel. And since fossil fuel burning creates greenhouse gases and these companies purport to let you pay your share of the greenhouse effect. 

I just checked with Carbonfund.org, JetBlue's corporate partners. The cost, they say, to offset the carbon for that flight is $0.12. Twelve little cents! (That's based on Carbonfund.org's calculation that you're responsible for 0.01 metric tons of CO2.) 

"It’s really minor, but if there are a good number of people offsetting their flights, it adds up," says Jordana Fyne, Carbonfund.org's communications specialist. 

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Bad news for Bryson: NRDC, Climate Change stymie him with Inhofe

John Bryson's nomination to the position of Commerce Secretary hit a bump today - and part of what slowed him down again was his association 40 years ago with the beginning of the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

It seems everyone forgot that after he was there when the idea of the NRDC started he also went on to run a major utility. Bryson tried to remind them: he vowed in a hearing last month that he would take care of business. "Businesses in our country are too often stifled by absolutely unnecessary, cumbersome regulation," Bryson said. "If confirmed, I will be a voice in the administration for simplifying regulation and eliminating those where the cost of regulation exceeds the benefit."

Over the last month, the Hill has barraged Bryson with concerns that his environmental views were too liberal. Also at the center of those concerns are comments he made about limiting carbon emissions - like, that he thought we should do it.

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The slow roll of "an extraordinary piece of work": California cap-and-trade slows, again

At a California State Senate committee Wednesday, Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols put the brakes on the centerpiece work of AB 32 - the state's landmark law that sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Nichols holds dominion over implementation of AB 32. Did she tap the brakes, or screech the state to a halt? And will reporters ever stop with the tailpipe-emissions-inspired metaphors? 

The deal is this: get the cap-and-trade-market rules in place next year as planned (they're just for some sectors, anyway). Start enforcing them in 2013, a year later. Of course, getting those rules in place is contingent on reconsidering the cobenefits and coharms to vulnerable, poor, Latino and Black neighborhoods - thanks to recent court decisions in a lawsuit brought by the Communities for a Better Environment and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. In other words: there's a court that's making the state reconsider environmental justice impacts. The state has been insisting it could do this while it gets ready for 2012. Maybe it still can; the point of Nichols' comments, and a year-long delay in enforcement, is, it doesn't have to. 

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What's illegal about rainforest wood in a Barbie box?

A few weeks back I reported on a Greenpeace dispute with Mattel. It wants the world's largest toy maker to verify that toy packaging doesn't contain illegally harvested rainforest. Mattel said it's looking into everything. Greenpeace says it's still waiting. Pacific Swell has looked at evidence about Indonesia rainforest implications for California.

The short answer is that it's hard to tell. The long answer says a lot about how international law works.

The US grants forestry concessions and we monitor other countries too. We do this for money - bad logging heats up competition when we bring good old US of A wood to market. One study found costs to domestic lumber interests "conservatively" estimated at a billion dollars (by the lumber industry, 7 years ago, so grain of salt).

Beyond that, though, our government cares about illegal logging because it "leads to environmental degradation, disrupted trade and market access, exacerbated rural poverty and unsustainable economic development." Not necessarily for the environment, exactly, rather, it's the destabilizing effect the environment can have on US geopolitical interests that makes our diplomats' jobs harder.

The United States has a law, the Lacey Act, that aims to prevent illegally-taken wood from getting into the US. We enforce that law on facts only - it's no airtight legal defense to say you've got papers. Catching fake papers takes time.

Over in Indonesia, the government doesn't possess the commitment to excellence needed to keep illegal logging in check. Earlier, I laid out Indonesian enforcement shortcomings described in a World Bank report. Both Indonesia and the US say they're working on the problem.

US AID has tried to work with exporters of wood in Indonesia, to help them fill out the paperwork to show that they're not chopping down old-growth forests. Indonesia has a law where they have to track wood produce till it leaves the country. But everyone -the US government, international authorities, and Indonesian officials themselves - acknowledges there's more to do.

Bottom line: the US enforces a law, with incomplete authority, to address the problem. The Indonesian government lacks the tools and the wherewithal to enforce the authority it has. Laws are the clearest proxy for the environmental values we express, a lot of the time. But they fail here: logging's governance is a patchwork, pure and simple.

More about activist strategies that target business directly next.

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What connects Mattel to illegal Indonesian logging?

A few weeks back I reported on a Greenpeace action aboutw Mattel. It wants the world's largest toy maker to verify that toy packaging doesn't contain illegally harvested rainforest. Mattel said it's looking into everything. Greenpeace says it's still waiting. Pacific Swell has looked at Indonesia rainforest implications for California. I've checked some evidence the international environmental group relies on, circumstantial and direct.

Greenpeace says that Mattel has packaged Barbie dolls in boxes made from up to 23% "mixed tropical hardwoods" in Indonesia. That's the result of a test done in Wisconsin. When I talked to Rolf Skar, a Greenpeace senior forests campaigner based in SF, he told me that he walked into a Daly City Target and grabbed 4 boxes off the shelf. Skar sent them to tests; the tests break down by percentage what's in the pulp of the paper-based packaging.

The activist group seeks to link El Segundo and the conglomerate Asia Pulp and Paper through business/practice evidence. A box made in Indonesia contains tropical hardwoods. Just two large scale companies use that stuff in Indonesia: APP and another company, APRIL. Of those two, only APP produces packaging materials in Indonesia, where Barbies are made and packaged. Mattel requires its suppliers to vouch that they've not used hazardous chemicals in materials Mattel sells; only APP mills in Java and China have done that.

Through the supply chain, activists check paperwork. It's pretty widely acknowledged that papers get faked, either on the way out of Indonesia, or on the way in to the US. But sometimes companies don't even have those. In theory, Indonesia issues logging permits through regional offices; to log, to make paper, you need paper documentation, which is vaguely absurd.

On the ground, Greenpeace and others study satellite images where they know loggers for APP operate. They seek testimony from people in the area - and sometimes take reporters with them to look for logging behind protected-park borders, or near threatened animal species.

APP and Mattel may have explanations for all this. Since that first publicity stunt I've tried to speak directly to Asia Pulp and Paper, the international conglomerate the Greenpeace crew has gathered evidence about, as well as to Mattel. Nothing doing, yet, on either count.

Its worth noting that on Rainforest Realities, Asian Pulp and Paper's website devoted to its side of the story, they have posted a comment from the head of the Indonesian pulp and paper association.  APP/Sinar Mas has earlier denied illegal practices to BBC.

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