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Seattle’s new environmental justice agenda was built by the people it affects the most

By Clayton Aldern on Apr 22, 2016

So you want to find a way for your city to acknowledge and begin to repair the damage that pollution, food insecurity, and unequal access to transportation inflict on communities of color and other marginalized groups. Great — now what?

If you’re Seattle, you hold a Vietnamese karaoke night.

Other cities have begun to tackle issues of environmental justice, too, but now Seattle appears to be leading the way, both in its direct approach and in its efforts to involve voices that often go unheard. Today Mayor Ed Murray released the first results of that work, in the form of a 40-page document known as the Equity and Environment Agenda. (Notice which word comes first there.)

“Seattle’s environmental progress and benefits must be shared by all residents no matter their race, immigration status, or income level,” said Murray, speaking to press on Friday.

Sudha Nandagopal, the program manager for the city’s equity and environment initiative (and recently featured on the Grist 50 list of green leaders to watch!) led the development of the agenda by convening a group called the Community Partners’ Steering Committee. The coalition of 16 community leaders was charged with engaging communities of color and other groups disproportionately affected by environmental concerns.

“We had everything from karaoke nights to first graders drawing pictures of their favorite things to see on their way to school,” Nandagopal says. The result is “a call to action for government, non-profits, philanthropy, business, and community to work together in recognition that no single organization can reverse environmental injustice.” Nandagopal and the other authors lay out a series of policy-planning goals and strategies for integrating equity into the city’s environmental programs. For Nandagopal, that means making sure communities of color, immigrants and refugees, low-income communities, youth, and low-proficiency English speakers have their voices heard.

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How to Find Compromise on Net Metering

The anatomy of New York’s utility-solar partnership proposal

by Shayle Kann    April 27, 2016

Last week, six New York utilities and three leading solar companies announced a landmark joint proposal on the future of net metering in the state.

The “Solar Progress Partnership” filed its proposal in front of the New York Public Service Commission, which is considering options for a transition from today’s net energy metering to a Reforming the Energy Vision (REV)-driven distributed energy market. This is certainly the highest-profile collaboration between major utilities and solar companies on a NEM transition to date.

The proposal alone is important for New York, but its framework could also serve as a model for other states. I see four characteristics in particular that could form the basis for compromise in the many regulatory battles to come over the future of distributed energy and rates.

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VW Presentation in ’06 Showed How to Foil Emissions Tests


The Volkswagen logo on a Nasdaq screen. Admissions of cheating on emissions tests have weighed on the company’s stock.

Credit Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency

FRANKFURT — A PowerPoint presentation was prepared by a top technology executive at Volkswagen in 2006, laying out in detail how the automaker could cheat on emissions tests in the United States.

The presentation has been discovered as part of the continuing investigations into Volkswagen, according to two people who have seen the document and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the legal action against the company. It provides the most direct link yet to the genesis of the deception at Volkswagen, which admitted late last year that 11 million vehicles worldwide were equipped with software to cheat on tests that measured pollution in emissions.

It is not known how widely the presentation was distributed at Volkswagen. But its existence, and the proposal it made to install the software, highlight a series of flawed decisions at the embattled carmaker surrounding the emissions problem.

Those decisions exposed the company to billions of dollars in fines as well as criminal investigations. Last Friday, Volkswagen reported a record $6.2 billion loss, after setting aside $18 billion to cover the costs of fines, legal claims and recalls. As a first step in a broader settlement under negotiation, Volkswagen agreed to fix or buy back 500,000 diesel vehicles in the United States, beginning with model year 2009.

At various junctures over the last decade, executives at Volkswagen ignored or underplayed warning signs.

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Northern California towns lack resources to handle oil train fires, spills

APRIL 23, 2016 7:49 AM

Lassen County town has no reliable water supply for firefighting

Crude oil transport by rail grew 1,700 percent in 2015

Federal government providing hands-on response training


Bee Correspondent


BNSF Railway trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous materials rumble through this Lassen County community every day – past homes, churches and a scant block from the downtown commercial center.

If a tank car were to derail and explode, Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen would take the only action he’s equipped for: Evacuation. Of all 1,000 residents.


Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen CQ stands next to the BNSF Railway tracks, a stone’s throw from the fire station in this Lassen County community. Jane Braxton Little

Westwood has no consistent source of water, and the closest trailers with enough foam to extinguish a large blaze are a full four hours away, he said: “We’d just have to get everybody out and go from there.”

Rural officials like Duerksen have been worried for decades about the chlorine, ammonia, propane and crude oil transported through their northern California communities by BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad. But a dramatic surge in production in oil fields in the Midwest and Canada increased the volume from about 10,000 railroad tank cars in 2008 to nearly half a million in 2014. In 2015, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reported a 1,700 percent increase in crude oil transportation by rail.

That’s slowed significantly in the last year, a change generally attributed to a drop in the price of oil. But emergency responders worry that the volume will swell again when crude oil prices rise. In recent weeks, many have observed an increase in the number of tank cars on trains running south toward Sacramento and San Francisco.

That could be a precursor to the half-mile long oil trains planned for travel through Northern California to Benicia. Valero Refining Co. has proposed building a rail loading station that would allow importing oil on two 50-car trains a day to the city 40 miles northeast of San Francisco.

The trains would run through Roseville, downtown Sacramento, West Sacramento, downtown Davis, Dixon and other cities. East of Roseville, the route is uncertain. Trains could arrive via Donner Summit, Feather River Canyon, or through the Shasta and Redding areas.


Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen

On Tuesday, the Benicia City Council postponed until September a decision on Valero’s appeal of a February planning commission recommendation that unanimously rejected the proposal.

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Jerry Brown’s lofty aspirations come face to face with the law

APRIL 22, 2016 11:00 PM

Lobbyists are engaging in the annual rite of seeking millions in cap-and-trade money

The Legislature’s experts and Court of Appeal are raising questions about cap-and-trade’s legality

Righteous though California’s climate change fight is, nagging legal questions persist

Lobbyists line up for cap-and-trade pork at an Assembly budget subcommittee hearing on April 20. Capitol veteran Gene Erbin seeks a slice, but questions the legality of the program. Dan Morain The Sacramento Bee


Lobbyist Don Gilbert, representing Bay Area sewage districts, requested $20 million from an Assembly budget subcommittee to fund “poop to power” projects, with a straight face, mostly.

The investment, he told the panel, would cut the cost of technology to generate electricity from human waste, thereby solving “an issue we all contribute to, most days.”

Next, lobbyist Gene Erbin stepped to the microphone, seeking $100 million on behalf of his client, Waste Management, “bizarrely and surrealistically,” he said.

The money would help the garbage company comply with a proposed California Air Resources Board regulation, one that seeks to eliminate organic waste from landfills by 2025. Erbin doubts the goal is attainable, and questions whether the board can legally impose the regulation.

“So I have to ask for the money, believing at the same time they don’t have the authority to compel us to comply with the regulations that they’re going to adopt,” Erbin said.

If other lobbyists harbored such compunctions, they weren’t letting on. For about two hours one morning last week, lobbyists representing glass makers, bicyclists, forest land owners, dairies, bio-digesters, PG&E, car makers, bus makers, bird watchers, recyclers and many more earnestly and sincerely asked for money.

They wanted $40 million to replace wood stoves, $20 million to make new glass from old glass, $140 million to improve forest health, $50 million to plant trees, $100 million for active transportation, also known as walking and biking, and $500 million for low-carbon modes of transportation, also known as trains and buses, or maybe it was $650 million.

Emissions would be cut. Jobs would be created. Children would ride bikes to school, rather than nagging parents for rides. Lungs, hearts and other body parts would become healthier. It all would be green.

It was, in other words, another day in which legislators and lobbyists were porking out $2 billion-plus produced by California’s cap-and-trade program. The Air Resources Board created cap-and-trade as part of its noble effort to implement the landmark Assembly Bill 32 of 2006 by cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

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Lawmakers Concerned About EV Charging Proposal

21   APR 2016

Nearly two dozen lawmakers are calling on the California Public Utilities Commission to ensure that Pacific Gas & Electric’s proposed electric vehicle charging station plan does not give the utility an unfair market advantage.

Concerns were raised by 14 state Democrats and eight Republican legislators in an April 6 letter to CPUC Commissioner Carla Peterman regarding a $160 million ratepayer-funded PG&E proposal. It would result in the utility building and owning 7,500 charging stations in the first phase.

The legislators requested that the PG&E proceeding before the commission help “stimulate innovation,” “protect customer choice” and “support competition.”

“Allow new vendors and new innovative products to qualify into the utility program more frequently than annually, as currently proposed by PG&E,” says the letter. “Do not allow PG&E to block competition on direct current fast charging technology by restricting customer choice.”

Under the PG&E proposal, presented in late March, ratepayers would share in the cost by paying about $2.75 per year to cover the cost of the investment, or about 23 cents per month.

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Carbon Pricing Becomes a Cause for the World Bank and I.M.F.


The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are pressing governments to impose a price tag on planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, using economic leverage and technical assistance that institutions like the United Nations cannot muster.

The campaign by two of the largest international lenders comes as world leaders have begun to sign the Paris agreement on climate change, the United Nations accord that is supposed to commit nearly every country to take action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The document opened for signatures on Friday and will remain open for a year.

But the leaders of the World Bank, the I.M.F. and other major global institutions say cutting emissions enough to stave off the worst effects of climate change will not be possible unless all fossil fuel polluters are forced to pay for the carbon dioxide they emit.

“There is now an overwhelmingly obvious scientific consensus that the more carbon pollution we put into the air the more impact it has on warming the massive melting of the Arctic, the cycles of droughts and flooding, the die-offs of coral reefs,” the World Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, said in an interview. “And to our economists, who have been studying this for quite some time, there is an equally obvious consensus that putting a price on carbon pollution is by far the most powerful and efficient way to reduce emissions.”

He added, “We strongly urge people to prepare for the carbon pricing that is to come.”

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BP Reports $583 Million Loss in First Quarter


“Market fundamentals continue to suggest that the combination of robust demand and weak supply growth will move global oil markets closer into balance by the end of the year,” BP’s chief executive, Robert W. Dudley, said.

Credit      Leonhard Foeger/Reuters


BP, the first of the major oil companies to report earnings this week, said on Tuesday that it had lost $583 million in the first quarter of 2016, compared with a $2.6 billion profit in the same period last year.

Lower oil prices were behind the loss for BP, whose results were nonetheless better than analysts had expected. That, and the fact that the company said it would keep its dividend at 10 cents a share, helped buoy BP’s share price, which was up more than 3 percent in midmorning trading in London.

In the current environment, analysts say an oil company’s stock price is largely determined by the dividend. Sustaining it is “the first priority within our financial framework,” BP’s chief financial officer, Brian Gilvary, told analysts in a conference call on Tuesday.

BP said it had lost $1.2 billion in its key oil and gas exploration and production unit, which was a big money earner when prices were high. Oil prices for the quarter averaged $34 a barrel for Brent crude, more than a third lower than a year earlier.

“The entire industry is going to be loss-making in the first quarter,” Oswald Clint, an analyst at Bernstein Research in London, wrote in an email.

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Exxon Mobil’s Sterling Credit Is Downgraded by Standard & Poor’s



A Mobil station in California in the late 1930s. Exxon Mobil, and its precursor companies, had held a AAA credit rating from S.&P. since the Depression.

Credit   Underwood Archives/Getty Images

HOUSTON — Standard & Poor’s stripped Exxon Mobil of its top credit rating on Tuesday for the first time since the Great Depression, signaling that even the mightiest oil company cannot escape the worst oil and gas slump since the 1980s.

Only two American companies now have an S.&P. AAA rating — Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson. Nearly every oil and gas company has been downgraded recently; scores of mostly small ones have filed for bankruptcy protection.

But investors shrugged off the downgrade to AA+, still a stellar rating, and slightly bid up Exxon Mobil’s stock price on Tuesday to close at $87.63. Standard & Poor’s described the company’s financial situation as “stable.” The downgrade, though, will probably raise the company’s borrowing costs and may lower somewhat its status among state oil companies as the premier partner to have for complex project development.

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China Curbs Plans for More Coal-Fired Power Plants



Residents living near a coal-fired power plant in Shanxi, China, wear masks for protection from air pollution.


Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

HONG KONG — Coal-fired power plants have propelled much of China’s economic rise for decades, helping make the nation the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Even with economic growth slackening, and other energy sources taking hold, new coal plants have been added.

Now Beijing is trying to slow things down.

In guidelines released on Monday, China halted plans for new coal-fired power stations in many parts of the country, and construction of some approved plants will be postponed until at least 2018.

The announcement, by the National Development and Reform Commission and the National Energy Administration, means that about 200 planned coal-fired power generators — those seeking approval and those approved but not yet under construction — may not be completed, said Lauri Myllyvirta, who analyzes China’s energy production for Greenpeace.

The total of 105 gigawatts of power those plants would have been able to produce is considerably more than the electricity-generating capacity of Britain from all sources.

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Report: Batteries Will Not Be the Future of Grid Balancing in Germany


Photo Credit: Younicos

Power-to-heat and demand-side management are the most cost-effective measures for the country’s grid up to 2030, concludes a government-funded study.

by Mike Stone

April 26, 2016

A three-year study of Germany’s energy storage market funded by the government is not likely to favor batteries.

Although the full conclusions won’t be published for a while, a study supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has found that grid-scale and behind-the-meter batteries are insufficient to meet Germany’s energy needs.

That’s according to Christoph Pellinger, the coordinator for the study, called Merit Order for Energy Storage Systems 2030.

Instead, residential and industrial power-to-heat systems, along with demand-side management of industrial and residential energy consumption, are the country’s best options to manage large amounts of renewable energy on the German grid, said Pellinger. The report will also favor vehicle-to-grid technologies as an economic grid-balancing option by 2030.

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Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change

Eduardo Porter


Are liberals impairing our ability to combat climate change?

That may sound like a strange question, particularly to readers of The New York Times. Today conservatives are the ones decidedly blocking any effort by the United States to curb its emissions of greenhouse gases.

And yet even as progressive environmentalists wring their hands at the G.O.P.’s climate change denial, there are biases on the left that stray just as far from the scientific consensus.

“The left is turning anti-science,” Marc Andreessen, the creator of Netscape who as a venture capitalist has become one of the most prominent thinkers of Silicon Valley, told me not long ago.

He was reflecting broadly about science and technology. His concerns ranged from liberals’ fear of genetically modified organisms to their mistrust of technology’s displacement of workers in some industries. “San Francisco is an interesting case,” he noted. “The left has become reactionary.”

Still, liberal biases may be most dangerous in the context of climate change, the most significant scientific and technological challenge of our time. For starters, they stand against the only technology with an established track record of generating electricity at scale while emitting virtually no greenhouse gases: nuclear power.

Only 35 percent of Democrats, compared with 60 percent of Republicans, favor building more nuclear power plants, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.

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Exxon And Climate Change: Are State Prosecutors Overly Expansionist?

APR 19, 2016 @ 08:10 AM 485 VIEWS

Ken Silverstein , CONTRIBUTOR

I write about the global energy business.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Lots of news lately on how some U.S. attorneys general have, well, been political — hardly a surprise, given their long-lasting nickname: “Aspiring Governors.” The most recent case is that about 17 such officials have been meeting with environmental activists to craft a plan to cut Exxon Mobil Corp. down to size.

Last week’s episode of “AGs Know Best” took a dramatic turn when some emails were discovered through the Freedom of Information Act — ones that showed a formal meeting took place among the state AGs with an environmental lawyer and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists to single out the oil giant about what it may have known about climate change dating back to 1980.

For Exxon’s part, it says that the information it had 36 years ago was not conclusive. But it quickly adds that today a lot more is known — and that climate change is real and that everyone needs to do their part. As for the AGs, they say that they routinely seek guidance from interested parties and that nothing nefarious happened when they met on March 29th with activists.

How did all this come to light? The Energy & Environment Legal Institute, which is a free-market think tank with ties to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, obtained emails through the Freedom of Information Act that prove such a meeting took place. The institute then shared those notes with Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, which allegedly asked the activists not to talk about the meeting.

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How much has drought screwed the West Coast?

By Nathanael Johnson on 18 Apr 2016

It was only a year ago that Californians were marching into another relentless summer, having endured an almost water-free winter, and the entire western United States was stricken by drought. Even if you don’t live in this part of the world, you surely heard about it. Maybe you wondered how you would get avocados and almonds once California shriveled up. Who would make movies once the desert sands swallowed Hollywood? Who would fund Tinder for wombats when the last Silicon Valley venture capitalist succumbed to dehydration?

But then, the rain began to fall. Great big drops of water — thank you Jesus! — fell out of the sky. Texas flooded. Reservoirs in Northern California filled up.

Now the wet season is nearly finished in the West. So where do we stand? Is the drought over?

No, not by a long shot. California had pretty average precipitation this winter, a little above average in the north. Now there’s snow in the mountains and many of the reservoirs are full. But the state started out deep in water debt. To pay back that debt, California needs to refill its aquifers and replace all the groundwater we pumped out over the last few years.

Just to the east of California, in Arizona and New Mexico, it’s still very dry. After those storms in late summer and fall, “it just dried out completely, so our snowpack cratered,” said John Fleck, writer in residence at the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program. In the mountains of the Southwest, snow has been sublimating; that is, the snow simply disappears into the air instead of melting into the rivers.

Things improved in the Northwest — Washington, Oregon, and Idaho got the kind of precipitation that California and the Southwest needed. So the drought isn’t going away: It’s just slumping out of the Northwest and into the Southwest.


This could be part of a long-term trend. Climate change is making the region drier. To be precise, climate change is making the region hotter, and that means less snow in the mountains, and less meltwater trickling into the ground and keeping rivers flowing through the summer, which ultimately means that things are drier.

So how screwed is the West? Actually, not so screwed. Humans are just tremendously adaptive, Fleck points out. We’re darn good at figuring out tricks for getting by on less water. In the past, we’ve treated water the way we treat gigabytes today — as a cheap, plentiful resource. We’ve got a lot of room to make easy improvements.

So don’t worry. You’ll get your next Kevin Hart vehicle, and your Tinder for wombats, not to mention your avocados and almonds.

Other quick updates:


If you aren’t asking if humans are screwed, but instead inquiring about fish and forests, then … yeah. Those guys are hooped.

In California, record low river flows left 18 fish species wriggling on the brink of extinction. And thousands upon thousands of trees died, according to Ellen Hanak, director of the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California. “We didn’t have a good game plan,” Hanak said. “We need to figure out where it is most important to really focus water.” If we better understood the low-water points that put various species in trouble, she said, governments could purchase water and increase flows at key places.

Dry wells

A little more than 2,000 wells went dry in California, primarily in Tulare County, where groundwater levels have been dropping for the last 50 years. People have been living off bottled water. But the real cause of these dry taps was inequality, not drought, as Laura Bliss showed in this excellent series. The houses that went dry are mostly in unincorporated communities that planners hoped would disappear if they cut off services; instead, these communities became refuges for the poor. Now California has better legal carrots and sticks to get local governments to push water out to those houses — and it’s happening now. Some 1,000 of the 2,000 dry taps are now flowing.


North-south disparity

Reservoirs are full in Northern California, but still pretty empty in much of Southern California. In theory, water users in the south could buy water from the north, but that’s not going to happen. All water moving from north to south has to be pumped through the delta above the San Francisco Bay, and the pumps are already maxed out. There’s a plan underway to circumvent the delta bottleneck with pipes and tunnels — the Bay Delta Project — but it’s controversial, expensive, and mired in very tricky politics.

Low water years are nothing new in the West. But low precipitation combined with steadily rising temperatures are forcing people to cut down on wasteful practices. We’re adapting! Or at least rich and middle-class humans are adapting. The most vulnerable people, as well the most vulnerable ecosystems, will need help to adjust to the changing climate. We’ve started on that, but this drought has shown we’re still far behind.

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Water flows in Fresno, Visalia for recharge

APRIL 18, 2016 6:02 PM

First time in two years that Friant contractors have received San Joaquin River water

More will flow due to allocation from Bureau of Reclamation

Millerton Lake water put into canals to make room for melting snow


Water is flowing in Packwood Creek in Visalia for the first time in five years. The water is being used for groundwater recharge. LEWIS GRISWOLD


    For the first time in more than two years, water is flowing inside the Friant-Kern and Madera canals for groundwater recharge and farm irrigation.

    But the shimmering liquid that is being shunted from the canals into local ditches does not signal an end to the California drought.

    “We’re a long way from the drought being over,” said Gary Serrato, general manager of Fresno Irrigation District. “The snowpack is not even at average. We’re at 75 to 80 percent of average snowpack.”

    San Joaquin River water became available to eastside water contractors because the federal Bureau of Reclamation has been releasing water from Millerton Lake into the canals to make room for spring snowmelt.


    Gary Serrato, Fresno Irrigation District

    The flows began mid-March – in bureau parlance, the delivery is composed of 100,000 acre-feet of Class 2 water and 85,000 acre-feet of unreleased restoration flows – and will end by mid-May.

    But it’s not the end of San Joaquin River water in local waterways this season.

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