Southern California environment news and trends

The race is not to the Swift, at the port

In the gully of time between Xmas and New years, when I did a series on what makes a home sustainable, another interesting piece fell into the port puzzle. an administrative law judge ruled on the legality of firing four workers from Swift transportation. Workers alleged they had been fired for union involvement; Swift maintained it had cause. It was a split decision: 2 guys were fired fairly, the judge said; 2 were reinstated with back pay.

If as a non-drayage-industry person you know Swift, it might be because the Port of Los Angeles lassoed Swift and Knight Transportation into giving the clean trucks program a boost early on, when signups of smaller companies and individual drivers were sluggish. The companies have sizeable footprints, not just in LA, but in the southwest/western region of the US.

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As the port turns...

After a while, the port's environmental issues can seem like a soap opera to a daily reporter. (Anyone else have a mom who loved Lucinda Walsh?) On Monday, the Port of Long Beach took the opportunity presented by the first Monday of 2010 to tout last year's clean trucks success, and this year's stricter rules. A few days before that, the Natural Resources Defense Council stacked another lawsuit on its sky-high pile of port-air paperwork: this time, over the Port's settlement of its lawsuit with the American Trucking Association. Both happenings reflect the distance across which all parties are seeing each other. Which is pretty far lately.

Port of Long Beach environmental affairs director Bob Kanter sees it like this: “The clean-trucks program is nearly two years ahead of schedule in improving air quality." He and the Port of Los Angeles say they're not alone: the EPA handed them an Environmental Justice award last year too.

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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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