End of the road for diesel?

David Welch, BLOOMBERG

…diesel will probably be relegated only to a hard-working class of vehicles. While hybrid electric cars can save fuel as effectively as a diesel sedan, and Tesla’s electric cars can offer plenty of zip for motoring enthusiasts, no technology gives the towing power needed for big work trucks like diesel.

It’s easy to imagine diesel will die in America. The troubles that started almost two years ago with the emissions scandal at Volkswagen AG just keep rolling on and on. With General Motors Co. now confronting a class-action lawsuit over 700,000 diesel trucks, there’s growing sense across the auto industry that the days of diesel cars are numbered, at least in the U.S.

GM calls the allegations of emission-test cheating baseless, and the lawsuit stops short of claiming a breach of clean-air regulations. But increasingly, analysts are wondering who will be willing to buy diesel cars and trucks given that many in the industry have been accused of fudging pollution standards. More to the point, how many carmakers will be willing to keep making them?

“This is accelerating the demise,” said Kevin Tynan, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “We were never into them anyway, and with alternatives like hybrids and electric vehicles, there just isn’t much of a reason to sell them.”

GM is just the latest automaker to face a civil lawsuit claiming that its diesel engines use software to meet clean-air rules while the engines pollute at higher levels. The law firm suing GM, Hagens Berman, has also sued Daimler AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Volkswagen, which must pay $24.5 billion in government penalties and consumer givebacks for cheating on diesel emissions.

Read more at: GM Suit Digs a Deeper Grave for Diesel – Bloomberg

Filed under Air, Transportation

Sonoma County Winegrowers says its wines can be ‘100% Sustainable’ by 2019. What does this mean? 

Larrissa Zimberoff, CIVIL EATS

The world-famous wine-producing county has a five-year goal of certifying all its vineyards as sustainable—but with pesticides including Roundup allowed under the program, their definition of sustainable is controversial.

Wine is usually a fun topic, but in the Golden State, the fourth-largest wine-producing region in the world, it’s also big business: 85 percent of domestic wine comes from over 600,000 acres of grapes grown in California. Operating at this scale means the wine business must also consider land stewardship.

Two of the state’s biggest and best-known wine counties—the neighboring communities of Napa, which has more vintners, and Sonoma, which has more growers—are both working toward achieving goals of 100 percent sustainability within the next few years.

What does it mean if a vineyard claims its grapes are “sustainably certified”? Definitions of the term are wide-ranging, and, unlike the concrete rules of USDA Organic certification, few farming products are expressly banned, and there isn’t one comprehensive list of standards.

Both counties have been lauded for their progress—after Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) in 2014 launched a goal to reach 100 percent certified sustainable, the county has reached 60 percent certified, while Napa County is at 50 percent. But if you peel back the label, you’ll find controversy brewing.

SCW uses three defining principles to determine sustainability: Is it environmentally sound, is it economically feasible, and is it socially equitable? The topics covered under those principles are vast––water quality and conservation, energy efficiency, material handling, pest, soil and waste management, ecosystem, community relations, and human resources.

Despite the goal of having every grape grower in the county earn the certification, SCW is facing resistance from farmers who don’t want to be told how to operate, as well as growers and winemakers using organic practices who oppose the fact that others in their field can still claim they’re “sustainable” while also using the controversial weed killer Roundup (a.k.a. glyphosate) and other synthetic pesticides.

Of Sonoma County’s million-plus acres, 6 percent of available land—58,000 acres—is planted with grapes. Between 1,400 and 1,500 growers farm that 6 percent of land; 85 percent of those growers are family-owned and operated, and 40 percent are operations of 20 acres or less.

This means that if you grow grapes in Sonoma, you know your neighbors, you’ve probably been in the business for a few generations, and you pay dues to the SCW based on tons of grapes sold. Grape growers vote to assess their grape sales every five years, and the resulting money––currently about $1.1 million a year––goes to operating the commission. If you don’t sell grapes, or your winery uses its own grapes, you don’t pay.

In 2013, Karissa Kruse, the president of SCW, received an email from Duff Bevill, both a Sonoma grape grower and a 1,000-plus acre vineyard manager. “Karissa,” he wrote, “what would it take to get Governor Jerry Brown to recognize Sonoma County grape growers as sustainable, and to recognize us as leaders?” While Sonoma was an early adopter of sustainability, county assessments were all over the map, so Bevill’s question was apt. Kruse, who also owns a vineyard, thought, “Holy crap. How do I respond?”

Kruse first brought up the goal of 100-percent sustainability at an SCW board retreat. Dale Petersen, a grower from a multi-generational Sonoma family and the vineyard manager of Silver Oak Cellars, recalled: “She pitched it to a group of farmers and we looked at her and we looked at each other.

”The reception was lukewarm at best. No farmer relished being told what to do. Eventually the board of directors approved it, and officially declared the goal at the January 2014 annual meeting, which typically sees around 500 growers in attendance. Despite the overarching decree, countywide sustainability is still a voluntary commitment.

Read more at: Sonoma County Says its Wines Can Be ‘100% Sustainable’ By 2019. Is That Enough? | Civil Eats

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Shamrock sold to Vulcan Materials

Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Petaluma-based Shamrock Materials, started six decades ago and one of the largest suppliers of concrete and paving materials to North Bay contractors, has been sold to giant Alabama-based construction-materials company.

With Shamrock, Vulcan Materials (NYSE: VMC) picked up concrete, rock, sand and gravel facilities in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties, company spokeswoman Atisthan Roach said. That includes ready-mix plants in San Rafael, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Cloverdale and Napa; building-materials sites in Cotati and San Rafael; and a materials depot on Landing Way along the Petaluma River.

The Shamrock deal, signed March 20, was one of three acquisitions in California and Tennessee that Birmingham, Ala.-based Vulcan closed in the first quarter of this year for $185.1 million, according to Roach and regulatory filings. Further financial details weren’t disclosed.

“This acquisition has provided us a way to get into ready-mix right there in California,” Roach said about Shamrock.

Vulcan is the nation’s largest producer of aggregate rock for construction and California’s largest asphalt supplier. The company also is a major player in supplying ready-mixed concrete in Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the Bahamas.

Read more at: Shamrock Materials sold to Vulcan | The North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Local Organizations, Sustainable Living

Caltrain electrification grant approved by feds

Casey Tolan and Katy Murphy, THE MERCURY NEWS

The grant had divided California’s congressional delegation. Republicans opposed it, arguing it would help the state’s high-speed rail project while Democrats vocally supported the grant.

In a stunning reversal, the Federal Transit Administration said Monday that it will approve a $647 million grant to electrify Caltrain tracks, nearly doubling capacity on the overburdened San Jose to San Francisco commute route.

The approval comes after months of delays and worries by Caltrain officials and Bay Area leaders that the Trump administration would cancel the grant. If the funding hadn’t been approved by June 30, the $2 billion track electrification project would have lost key construction contracts.

The electrification work will mean faster and more reliable trains on a 51-mile stretch of the Caltrain corridor along the Peninsula, offering more than 110,000 rides per day, up from 60,000. The project will also create 10,000 jobs in California and around the country. The first electric trains are expected to be in service by early 2021, if not sooner, and construction on the project should start in 60 to 90 days.

“This news, quite clearly, is electrifying,” said Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino. “This is all the major holidays wrapped into one with a beautiful Caltrain bow around it.”

Bay Area officials have been advocating for the electrification project for decades, and the federal grant was near its final approval under the Obama administration. But after Donald Trump took office, Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao declined to sign off on it.

Read more at: Caltrain electrification grant approved by feds

Filed under Transportation

Petaluma Boulevard South road diet fully funded

Crissy Pascual and Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Petaluma is in line to receive an infusion of regional transportation funding, which could help complete projects including a narrowing of Petaluma Boulevard South and a bike path along the SMART train tracks.

The $3.5 million for Petaluma is part of a $26 million countywide funding package announced by the Sonoma County Transportation Authority last week. Most of the funding comes from federal gas tax, though the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s One Bay Area Grant, vehicle license fees and state sales tax.

The road diet will extend work already completed on Petaluma Boulevard. The road has been narrowed from Lakeville Street to E Street. With the new funding, Petaluma Boulevard South will go from four to two lanes from E Street to the round about at Crystal Lane in the Quarry Heights development.

Petaluma’s Deputy Director of Public Works Larry Zimmer said that the project is fully approved and fully funded. The money is expected in the 2018 funding cycle and construction is expected to begin in 2019 and take about one year to complete.

“We got the complete ask,” he said. “It’s wonderful. The great thing about getting the full construction money is now we can do the full project.”

Read more at: Petaluma Boulevard South road diet funded | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Transportation

State monitors domoic acid on coast

HALF MOON BAY REVIEW

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham is extending the emergency commercial rock crab fishery closure for areas north of Bodega Bay, which was due to expire May 16. Meanwhile, all crab — Dungeness and rock — is deemed safe to eat south of the North Bay.

State health agencies determined last fall that rock crabs north of Pigeon Point to the Oregon border had unhealthy levels of domoic acid and recommended a commercial fishery closure. Subsequently, Bonham submitted an emergency rule to close the commercial rock crab fishery north of Pigeon Point. That authority is new to the director this year.

Following new recommendations of state health agencies, the CDFW director announced on Feb. 10 that the open area of the commercial rock crab fishery had been extended northward to Bodega Bay in Sonoma County. CDFW is continuing to work closely with state health agencies to monitor levels of domoic acid in rock crabs and other species not affected by this closure.

This closure shall remain in effect until the director of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, in consultation with the Department of Public Health, determines that domoic acid levels no longer pose a significant risk to public health and recommends the fishery be open.

The recreational fishery for rock crab remained open statewide, but the California Department of Public Health issued a warning to avoid consuming the viscera of rock crab caught in the closure area. As a precaution, state authorities recommend avoiding the viscera in Dungeness crab as well.

State officials continue to test domoic acid levels in crab along the coast to determine when the fishery can safely be opened.Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin produced by a naturally occurring marine alga. Those levels can be increased under certain ocean conditions.

Source: State monitors domoic acid on coast | Local News Stories | hmbreview.com

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

New report says California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction in 50 years

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Fish in Hot Water” report includes a road map for addressing the threats to California’s native fish, including restoration and protection of critical habitats, such as spring-fed rivers, flood plains and estuaries as well as river system headwaters.

Read the report here: http://www.caltrout.org/sos

On a tree-shaded bend in Dutch Bill Creek at Monte Rio, three technicians from the Sonoma County Water Agency huddled on a gravel bar to examine the day’s catch, all in the name of science and a sustained campaign to restore one of California’s most endangered fish.

Retrieving 163 coho salmon smolts, or young fish, from a wooden fish trap set in knee-deep, clear flowing water, the crew bathed the four- to six-inch salmon in a bucket of Alka-Seltzer solution, briefly numbing them for easier handling.

The technicians measured, weighed and counted the year-old, hatchery-bred fish before releasing them to continue a perilous journey to the nearby Russian River and out to the Pacific Ocean.

If the young coho, swimming mostly by night to evade predators, make it to the ocean and grow to adulthood, they may in about 18 months return to the Russian River and be counted once again before they spawn and die.

There’s a lot riding on the coho completing their short, human-assisted life cycle.Nearly half of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout — 14 out of 31 species — are facing extinction in 50 years under current conditions, according to a scientific study released last week.

Another nine species are likely to vanish in 100 years unless steps are taken to address threats such as low water flows, pollution, urban growth, dams and degraded habitat, exacerbated by the recent drought and climate change, the 106-page report by the conservation nonprofit California Trout and the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences said.

Read more at: California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction, with climate change a major cause | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Endangered Species Day: Inside the effort to kill the Endangered Species Act

Christopher Ketcham, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

During the past five months Republicans have introduced 25 proposals to skirt, hamper, defang, or undermine endangered species protections. These include bills to amend the ESA to abandon its requirement to use “best available science” in listing decisions and to hand oversight of some of the law’s key management and decision-making provisions to state governments historically hostile to the act.

The Crow tribespeople call the grizzly bear their ancestor, the Elder Brother who protects their home, which is the land.

They have grizzly bear songs, grizzly dances, grizzly names for their children, grizzly lullabies that women sing to infants, and grizzly spirits that guide warrior societies and guard tepees, transform into human beings, and beguile their daughters.

Critics say the ESA is ineffective because so many species remain on the list, but supporters say that is exactly what illustrates its enormous success. Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife.

So when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service said that grizzly populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—encompassing portions of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho—would be removed from the U.S. government’s endangered species list this year and opened for hunting, I traveled to Montana to meet the chairman of the Crow Nation, A. J. Not Afraid, who has lobbied to stop the delisting.

We stood on a promontory in the Big Horn Mountains called Pretty Eagle Point, where Not Afraid showed me the grizzly habitat on the 2.3-million-acre reservation. In the distance there were snowbound peaks where grizzlies in summer eat army cutworm moths, and broad plateaus where the bears graze the grass and dig for grubs.

There were forests of fir and pine, watersheds feeding the streams that over millions of years carved the dark chasms of Big Horn Canyon and Black Canyon, where the bears like to amble in the rushing flow looking for fish.

Not Afraid, 43, had testified before Congress a few weeks before my April visit. He said he believed that delisting the grizzly would be a calamity for the animal.

He said that grizzly populations in the region did not appear to have recovered since being protected 42 years ago, as the Fish and Wildlife Service claimed, that Crows hardly ever see them anymore on the reservation, and that the trophy hunting unleashed with delisting would be an affront to tribes that hold the creature sacred.

“Fall of 2013 was the last time I saw a grizzly,” he said. He was hunting elk. There was a buffalo carcass on a slope where the bear had been feeding. The bear passed before him at a lope, 50 yards away. He recalled the vision sadly. “Because of the decrease in grizzlies, we encounter them only every few years now.”

Read more at: Inside the Effort to Kill the Endangered Species Act, Savior of Bald Eagles and Gray Wolves

Filed under Habitats, Land Use, Wildlife

Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit 

John Sammon, LEGAL NEWSLINE

Two Sonoma County vintners received a judgment in favor of their proposed wine making operation when an appeal by the Sierra Club was turned back by the state’s 1st Appellate District Court of Appeals.

The court found in favor of the defendants Ronald and Ernest Ohlson, operators of the Ohlson Ranch, who applied for a permit to turn grazing land on their property into a grape vineyard. The Agricultural Commissioner of Sonoma County (commissioner) issued the permit after making a determination the issuance was a “ministerial” act, and therefore exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards.

The commissioner’s decision was challenged by the Sierra Club, Friends of Gualala River and the Center for Biological Diversity, who asked for a writ of mandate, a court order to an agency or court to follow the law by correcting a previous action (issuing the permit).

Before the year 2000, grape growers in Sonoma County could plant vineyards without government review or permission.. Since then, new directives have been added, including submitting plans to address erosion controls, proper grading, drainage and other safeguards.

The Ohlsons filed an application in 2013 to turn 108 acres out of 132 acres of range land into a vineyard. The property included wetlands and marshy depressions but no trees or streams. Erosion was to be controlled by the use of anchoring grass, mulch, filter strips and cover crops.

Read more at: Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit | Legal Newsline

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

State launches Sonoma Developmental Center ‘site assessment’ 

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

See the Transform SDC website for community and nonprofit input on what should be done with the SDC site and this Sonoma Land Trust article on the importance of the wildlife corridor through the site.

After what has sometimes seemed like an interminable delay, the wheels are starting to turn on the rollout toward closure of the Sonoma Develomental Center.

At least that’s how it looks now that the state Department of General Services has announced that a $2 million contract has been signed with a Bay Area engineering firm to perform a “site assessment” of the 860-acre SDC campus for use after the closure of the facility, scheduled for the end of 2018.San Francisco-based Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) entered the contract with the state in mid-April. The first step will be a “kick-off meeting” and team introduction, with the goal to develop a project schedule and define areas of responsibility and research for WRT and its subcontractors.

That meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon, May 15, at the Slater Building on the SDC property. A final report of the group’s assessments is due in late December, after a number of intermediary benchmarks.

1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who’s also on the leadership team of the Coalition to Preserve SDC, said she’s “anxious” to work with the site assessment team and help facilitate community meetings so “they can fully gauge the community’s concerns, interests in eventual reuse of the campus and constraints to development.”

Read more at: State launches Sonoma Developmental Center ‘site assessment’ | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Filed under Habitats, Land Use, Local Organizations, Wildlife