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June 1st, 2017 Archives


As Trump fiddles on climate, the world goes Californian



German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in March. She has since concluded that Germany can’t depend on him. Pool/ABACA TNS


MAY 31, 2017 3:22 PM

As the Paris climate agreement now joins the litany of great American things that President Donald Trump has debased, there is this silver lining: More of the world is starting to think like Californians.

“We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told supporters last week as Trump wrapped up a summit with America’s European allies. Merkel’s last straw was partly Trump’s bashing of NATO, but she also was reacting to his reckless abdication of leadership on global warming.

Trump was never going to keep Barack Obama’s word. His very policies undercut the historic climate commitment. His toying with reneging has been a sick play to his base, and reckless.

But California has known this all along.

This week, the state that voted against Trump 2-1 showed how more level-headed people “fight for our future,” as Merkel put it.

In Sacramento, legislation that would move the state to 100 percent clean, zero-carbon electricity over the next generation moved inexorably though the Senate. So did a quieter, but nonetheless pivotal package that would insulate California from any White House attempt to roll back federal environmental standards, exploit public lands, punish whistleblowers or corrupt scientific data.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a battalion of state lawyers are preparing for a potential Trump challenge to the federal waiver that has allowed California to effectively set national fuel economy standards since the Nixon Administration.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown headed for China to sell cities and provinces on California’s approach – renewable energy, ambitious goals and a cap-and-trade system for restraining greenhouse gases.

California has passed bills requiring that utilities replace coal with solar and wind power, that manufacturers make appliances more energy efficient, that automakers emit less exhaust and that the state radically cut greenhouse gas emissions. The state air resources board has set a goal of putting more than 4 million zero emission vehicles to be on the road by 2030.

Brown’s efforts, in particular, have been heroic. Some 170 jurisdictions worldwide have now signed onto his pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

And if the Democratic-controlled Legislature isn’t always in lockstep with him – there are disagreements this year over when and how best to extend the cap and trade program past its expiration date in 2020 – it isn’t for lack of unity, even with many Republicans, on the fundamental issue.

For all of Trump’s claims that environmental rules have been job killers, California – the world’s sixth-largest economy – has shown that saving the planet and economic growth aren’t mutually exclusive. There were more solar industry jobs last year in California – more than 100,000 – then there were in the entire coal industry.

It takes strength to ignore someone like Trump; it’s hard to look away from aberrant behavior. And it is devastating to see how far this nation has fallen from the one whose president stood by Germans – on the planet’s behalf – with the statement “ich bin ein Berliner” more than 50 years ago.

But Merkel isn’t alone on this century’s existential crisis. A lot of us are refusing to let Trump take us down with him.

And our battle cry translates: “Ich bin ein Californian.”

Welcome to the resistance, chancellor.

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Exxon Mobil Shareholders Demand Accounting of Climate Change Policy Risks



The Exxon Mobil refinery in St. Bernard Parish, La.


Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

A majority of Exxon Mobil’s shareholders, in a reversal, have voted in favor of more open and detailed analyses of the risks posed to its business by policies aimed at stemming climate change.

Those policies include the goal of the Paris climate agreement to restrict global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Preliminary results announced at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday put the results at 62.3 percent in favor, up from the 38 percent a similar resolution garnered last year.

The resolution, which the company’s directors opposed, is nonbinding. But Darren W. Woods, the chief executive, said the board would consider the result because it reflected the view of a majority of shareholders.

Investors and groups concerned about climate change submitted similar proposals in the last few years, but Exxon resisted.

Increasingly, though, Wall Street and large investors, including fund managers like BlackRock and Vanguard, two of Exxon’s largest investors, have signaled concerns about the risks to companies whose assets were based in fossil fuels that could lose significant value as climate policies and market forces reduce demand.

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Trump Economic Adviser: Wind and Solar Can Make America a ‘Manufacturing Powerhouse’


His message on coal didn’t go over very well.

by Stephen Lacey

May 30, 2017


Donald Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, thinks natural gas, wind and solar are the future of energy in America.

But he's getting attacked for doubting the future of coal.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One last week, Cohn expressed skepticism about reviving the beleaguered coal industry.

"Coal doesn't even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock. Natural gas, [of] which we have become an abundant producer [and] which we're going to become a major exporter of, is such a cleaner fuel," he said, according to press pool reports.

"If you think about how much solar and wind we've created in the United States, we can become a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly."

Cohn is the director of the National Economic Council.

Trump may dig coal, but Cohn apparently does not. His comments were immediately lampooned.

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Even as Wind Power Rises, It Falls Under a Political Cloud

As utility operations increasingly avail themselves of wind, the Trump administration looks at whether

conventional sources have been placed at a disadvantage.


Wind farms, with their rapid geographic spread and technological advances, are reshaping the electric system, defying skepticism that they are steady or reliable enough to displace conventional power plants.

“The fuel of choice right now, certainly for us, is wind,” said Ben Fowke, the chief executive of Xcel Energy, which shut down a large natural-gas plant in Colorado for two days in January and let wind fill, on average, half of its customer demand.

Now politics, not skepticism, may be wind power’s biggest barrier. Under new leadership with ties to conventional energy interests, the Energy Department is scrambling to complete an internal study in the next month that could lead to an upending of the policies that fostered the rapid spread of solar and wind.

Wind Projects in the United States

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Trump’s Sale of WAPA & BPA Lines is a Lead Balloon

23 MAY 2017

The Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 federal budget, released May 23, puts a for sale sign on federally-owned power lines in the West.

However, selling the transmission assets of the Western Area Power Administration, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the Southwestern Power Administration will face major resistance from federal lawmakers from the West and Northwest.

Carl Zichella, NRDC director of western transmission, said the proposed sell off of public transmission will be dead on arrival. He noted strong opposition, including from WAPA’s preference customers, which include “small coops and utilities entitled to energy and water from its projects – whose payments over the years have funded much of WAPA’s infrastructure.”

The President also proposes gutting many consumer and climate-friendly programs, from weatherization for low-income residents to clean energy research and development.

“Whether it is attacking low-income energy assistance programs, blowing up innovation research at EPA or defunding clean coal programs, the Trump budget seems designed to outrage almost every constituency on Capitol Hill,” Zichella noted.

The transmission sell off is attributed to free market advocates at the Heritage Institute and Cato Institute, who claim it would reduce the federal deficit.

That assertion was refuted.

“Because BPA is a self-supporting business and makes annual payments to the federal government to pay down its debt, any revenue from the sale of its transmission assets would be a one-time fix,” said Fred Heutte, senior policy associate at the NW Energy Coalition.

The sale also would be bad for transmission efficiency.

“At a time when economic and environmental priorities point to the need for greater integration and efficiency in electricity generation and transmission, this proposal goes in the opposite direction by threatening to fragment the Northwest energy system and increase costs for customers,” warned Wendy Gerlitz, NW Energy Coalition policy director.

This is not the first time a sell off of western power lines has been proposed. It was floated during the Reagan Administration at the height of free market and deregulation mania. That proposed sale was defeated.

The budget proposal also would repeal WAPA’s $3.25 billion emergency borrowing authority.

WAPA referred budget questions to the Department of Energy.

Elizabeth McCarthy

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The SoCal Edison rate case: A canary in the coal mine for DER policy debates

SCE wants $2.1B to upgrade its grid for distributed resources — a request that's raised ire from consumer advocates and DER providers alike


Herman K. Trabish


May 18, 2017

The $2.1 billion spend that Southern California Edison (SCE) wants regulators to approve for readying its system for distributed resources has raised a lot of stakeholder questions.

Some of the questioning is standard rate case skepticism about whether the $14.7 billion revenue request will serve customers or shareholders. But there are also new concerns related to the utility’s plan to spend $2.1 billion on grid modernization (docket A.16-09-001).

In particular, the distributed energy industry is concerned SCE is not taking advantage of all DERs have to offer by not valuing them properly in its planning. Consumer advocates, meanwhile, dismiss both sets of arguments as attempting to “gold plate the grid.”


“Our goal is a cleaner grid with much more distributed generation,” Shinjini Menon, SCE general rate case director, told Utility Dive. “We expect a rate case to be thoroughly reviewed but many of these programs and projects are what we have undertaken in the past.”

DER advocates want the utility spending in the 2018-2020 general rate case (GRC) to “optimize the value” of distributed resources before imposing costs on consumers for grid upgrades, according to a recent blog post from leaders of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, and advocacy group Vote Solar.

“We are asking whether these grid modernization upgrades for things like communications and automation can be done by third-party providers,” said Ed Smeloff, managing director of the regulatory team at Vote Solar and co-author of the blog post.

“Should the utility be making infrastructure investments or issuing solicitations for services from DER providers?” he said. “And is part of the utility’s calculation the return it will earn by making the investment, even though it might get better value from a third-party provider?”

Attorney Marcel Hawiger, of ratepayer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network (TURN), told Utility Dive neither the arguments of the DER advocates nor the utility are “justified by facts.”

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New standard practice manual for cost-effectiveness is an indispensable resource



Media Contact: Patrick Kiker, (202) 507-4043

By Martin Kushler, Senior Fellow

On May 18th the National Efficiency Screening Project and E4TheFuture announced the release of the first National Standard Practice Manual (NSPM). The detailed manual guides regulators on how to develop their own jurisdictional cost-effectiveness tests of utility customer-funded energy efficiency programs. More than 40 key organizations and national experts reviewed the manual.
Time for a refresh

Few areas of utility energy efficiency policies and procedures possess as much diversity of opinion as cost-effectiveness testing. Virtually every state uses some version of the five tests outlined in the California Standard Practice Manual (CA SPM). But as we documented in a 2012 study, substantial variability exists in how

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No one’s breathing easy in the nation’s new megawarehouse hub

By Emma Foehringer Merchant on May 30, 2017

Just a few decades ago, California’s Inland Empire billed itself as “the Orange Empire” for the citrus orchards that fueled its primary industry. Today, many of those groves are gone, and so is the nickname. The landlocked region of 4 million people an hour east of Los Angeles now sprouts more enormous warehouses (a billion square feet of them) than fruit trees.

Forty percent of the nation’s consumer goods — iPhones, sneakers, and everything available from Amazon — spend time sitting on those warehouse shelves after coming off ships at nearby ports, awaiting delivery to stores and homes. What was once a mostly rural region finds itself struggling with a high poverty rate and growing population. Residents are plagued by tremendous traffic and air pollution, which recently earned the region an “F” from the American Lung Association.

Those environmental and health concerns will get much worse, advocates say, if the city of Moreno Valley — a town of 200,000 located in the heart of the Inland Empire — builds the largest warehouse project anywhere in the country.

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Tom Thornsley is a 60-year-old urban planner who moved to Moreno Valley in 1998, just as the rural-to-warehouse transformation was beginning. He thought he had chosen wisely, settling in a gray, ranch-style home that sat near a wide-open space zoned for more homes, not warehouses. “I know better than to look at dirt and not check what it would be,” he says.

But after a developer proposed a project in 2012, city officials rezoned that dirt patch next to Thornsley’s house to make it home to one of the world’s largest warehouse complexes.


Click to embiggen.Grist / Amelia Bates

The World Logistics Center, planned by a company called Highland Fairview, would be the largest such facility in the country, covering 2,610 acres — the size of 700 football fields. It would be more than 25 times bigger than the largest warehouse in the United States, a 98-acre hangar operated in Washington by the airplane manufacturer Boeing.

As a planner, Thornsley doesn’t have a problem with industrial development. He’s worked on commercial buildings since 1989. But the environmental costs of the World Logistics Center are too much for his community, he says, so he’s become a leader in the effort to stop it — an effort that might hinge on next month’s special city council election.

The World Logistics Center, which is now known locally by the acronym “WLC,” has turned Moreno Valley politics into a bloodsport. Community organizers and environmental groups have fought — in both city hall and the courtroom — to protect residents from the pollution it would cause and save protected species like peregrine falcons and California golden eagles that live in the nearby San Jacinto Wildlife Area.

Once built, warehouses don’t pollute the way that factories and power plants do. But a project the size of the WLC would be a magnet for truck traffic, spewing exhaust on 69,000 estimated daily trips in and out of the complex. In a struggling region, though, the lure of jobs has proven difficult to overcome, despite the public health and quality of life concerns.

“That’s why people are pressing so hard now,” Thornsley says, “to get somebody elected who’s not going to be, in essence, another developer’s puppet.”

Southern California’s two ports are among the deepest on the West Coast, allowing massive ships to dock at Los Angeles and Long Beach. More than $360 billion worth of goods from production centers in the Asian Pacific were offloaded there in 2014. Warehouses originally crowded around the ports, until Los Angeles could no longer contain the growth.

Demand for more space at cheaper rates pushed development farther east, and the Inland Empire became the hidden purgatory between production and consumption. Only the Philadelphia area currently has more warehouse space, but projects like the WLC would leave that East Coast hub in the dust. Over the past five years, the logistics industry has delivered a quarter of the new jobs in the region.

But the economic boom carries a heavy environmental toll: Diesel trucks zip along the Inland Empire’s roads, carrying cargo to customers and piping particulates into the air. Winds rushing in from the ocean blow added pollution from L.A. and Orange County, which accumulates in the basin bounded to the north and east by mountains.

That makes the Inland Empire one of the unhealthiest places to live in the country. Air pollution leads to higher risk of heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, and more. The South Coast Air Basin — which encompasses parts of Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino, and Los Angeles counties — exceeds federal and state requirements for lead and small particulate matter, which can lodge in the lungs. San Bernardino and Riverside counties, which make up the Inland Empire, ranked first and second, respectively, among the top 25 most ozone-polluted counties in the American Lung Association’s 2016 air quality report.

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Jerry Brown sends a message to water agencies on the Delta tunnels – and it’s direct

MAY 31, 2017 4:23 PM



Jerry Brown took an Old English turn from his Latin wisdom in 2012 by declaring: “I want to get s--- done,” a reference to his vision for building two tunnels 30 miles long to move Sacramento River water south from the Delta to the rest of the state.

And in 2015, addressing California water agencies, he offered pithy advice to naysayers: “Until you put a million hours into it, shut up.” Critics of the $15 billion project were greatly offended.

Now, with Brown’s tenure in the corner office ticking away, decision time is upon California. Yes, I have written that before. But in the coming days, the U.S. Interior Department is expected to issue its final assessment of the impact of the tunnels on the Delta’s ecology and associated fisheries.

In anticipation of that, Brown, through his top aide Nancy McFadden, very recently summoned representatives of the main consumers of Northern California water to Sacramento. The unmistakable message to come of the meetings: fish or cut bait, or some more pungent variation of that saying.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Westlands Water District and the Kern County Water Agency, along with agencies in the Silicon Valley and East Bay, must decide if they’re in or out and whether they’ll pay their proportionate share.


“The governor’s office has sent a very clear signal,” said Tom Birmingham, director of the 600,000-acre Westlands Water District, the second largest consumer after MWD. “The time to make a decision is now. The governor is absolutely correct. The welfare of the state of California is going to depend on the outcome of this decision.”

“We’re on the verge,” said Jeff Kightlinger, executive director of the Metropolitan Water District. The MWD board, like other the water boards, would need to decide whether to buy into the project, a step that would require a rate increases. “It may be expensive but it is needed.”

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He plowed his field and got hit with a $2.8 million fine. Will Trump rescind it?

MAY 31, 2017 12:58 PM



John Duarte spent five years fighting the Obama administration’s Justice Department over charges that he broke environmental laws by harming wetlands while planting a wheat crop on his Northern California farm. He lost his case, and faces a $2.8 million fine.

Now Duarte, whose case has become a national rallying cry among farmers and conservatives, is hoping President Donald Trump will wipe the penalties away. Last week, the Republicans who head the House agriculture and judiciary committees asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reconsider the government’s case against Duarte.

“I will be surprised if the Trump administration wants to own this prosecution,” Duarte said Wednesday. “I’ll be very surprised. I don’t believe it’s consistent with what they campaigned on and with what their conservative values are.”

Duarte’s case began five years ago, when the federal government accused him of illegally tearing through fragile wetlands on his 450-acre Tehama County farm in violation of the Clean Water Act. A judge in Sacramento last summer sided with the feds, who are pressing for a $2.8 million fine and an order requiring Duarte to restore the wetlands on his property and elsewhere. Duarte, who owns a Modesto-area nursery business, said the final payout could cost him more than $20 million.

“We’ve got the federal government attempting to ruin our business and destroy 600 jobs … because we planted wheat in a wheat field,” said Duarte, who said his legal bills run to $2 million.

Trump’s election has changed the equation, however. The president has already scaled back implementation of the Clean Water Act, reversing a decision by former President Barack Obama. While a spokesman for the Justice Department declined comment on the letter to Sessions, some believe the playing field is tilting in favor of Duarte and other farmers. Environmental advocates are aghast.

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Michigan’s new water battle: How much of it should Nestle bottle?

A SHIFT IN THOUGHT The company says pumping more groundwater won't hurt the environment. But public opposition is significant, amplified in part by the Flint crisis.

  1. Simon Montlake
    Staff writer | @sjmontlake

MAY 31, 2017 DETROIT—Three years after state-appointed officials began piping contaminated water to households in Flint, eventually triggering a national outcry, another drawn-out fight over water management is roiling the Great Lakes state.

This time the battle is over the bottling of Michigan groundwater by Nestle, the Swiss multinational food company. Nestle is seeking permission to extract more water from an existing well about 100 miles from Flint, for sale in the Midwest. As long as it passes review, the expansion would only incur a nominal permit fee, to the dismay of critics who argue that Michigan is handing over its natural resources to a corporation for a song.

There is no direct link between Flint’s municipal water crisis and Nestle’s pumping permit. But the emotions stirred by the mismanagement in Flint, and concern over how regulators failed to stop it, have combined to make Nestle a lightning rod for environmentalists and a potential test case for how that most basic of natural resources – groundwater – should be managed.

“Flint has changed the conversation,” says Liz Kirkwood, director of FLOW, an advocacy group in Traverse City, Mich., that has contested Nestle’s application.

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