Southern California environment news and trends

John Bryson, Commerce Secretary?: 5 California environment connections for the nominee

A recent book by NRDC's cofounder, John Adams, A Force For Nature describes the origins of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Adams tells the story of how he met with a pack of young nerd lawyers from Yale, lubricated with a little Scotch, to talk about work they might do together. Those Yale nerds were brash, as far as John Adams thought at the time - and one of them was a guy named John Bryson. Down the line a little, Bryson opened the California office of NRDC, in Palo Alto, near where he had graduated from Stanford, doing forest and lands work, and later did nuclear waste monitoring. Adams writes about Bryson: "A native of Oregon, John was tall, outgoing, charming, confident, and ambitious in the best sense of word. Meeting him, we immediately saw his potential for accomplishing great things, perhaps a career in politics." 


Gold rush a-comin' with the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan

Stakeholders - I love that word, I always think of vampires - stakeholders for the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan are wrapping up a meeting today in Ontario. It's an interesting time to check in on how this plan - which is supposed to guide conservation efforts as big solar and wind projects get sited - is coming along. Especially since I haven't checked in on it in about 5 months

The demand for large-scale desert-land energy projects is a constant and beating one now - most recently, according to the Desert Sun, which finds a spike in interest going back 5 years:

Interest in solar development on federal land in the Southern California desert jumped from 20 applications in 2006 to about 150 the following year, said Greg Miller, BLM renewable energy program manager for the California Desert District.

We had what we called a land rush,” he said.

BLM had previously approved use of federal desert lands for things such as power line corridors — never anything of the size of solar energy projects, Miller said. 


Global Green counts (and cuts) Rust Belt carbon

Santa Monica-based Global Green USA has focused in recent years on projects like rebuilding in New Orleans: working to help that city back, and make it thrive. Now they've turned their attention toward cities that aren't thriving in America's Rust Belt: specifically, Youngstown, Ohio. 

I talked to Global Green's Walker Wells about the project late last week. He told me that Jack Scott, the former head of Parsons in Pasadena, grew up in Warren, PA and went to Youngstown State. WIth the idea of giving something back, he held an engineering and energy conference in Youngstown - and Matt Petersen from GlobalGreen went. That's how the Santa Monica based group that's the US arm of the Gorbachev-founded Green Cross International found its way to the city alongside the Mahoning River.  

"It's one of the few places in the rust belt that seems to have determined that the past is not prologue for is future," Walker Wells told me. "A lot of these places are still in this kind of anguish and nostalgia for lost industry and the glory days of the lost smokestacks and brown skies will somehow be revitalized."


Green building in the 9th Ward

Twice last month, I went back to my old home, Louisiana - the second time pretty much for vacation, to New Orleans. I checked in on my usual spots: not just my favorite neighborhood restaurant, or my favorite new chicken place, but the outfall canals, some pumping stations (run by the city on a different system than the Corps-run gates and pumps), and the 9th Ward.

Today I'm watching with trepidation as the US Army Corps of Engineers considers how to manipulate the vast plumbing of the Mississippi River to try to minimize flooding in south Louisiana. On Monday they pulled 72 teeth out of the 350-some bays that make up the Bonnet Carre Spillway and let the water run toward Lake Pontchartrain. Now river parishes are ordering evacuations; opening another spillway, Morganza, will still flood the Atchafalaya Basin and threaten thousands of homes, while avoiding potentially worse damage. Even still, earthen levees, floodwalls, and built levees are stressing. My experience with some components of the flood protection system makes me nervous about that. 


Looking closer at utilities' energy efficiency programs

Not all energy efficiencies are created equal. At least, that's the argument of consumer and environmental groups lobbying the California Public Utilities Commission - and those advocates are increasingly frustrated with the quality of those programs at the investor owned utilities. 

Back in December, PUC commissioners voted to give PG&E, SDG&E, and So Cal Edison 68 million dollars for energy efficiency programs the utilities ran between 2006 and 2008. That was on top of nearly 144 in incentives already paid to utilities for the same underperforming programs. And it was in direct opposition to an administrative law judge's ruling that not only did the utilities fail to meet their goals and should receive no payments, but that they should actually pay money back to consumers.

Actions like that have raised scrutiny on the state's energy efficiency programs - and all the savings they boast about.