Take Two for December 27, 2012

A look ahead to the biggest environmental issues of 2013

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AFP/AFP/Getty Images

A picture taken on July 3, 2009 shows a fisherman sailing on the Ice Fjord of Ilulissat in Greenland. The Greenland ice sheet has lost 1,500 billion tonnes of ice since 2000, contributing 0.75 mm (0.03 inch) annually to sea levels, according to a study published in December 2009. Some experts believe the Arctic ice cap will disappear completely in summer months within 20 to 30 years.

This is one in a series of year-end stories that look back at the most memorable pieces KPCC reporters worked on in 2012 and look ahead at a key issue that will be the focus of coverage in the coming year.

KPCC reporter Molly Peterson fills us in on the biggest environmental issues ahead in 2013.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced she was stepping down from the Cabinet after the State of the Union early next year. Jackson has won praise from environmentalists for revitalizing the agency after the Bush Administration.

Much of that praise has been for her agency’s unprecedented action on climate change. Early in her tenure, the EPA released what’s been called an “endangerment finding” – a document in which EPA officials wrote that carbon dioxide and five other gases that contribute to a warming climate endanger the environment and human health. That finding made it possible for federal regulators to create stricter rules for emissions from light and heavy duty trucks. 

Jackson also placed a special emphasis on urban environmental issues. In California, EPA developed environmental justice programs in places like Boyle Heights, the I-710 corridor, the Inland Empire, and Imperial County.

Under Jackson’s tenure, the EPA named the Los Angeles River a navigable river under the Clean Water Act. That decision is key to moving money towards Southern California for river development, cleanup and revitalization projects advocated by local officials.

"We have to think about a river with a concrete bottom that flows through one of our nation's largest cities and through this lovely city as well," Jackson said at the time. "We need to think about urban areas and we need to make it clear to the residents who live here – our neighbors – how important these issues are."

Jackson found herself at odds with the White House in 2011, over an issue that has strong implications for southern California. EPA was on track to tighten up an ozone standard to something in a range recommended by scientists. In intense lobbying, business interests told President Obama the new standard would be too costly and dangerous to the economy. He recommended backing off the more aggressive standard, in the interest of “reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.” 

You can expect to hear more about climate change in 2013, and not just because President Obama’s going to confirm a new EPA Administrator.

In the Arctic, ice was measured at record lows. The CEO of a French oil company, Total SA, decided in 2012 that the environmental and public relations risks of drilling in the Arctic outweighed the potential benefits.  in 2013, Shell intends to pick up where it left off with drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, though the company still faces logistical and regulatory challenges

California's cap and trade market got off the ground in 2012. The California Air Resources Board deemed the initial auction in November successful. The next auction will take place in February. 

Those auction proceeds aren’t just going to burn a hole in the state’s pocket. They’re on the move. The California Public Utilities Commission announced it would use auction revenues to pay “climate dividends” to ratepayers who live in territories served by investor-owned utilities: Southern California Edison, PG&E, and San Diego Gas & Electric. The credits of either 20 or 40 dollars will appear on customers’ bills midway through next year. The dividends are a beginning. CPUC expects to put billions of dollars into ratepayers’ hands over the next seven years.

And locally, climate change figures into a discussion about what happens to a stretch of California’s coastline in tony Malibu. Broad Beach is no longer broad; battered by increasingly strong storms, currents, and rising sea levels, its sand is washing away and ending up, among other places, at Zuma Beach, a county-managed beach a mile away.

Historically, sand washed down from inland would replenish Broad Beach. But development, including the houses lining Broad Beach themselves, has prevented beach replenishment.

Broad Beach residents have joined together to create a special assessment district: essentially, they’re taxing themselves to create revenue to solve the problem of lost land.

Their solution could set a precedent for other communities along California’s coast who are already feeling the impacts of stronger storms and share concerns about rising seas.

Still undecided is where Broad Beach will get the over 600,000 cubic yards of sand the project requires. Candidate sand supplies in Manhattan Beach, Ventura, and Santa Monica may or may not be available. Trucking sand in from the Mojave Desert or other inland locations could be prohibitively costly, even for Malibu denizens. 

The State Lands Commission delayed a hearing in early December to accommodate a huge volume of public comment on the issue. The commission says it’ll address the issue early next year.


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