Southern California environment news and trends

No Erin Brockovich, but plenty of drama in Carson

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board held a meeting tonight about an investigation it's opened at the former Kast property site in Carson, CA.

Public officials are raising concerns about whether hazardous and sometimes cancer-causing chemicals have contaminated soil and groundwater in an area about 50 acres big between East 244th Street, Lomita Boulevard, Marbella Avenue and Panama Avenue.

I'll have a full story soon. But I'm including a picture I took in the Carson Community Center for a couple of reasons.

1. Boy, that's a fancy community center!
2. It's full of hundreds of people who aren't happy with either Shell or regional water officials.

TV cameras came for a while: these meetings tend not to lend themselves to local news, because terribly impenetrable acronyms pepper the PowerPoints like billboards on Sunset. But dozens of residents have lawyered up, working with Erin Brockovich and the law firm Girardi & Keese. There was a rumor either Mr. Girardi or Ms. Brockovich would provide some fireworks at the meeting.

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Getting to 350

550, 450, 350. The number represents how much carbon dioxide or equivalent greenhouse gas is in the atmosphere, in parts per million, and that, in turn, represents information about how global temperatures will climb, and how fast. The number we settle on should, in theory, be the level at which we're safe. It's a little like sailing toward a point on the horizon: depending on the currents, the wind, and the waves, by the time you set a course, you're blown off it, and aiming for something else.

The number's getting lower; this idea of getting to 350 is pretty new. It pushed some buttons last November, when NASA's James Hansen as part of a team of climate scientists pointed out we're around 385 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the current atmosphere, rising 2 parts per million a year. Letting that rise to 450 parts per million, they argued, would risk an ice-free planet.

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Which standards for California's Renewable Standard?

Climate change meetings with laminated name tags in ballrooms are often filled with highfalutin' aspirational dreamweaverin' mumbo-jumbo. Also, in LA, a celebrity or two.

The Governor's Global Climate Summit last week did bring together a lot of local folks, though, and some had comments on Issues Of The Day in California.

What Arnold Schwarzenegger will do about the state lawmakers' bills on the Renewable Portfolio Standard remains both fascinating and a bit of a mystery. You may remember a couple of weeks ago when Schwarzenegger used an executive order to raise the renewable portfolio standard in California to 33% for all utilities. Since then, he has not, however, vetoed SB 14 or AB 64 two renewable portfolio bills pushed by state legislators.

Activists continue to lobby the Governor, with the hope of heading off vetos for those bills. I talked to Faramarz Nabavi of the California Wind Energy Association. Here's his view:

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Nahai out at LADWP

More on this later - Frank Stoltze will be spotting this midday - but this is a big deal. In David Nahai's time, the DWP has moved dramatically toward renewable energy: the mayor and Nahai had sort of a standing patter they'd do where the mayor would vow to hold the DWP accountable, and Nahai would vow to be held accountable, at just about every press conference. Then as Villaraigosa started his second term, he vowed to make Los Angeles coal-free - entirely - within 11 years. Huge promise.

Nahai's taken a lot of political flak lately. David Zahniser of the LA Times did a sweeping story on the DWP getting politically outmaneuvered by someone close to the mayor. When Measure B went down in May, he took the blame for it. And when people slam Villaraigosa for big green promises that haven't ripened yet, Nahai's the guy they point at.

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Copenhagen's Laboratories: Olav Kjorven says local policies influence global climate talks

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks plenty about how important California is as a laboratory for national climate policy. (and that's pronounced with an emphasis on the second syllable, if you want to sound like an evil genius, which is always worth it) So does Antonio Villaraigosa, and so do other city leaders. This week we're actually hearing that's true from people working at the national level that these guys may be right. (Of course, they refer to local and state governments as "sub-national" which reminds me of submarines, which reminds me of Tom Clancy, which reminds me of...wow, it really does all come back to Harrison Ford.)

Anyway, me and Patt Morrison, we both talked to Olav Kjorven: he's the policy director for the United Nations Environment Programme, and assistant Secretary-General. Check it out:

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