Southern California environment news and trends

Superfund site of the week: Waste Disposal Inc. in Santa Fe Springs, from oil mecca to brownfield

California's oil boom gave birth to this week's Superfund site. While Santa Fe Springs' Waste Disposal Incorporated is garden variety, its history shows we're still learning about how to fix our messes (and explain them to the neighbors).

The property's not big; 38 acres on the east side of Santa Fe Springs. But in the early 1920's, demand for the Waste Disposal company's was big in the area. Oil boomed then, replacing groves of trees with forests of oil derricks. By 1929, Santa Fe Springs oil field was the state's largest producer of petroleum products. Producing oil created waste byproducts; site operators built a sunken concrete reservoir six hundred feet across and 25 feet deep to hold 42 million gallons of oil mud, crud and other nastiness. 

Under permit from L.A. county, property owners dumped drilling muds, steel mill slag, mud cake from oil field sumps, and acetylene sludge in the pool. EPA investigations later revealed  organic wastes, oil refinery wastes, solvents and petroleum-related chemicals dumped in there without permission. WDI covered the whole mess with 5 to 10 feet of dirt, and sold off small parcels to other businesses in the late sixties. 


Solyndra won't talk DOE energy loan at House hearing on Wednesday

In Washington tomorrow, an oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Solyndra and loan guarantees by the Department of Energy. Those loans have been critical to development of a few projects here in California, including others we've covered underway from Solar City and Brightsource Energy.  Department of Energy loans program director Jonathan Silver is slated to appear. So were two members of Solyndra's executive team, Brian Harrison and Bill Stover, who, the committee reasoned, would have some answers about how the company went from doubling its expectations to having few at all.

Except Solyndra won't be there. Solyndra's media contact, David Miller, cited "the timing for the hearing, legal complexities arising from last week's activities and the urgency of the Bankruptcy proceedings" as reasons why Harrison and Stover won't be appearing. "The Company is in direct communication with the committee staff and working with them on a future date" for appearances. "Given that it is in the best interest of all creditors, including the U.S. government, to attempt to gain maximum value for the Solyndra assets, either via sale of the whole company or in parts, including its intellectual property, it is in the best interest of all interested parties for them to remain in California to engage with potential purchasers."


Tar sands protests making waves, nodding to Martin Luther King

Southern California might be looking to The Wedge for surf over Labor Day, but protesters in D.C. have been making waves for a couple of weeks already. Nearly 850 people have been arrested in front of the White House in an action aimed at preventing President Barack Obama or the State Department from granting approval to the Keystone XL pipeline, the line that would connect tar sands in Canada with the Gulf Coast. They'll wrap up this weekend.

We did check in on this before when a group of people left Sacramento in an eastbound caravan. Notes about what's happened lately:

The arrests keep coming, and so do the Californians.

Sure, there's celebrity watch news; most of the actors who said they planned to get arrested did (except Mark Ruffalo. Hulk smash!)

I also talked to a 28-year-old guy named Carlos Naranjo Jr. who just graduated from UCLA. Naranjo is living in Corona as he applies to graduate school for chemistry. He was part of the caravan from California. Naranjo said he was an organizer for Obama during the last election, and he wasn't quite ready to stake his vote for Obama in 2012 on tar sands. But he said the decision is important to him because California's values for the environment are worth having in other parts of the country. I asked him what getting arrested is like. "Beautiful," he said. "Religious groups we were with sang songs. But it was really hot in the van."


How baseball explains Solyndra's bankruptcy and Energy's loan guarantees

For renewables boosters at the National Clean Energy Summit, the news yesterday that Bay Area-based Solyndra is going under stretched out the discussion about the value of government loan guarantees and other incentives for another day. Perhaps not in the way the most avid cheerleaders would have desired.

Solyndra's bankruptcy announcement put me in mind of the tortured and extended metaphor Energy Secretary Steven Chu used in Vegas Monday as he extolled the virtues of going big or going home in funding energy innovation. Chu talked about the kinds of projects in which the federal government invested as recently as 5 years ago. "We weren't swinging from the heels enough," Chu said. "We were investing in incremental things - singles - but a home run could really change the whole landscape of energy technology. It's really too early to tell whether we actually have home runs, but we see a number of people rounding second base."


Top 5 tweets from the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 about @JerryBrownGov Moonbeam

Back now from the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas. 

I think it's easy to forget while in the state of California just how entertaining the loosey-goosey wit and wisdom of Governor Jerry Brown is to those less familiar with his word stylings. But I had the luxury of being in Nevada for the past two days; I'll be bringing you the conference highlights. For now: the best five tweets about the Governor's comments during the NCES panel among Brown, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.

Gregoire said perhaps the most substantive thing, which is that the United States should have a national energy standard - like the ones all three governors' states have established. (In doing so she echoed Energy Secretary Steve Chu, who made the same point earlier in the day.)