Southern California environment news and trends

Frak! Salazar tightens up oil and gas drilling on BLM land

I start no new year without regrets, and a (sure, yes, small) one has been that I didn't have a chance to write about western oil and gas drilling last year. I was given a screener for a documentary called Split Estate, and it was a fascinating look at something I had learned during law school, but never seen in practice: property owners who have "split the estate" such that mineral rights are owned by someone who is extracting them, and the surface rights are owned by someone who works or lives on the land.

Split Estate focuses on Garfield county, Colorado (a state where 85% of landowners don't own their mineral rights) but we've got this going on locally, too, in the Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills.

This morning I listened to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar - a former senator from Colorado, who appears in the documentary - announce procedural changes in lease approvals for oil and gas drilling on Bureau of Land Management land. BLM manages hundreds of millions of acres of land, a lot of it in the west, a lot of it with what industry guys might call production possibilities. Almost a year ago, Salazar suspended piles of leases in interior-West states (what Wallace Stegner might have called the West, California just being California to Stegner). Howls of criticism, concern about economic impact, came immediately from the oil and gas industry, and from some state interests.

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Chrisman out at Resources; Gov taps Lester Snow to replace him

Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman has been one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's closest allies in the last seven years. Guess that's enough: he's leaving the department, as of February 1.

Climate change has given Chrisman a higher profile: he was with Schwarzenegger in Copenhagen, for example, and has featured prominently in the Governor's global climate summits the last couple of years. (Apparently he had trouble getting credentialed in Copenhagen, so he met with state-level officials about forestry issues.) So has ocean protection: just recently, following the completion of the South Coast region's Marine Life Protection Act process, Chrisman denied a [ed. 4:28 pm] second extension request from Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner Pat Higgins on behalf of the North Coast Local Interest MPA Workgroup to lengthen the time for considering and gathering data. Chrisman said the region had more data than anyone else so far has had, at that point in the process; just get on with it.

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Secret chemicals, still, even after Obama action

A very interesting article today from the Washington Post about the release of information related to new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Reporter Lyndsey Layton rounds up recent events and reports to point out that 20 percent of chemicals registered in the US are secret under federal rules and "critics -- including the Obama administration -- say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to."

Last summer, the EPA ended confidentiality protection for more than 500 chemicals registered under TSCA. Lots of 'em publicized their ingredients elsewhere, like in marketing materials or a website, but claimed confidentiality because they could.

The WaPo article cites another interesting fact to the EPA. 151 chemicals who have confidential status with the federal government are manufactured in quantities of more than a million tons a year. So, uh, there's lots of those ones there. Also 10 of these chemicals are in children's products. What does that mean to a parent? Well, hell if we know. Confidential, remember? Could go either way. Or more precisely, any way.

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This ain't no place for the weary kind: Cohen does Crazy Heart

If you really need an environmental hook for this, I can tell you that for the new film Crazy Heart, Fox Searchlight did web-based electronic press kits (EPKs) – thereby helping cut plastic waste and, for that matter, business at the post office. Also, with KPCC’s Alex Cohen at the premiere, I noticed that Jeff Bridges had a silvery mane of hair cresting over his head that reminded me of a river. In the movie, he drives a Suburban, which was my first car, and I can testify both to the accuracy of engine’s rumble and the tank’s thirst. But otherwise: this is just a public service announcement.

Bridges plays a guy named Bad, a country singer reduced to playing bowling alleys (though, I gotta say, in at least one bowling alley I know in New Orleans, that’s a sought-after gig) who has to pull his one pair of sunglasses out of a garbage can he pukes in. But if you think it’s some obvious Heartwarming Tale Of Redemption™, or a Wrenching Portrait of An Unredeemed Alcoholic™, uh, no. It’s lovely all on its own.

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Catchin' up with debris basins

Nick Roman, our editor, loves storm season. When he says "storm watch," you know he means StormWatch. Or even STORMWATCH!. I'm, as with many things I cover, awestruck by it.

A few weeks back I did a story explaining how debris basins work. It's got a short video so you can see what it looks like in dry times at the Dunsmuir debris basin. You'd have to imagine the debris flowing down the watercourse into the area. But maybe with the rain falling outside your window, you can.

Today we're also following news announcements in the run-up to Copenhagen. Mayor Villaraigosa and a posse or a passel or a flock or whatever are going to Denmark and to Germany to talk about what cities can do to combat global warming; the mayor's promise to get rid of coal by 2020 certainly draws interest there. And the Environmental Protection Agency - authorized by the Obama Administration - will announce an "endangerment" ruling - a finding by the agency that greenhouse gases are endangering peoples' health and must be regulated. That certainly could up the pressure on Congress to pass its own regulation, which has seen fire and rain this fall, and whose fate is uncertain.

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