Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

How a Petaluma Safeway controversy kicked off the spread of gas station bans across the Bay Area


A movement that began with specific concerns about a station near a school campus in Petaluma is spreading beyond the North Bay.

When Pinole made news last month for being the first East Bay city to ban new gas stations, the small community of 18,000 was tapping into a trend that has been spreading through the Bay Area for the last three years.

It all started when Petaluma became the first city in the country to ban new gas stations in 2021. But the activists who originally launched that first effort had no idea it would turn into a movement — in fact, JoAnn McEachin, a Petaluma resident who helped start the group NoGasHere a decade ago, says she had no intention of becoming an activist at the time, and she wasn’t even opposed to new gas stations in general.

Her issue was with a 16-pump gas station that had been proposed by the supermarket chain Safeway in 2013. Petaluma, a North Bay city of 60,000 residents, already had 16 gas stations, but her specific issue was with its location — the grocer was looking to build on the corner of McDowell Boulevard and Maria Drive, just across the street from a campus that housed an elementary school, a child development center and a preschool.

McEachin believed being upwind from the roughly 2,000 vehicles it was estimated would drive in and out of the station per day would put the children at risk of poor air quality. She connected with a group of other concerned residents — many of them local moms — who rallied together to form NoGasHere, bringing skills from their day jobs as lawyers, marketing professionals, teachers and administrative assistants to their cause.

“(Safeway) pissed off a lot of women,” said McEachin. “It makes my blood boil when I think about it.”


Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

US overhauls electric grid to make way for more renewables

Valerie Volcovivi, REUTERS

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday approved the first major electric transmission policy update in over a decade that aims to speed up new interregional lines to move more clean energy to meet growing demand amid the explosion of electric vehicles, data centers and artificial intelligence.

Approved in a 2-1 vote, the new rule is also the first time the FERC has ever squarely addressed the need for long-term transmission planning, playing a key role in helping meet the Biden administration’s goal of decarbonizing the economy by 2050 and making the grid more resilient to more frequent climate-fueled extreme weather events.

“This rule cannot come fast enough,” FERC Chairman Willie Phillips, who voted for the final rule. “There is an urgent need to act to ensure the reliability and the affordability of our grid.”

“We are at a transformational moment for the electric grid with phenomenal load growth,” he added, citing the surge in domestic manufacturing, proliferation of data centers, and the surge in extreme weather events that have pushed the country’s ageing infrastructure to its limits.

FERC has been working for nearly two years on the rule to reform how new electric transmission gets approved and paid for, with new requirements for moving electricity across states and covering the costs of new projects.


Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , , ,

Number of Sonoma County farms affected by proposed ‘factory farming’ ordinance is in dispute


Sometime this year, an initiative aiming to curtail factory farming will appear on local ballots. Its authors frame it as a ban on cruel and unsanitary industrial farms. The local agricultural industry calls it a backdoor attack on the consumption of meat.

The ballot measure, which would be the first of its kind in any American county, raises huge questions relating to financial cost, regulation and Sonoma County’s appetite for animal flesh. The Board of Supervisors will listen to presentations from department heads on the potential economic fallout Tuesday.

For now, the two sides are at odds over a seemingly simple question: How many Sonoma County farms would be directly affected if the measure passes?

Six months ago, Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Dayna Ghirardelli said on KRSH Radio’s “From Farm to Table” show that it would affect “most of our local dairy and poultry operations.”


Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

Dozens of sheep take to Petaluma streets on Saturday during annual Transhumance Festival


As livestock drives go, this one was … different.

Pushed by ranchers on a quad, and kept in line by a pair of highly concerned dogs, a flock of about 65 sheep mobbed down urban East D Street in Petaluma on Saturday morning. They scooted in front of houses, parked cars and spectators — some delighted, some perplexed — and past an out-of-session day care center, the offices of the Burdell Building and Willibee’s Wine & Spirits.

The woolly animals started inside a small pen at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds and wound up at Steamer Landing, where they joined about 600 of their brethren that were already feasting on grasses at the park.

This was the sixth annual Transhumance Festival in Petaluma — “transhumance” refers to seasonal movement of livestock between mountain and lowland pastures — but the first since Petaluma launched a citywide grazing program in partnership with Two Rock Land Management last year.

“We hope to see this implemented in the rest of our county cities,” said Sarah Keiser, who helps the city with coordination, planning and management of the grazing program. “Regional Parks and some county sites do grazing, but Petaluma is the only city. Community members love it. It’s a really great experience for everyone to see this happening, and watch how it transitions our landscape.”


Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , ,

Federal judge: Russian River dam releases are violating Endangered Species Act


A federal judge ruled Monday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has violated the Endangered Species Act by disturbing salmon populations through flood-control releases from Coyote Valley Dam into the Russian River.

Those releases, which relieve pressure upstream from the 66-year-old dam during rainy months, kick up sediment from the bottom of Lake Mendocino, a reservoir that serves as critical water storage for Sonoma County.

The sediment increases turbidity in the river that harms and harasses coho and chinook salmon and steelhead trout in violation of the Endangered Species Act’s mandate to protect the imperiled species, U.S. District Court of Northern California Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled.

Corley ruled on a lawsuit brought by Sean White, who has spent much of his career involved in the Russian River in one way or another, serving as general manager of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District before moving in 2015 to direct sewage and water services for the city of Ukiah.

White brought the lawsuit as a private citizen. The Endangered Species Act, one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, allows for citizens to sue governments, businesses or individuals they believe to be violating the act.


Posted on Categories Habitats, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

Fulton nursery a go-to spot for native plants


Cal-Flora Nursery in Fulton
California Native Plant Society – Milo Baker Chapter

The showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae) that grows east of the Rockies is a large wild orchid that reaches up to 30 inches tall, with 3- to 4-inch-long, slipperlike flowers of rose pink. They don’t grow around here. But their distant cousins do, and they look very different.

Our Sonoma County summer fog calls forth these plants where the redwoods grow tall and human activity is at a minimum. In these conditions, the forest floor may be sprinkled with them. The jewel-like pink fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa) grow only 2 to 4 inches tall and produce 1- to 2-inch “slippers” that only fairy feet could fit.

Why such a difference among woodland orchids? You might think that our mild climate and rich woodland soils would yield orchids even larger than those back east where winter locks up the soil in ice for nearly half the year.

The answer is our summer drought, where it rarely rains from June to October. Plants native to our Mediterranean climate, as it’s called, have evolved to deal with the dry season. Some, like the California fuchsia (Zauschneria californica) have amped up drought tolerance to astonishing levels, blooming furiously in late summer despite not having a drink for months. Some simply shut down their green, vegetative parts and turn dry and brown, sending their roots to sleep until rain returns, or overwinter as seeds fallen to the ground.


Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

‘Toothless, vague, limited to hopeful intentions’: Judge upends Sonoma Developmental Center plans


A judge delivered a stunning setback to Sonoma County planners Friday, upending the approval of plans for the redevelopment of Sonoma Developmental Center.

It’s a decision that could stall, at least temporarily, a proposal to turn the 133-year-old campus into a residential and commercial community.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Bradford DeMeo, weighing a lawsuit filed by a coalition of Sonoma Valley citizens groups, ruled the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to clearly define the number of housing units allowed; address the cumulative impacts of a pending project at neighboring Hanna Center; respond to community concerns in the draft environmental impact report; and adequately gauge impacts on biological resources and wildfire evacuation.

Glen Ellen residents have been voicing those concerns loudly and frequently for several years. However, they have found little traction in convincing the county or the California Department of General Services, which is overseeing the sale of the state-owned site, which at 945 acres is one of the largest redevelopment projects in Sonoma County.

DeMeo’s ruling now resets the conversation and gives hope to community members who have been advocating for a scaled-down project at SDC, rather than the 1,000-housing-unit plan put forth by developers Keith Rogal and the Grupe Company.


Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , , ,

Op-Ed: The growing threat of the biomass energy industry


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Update – good news on legislation!

We need to understand the insidious, growing threat of the biomass energy industry, specifically forest-based bioenergy. Bioenergy turns forests into electricity, liquid biofuels, and fuel pellets for export on the international market. Touted as renewable, it is not clean, renewable or carbon neutral. It is devastating to human health and communities, to forests, watersheds, and wildlife habitat, and only worsens the climate crisis.

Golden State Natural Resources (GSNR) plans to build two massive fuel pellet processing plants in Tuolumne and Lassen counties, targeting 1 million tons of wood pellets per year for export, via the port of Stockton, to Europe and Asia. On June 30, 2023, 109 organizations, including scientists, doctors, environmentalists and others, wrote to GSNR vehemently opposing the project because of its potential impacts to climate, communities, and forests.

On February 28, 2024, GSNR ratified an MOU with the giant UK energy company Drax, the second largest biomass energy company in the world. Drax already runs 18 fuel pellet plants in the USA and Canada. Now it is targeting California, which has 33 million acres of forests.

In a shocking exposé of Drax in October 22, the BBC revealed that Drax is responsible for the destruction of millions of acres of mature and old growth trees in Canada and southeast USA. The company’s assertions that it uses only waste wood were proven to be false. Drax is by far the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the UK. It is subsidized by UK taxpayers to the tune of around £1.4 billion (about $1.8 billion) in subsidies up until last year.

Continue reading “Op-Ed: The growing threat of the biomass energy industry”

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

Napa Green’s glyphosate ban underscores controversy behind Sonoma County’s ‘certified sustainable’ vineyards


95% of Sonoma County’s Vineyards are certified-sustainable. Here’s why that’s controversial.

When Napa Green announced it would require its members to phase out the herbicide Roundup by 2026, some wondered if the move signaled broader wine industry change.

The announcement came last November from the Napa-based nonprofit, which provides sustainable winegrowing certification to vineyards in Napa Valley.

In California’s wine industry, Napa Green’s move to phase out Roundup (and glufosinate ammonium by 2028) was seen as a breakthrough.

It is the first sustainability certification specifically for U.S. vineyards to regulate the herbicide, though other organizations, such as the California Certified Organic Farmers, Regenerative Organic Alliance and Demeter Biodynamic, also prohibit Roundup across other areas of agriculture.

But other wine organizations have yet to follow suit.


Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , , ,

Op-Ed: Diversion won’t guarantee a healthy Russian River

Don McEnhill and Ed Burdett, PRESS DEMOCRAT

When PG&E announced that it would remove Scott and Cape Horn dams on the Eel River as part of the Potter Valley hydroelectric project decommissioning, it put a continuing water diversion to the Russian River in question.

A Press Democrat editorial praised Eel and Russian River stakeholders coming together to endorse the possibility of a new fish friendly diversion from the Eel River (“Progress toward water security,” March 27), and we at Russian Riverkeeper concur. However, a continued diversion from the Eel River is not a solution in and of itself when it comes to ensuring long-term water reliability in the upper Russian River watershed. A continued diversion will not solve all the region’s water issues.

Russian Riverkeeper, a Healdsburg-based nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to ensure that river water is drinkable, swimmable, fishable and equitably shared, is supportive of the effort to create a wintertime diversion that allows salmon and Pacific lamprey in the Eel River maximum recovery potential, while still making surplus flows available to the Russian.
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The Russian River in Monte Rio on Feb. 5. (BETH SCHLANKER / The Press Democrat)
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At the same time, we don’t advocate putting all our eggs in one basket by solely relying on a diversion from another river.