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Owner of Healdsburg’s Wilson Winery hit with $56,000 in pollution fines

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Healdsburg vintner with a history of breaking environmental laws agreed Thursday to pay about $56,000 for an illegal burn in 2016 that drew a large emergency response and violated air quality regulations.
Ken Wilson, co-owner of the namesake Wilson Winery and nine other boutique wineries, was fined for burning 31 debris piles over several days on his Shiloh Road property in Windsor.
The piles, created while clearing land for vineyard development, exceeded the size allowed by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and contained material that was not properly dried. The fires had the potential to grow out of control, prosecutors said.
“The quick response from our fire agencies prevented the spread of fire to other properties in the area,” Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in a written statement.
Wilson, who was sentenced to jail time in 2002 for allowing soil erosion into a tributary of the Russian River, called the incident an “unfortunate thing.” He said it stemmed from his confusion over differences in the rules governing burning in Windsor and Healdsburg.
Read more at: Owner of Healdsburg’s Wilson Winery hit with $56,000 in pollution fines | The Press Democrat

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Santa Rosa suspends new BoDean asphalt contract to speed resolution of dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa is holding up a nearly $800,000 contract with a local asphalt plant until its owners comply with laws the city says it has violated going back a decade.
The City Council approved a new contract with BoDean Co. Tuesday but suspended its execution until the company resolves several outstanding building code and permit violations on its Maxwell Drive property.
The council took the unusual step even though city staff warned that it would prevent the city from utilizing the most convenient local source of asphalt during the height of the summer road construction season.
Read more at: Santa Rosa suspends new BoDean asphalt contract to speed resolution of dispute | The Press Democrat

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Carbon in atmosphere is rising, even as emissions stabilize 

Justin Gillis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Scientists say their inability to know for certain is a reflection not just of the scientific difficulty of the problem, but also of society’s failure to invest in an adequate monitoring system to keep up with the profound changes humans are wreaking on the planet.

CAPE GRIM, Tasmania — On the best days, the wind howling across this rugged promontory has not touched land for thousands of miles, and the arriving air seems as if it should be the cleanest in the world.

But on a cliff above the sea, inside a low-slung government building, a bank of sophisticated machines sniffs that air day and night, revealing telltale indicators of the way human activity is altering the planet on a major scale.

For more than two years, the monitoring station here, along with its counterparts across the world, has been flashing a warning: The excess carbon dioxide scorching the planet rose at the highest rate on record in 2015 and 2016. A slightly slower but still unusual rate of increase has continued into 2017.

Scientists are concerned about the cause of the rapid rises because, in one of the most hopeful signs since the global climate crisis became widely understood in the 1980s, the amount of carbon dioxide that people are pumping into the air seems to have stabilized in recent years, at least judging from the data that countries compile on their own emissions.

That raises a conundrum: If the amount of the gas that people are putting out has stopped rising, how can the amount that stays in the air be going up faster than ever? Does it mean the natural sponges that have been absorbing carbon dioxide are now changing?

“To me, it’s a warning,” said Josep G. Canadell, an Australian climate scientist who runs the Global Carbon Project, a collaboration among several countries to monitor emissions trends.

Read more at: Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize – The New York Times

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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

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California environmental leaders, lawmakers gird for fight against President Trump 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Restoring salmon in the Russian River and protecting the North Coast from oil rigs — two long-standing campaigns with broad public support — are among the goals likely to be challenged if not stifled by the sharp right turn of Donald Trump’s administration, environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers said.
More broadly, the environmental camp fears that landmark legislation, including laws that protect endangered species, clean air and water, are imperiled by Republican control of the House and Senate with an avid deregulation partner in the White House.
The harbingers, they say, include Trump’s trail of tweets and speeches asserting that climate change is a hoax and his post-election appointments of a California water district lobbyist and a prominent climate change denier to head his transition teams at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, respectively.
Even if Republicans and their allies can’t roll back environmental laws they have long targeted — asserting they harm economic development — the GOP will have nearly unlimited control of national policy and can weaken environmental programs by turning off the cash spigot.
The Sonoma County Water Agency, for example, has received more than $15 million in federal grants in the last four years for a host of water-quality and Russian River watershed projects, including salmon habitat restoration on Dry Creek near Healdsburg, as well as operation of the fish hatchery at nearby Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma.
Under President Trump, such programs may not favor as well in budget allocations, local lawmakers and others fear.
Read more at: California environmental leaders, lawmakers gird for fight against President Trump | The Press Democrat

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Grants available to replace wood-burning heating devices 

BAY CITY NEWS, via KRON
Money will be available starting Friday morning for roughly 1,500 Bay Area homeowners and landlords to help them upgrade their wood-burning heating devices with cleaner ones to reduce winter air pollution, officials with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said today.
The program will open at 10 a.m. at http://www.baaqmd.gov/woodsmokegrant and (415) 749-5195.
Homeowners and landlords can apply online or call the phone number to give information to someone who will fill out the online application for the person, spokesman Tom Flannigan said.
The money is available on a first-come, first-served basis, air district officials said.Landlords and homeowners can install an electric heat pump or natural gas or propane stove or insert, which looks like a gas stove but is installed inside a fireplace.
“This program is really about removing wood burning devices from our region,” Flannigan said.The cleaner devices are designed to be the home’s chief heating source.
Read more at: Grants available to replace wood-burning heating devices | KRON4.com

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How Utah coal interests helped push a secret plan to export coal through California 

Sarah Tory, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
On June 27, hundreds of people packed the Oakland City Council meeting where a proposal to ban the transport of coal through the California city was up for a vote. Speakers on both sides of the issue delivered passionate arguments, pitting the promise of good jobs in a depressed area against concern about environmental impacts. The meeting quickly became rowdy. “There was a lot of tension,” says Rev. Ken Chambers, pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in West Oakland, who spoke in support of the ban. Pro-coal supporters stationed in the audience heckled him throughout his address, and at times, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the council president, struggled to maintain order.
“Officers,” she requested, “please escort those persons who continue to have disrespectful outbursts outside of the chamber.”
The vote came after more than a year of heated debate over plans to build a marine terminal, from which coal mined in Utah could be shipped to Asia. The proposed terminal was part of a larger redevelopment project slated for the old Oakland Army Base, located in West Oakland, a predominantly black neighborhood that’s among the region’s poorest and most polluted.
One by one, the seven council members present voted to uphold the ban on transporting coal. The decision was finalized by a second vote on July 19, leaving the proposed $250 million project in limbo.  Without coal as one of the terminal’s possible bulk commodities, proponents warned, it would be at risk of losing critical funding — depriving an economically struggling neighborhood of job opportunities. Critics of the plan, however, worried that transporting millions of tons of coal by rail  — even in covered cars — through West Oakland poses a public health and safety risk to local residents, who already experience high levels of air pollution.
The decision — and the wider controversy around it — places Oakland at the center of a growing battle over coal exports on the West Coast. From British Columbia all the way to California, plans for new export terminals are faltering, thanks to opposition from local communities concerned about climate change and the environmental impacts of fossil fuel development.
Read more at: How Utah coal interests helped push a secret plan to export coal from California — High Country News

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Study shows that the ozone hole over Antarctica is beginning to heal, thanks in part to a global treaty

Amar Toor, THE VERGE
The ozone hole over the Antarctic has begun to heal, according to a new study, more than 30 years after its discovery. The findings suggest that global efforts to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals have been effective, though scientists still aren’t entirely sure about what’s driving the ozone hole’s recovery.
The study, published in the journal Science, combines data gathered from balloons and satellites to measure the area of the ozone layer over Antarctica from 2000 to 2015. Since 2000, the paper reports, the size of the ozone hole over Antarctica shrank by about 4 million square kilometers — an area equivalent to about half of the contiguous United States. Using computer simulations to account for changes in wind and temperature, the study’s authors estimate that about half of its reduction can be attributed to a decline in levels of the ozone-depleting gases chlorine and bromine.
The stratospheric ozone layer protects Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV-B) rays, which can cause skin cancer and cataracts in humans, and physiological damage in animals and plants.
Faced with growing evidence of ozone depletion, governments in 1987 ratified the Montreal Protocol, a global treaty that aimed to phase out the production of harmful chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). At the time, CFCs were used in hairspray, aerosol cans, and refrigerators. A single CFC molecule can last for between 20 and 100 years in the atmosphere, and can destroy100,000 ozone molecules.
Previous studies have shown that the rate of ozone depletion has declined since the Montreal Protocol went into effect, and a 2014 United Nations report showed that Earth’s ozone layer has begun to heal. But the ozone hole over the Antarctic reached a record size in 2015, casting some doubt over claims of a recovery, and the UN report said it was still unclear whether healing in the Antarctic could be attributed to a decline in ozone-depleting gases.
Susan Solomon, professor of atmospheric chemistry and climate science at MIT and lead author of the study published this week, says her findings suggest that the Montreal Protocol has in fact worked.
“We are beginning to see clear signs that actions that society took to phase out chlorofluorocarbons are actually having the intended effect of beginning to heal the Antarctic ozone layer,” Solomon says, stressing that the recovery is still in its early phases. “It’s really a remarkable achievement for society,” she adds. “It’s a global environmental problem, and we have put ourselves on a good trajectory.”
Read more at: The world’s decision to fix the ozone hole is paying off 30 years later | The Verge

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Crude awakening

Will Parrish, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
In recent years, oil corporations have intensified their push to make the San Francisco Bay Area and other areas of the West Coast into international hubs for refining and shipping of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive and polluting fuel sources: the Canadian tar sands.
In April, that long-standing effort spilled into Santa Rosa mailboxes. Constituents of 3rd District supervisor Shirlee Zane received a letter, addressed to Zane herself, from a group called Bay Area Refinery Workers.
“As a member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District,” the letter read, “you’ll soon vote on a proposal that will impact our jobs, our refineries and the important work we do refining the cleanest gasoline in the world.”
It asked that Zane “please remember that the Bay Area refineries provide more good-paying union jobs than any private sector employer in the region.”
Twelve refinery employees provided signatures, but the letter was produced and mailed by an organization called the Committee for Industrial Safety, which is bankrolled by the oil giants Chevron, Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66. According to state and federal records, each corporation annually provides the group between $100,000 and $200,000 to advocate on their behalf.
The letter’s apparent aim was to influence Zane’s upcoming vote on a little-known but potentially far-reaching Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) regulation called Refinery Rule 12-16 that’s aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If enacted, the measure would make the BAAQMD the nation’s first regional air district to go beyond state and federal mandates in regulating refinery GHG emissions, the pollutants that fuel global climate change.
Zane is one of the BAAQMD’s 24 directors, along with elected officials from nine Bay Area counties extending from Santa Clara in the South Bay to Sonoma and Napa. They will determine the measure’s fate at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting later this year.
Staff members at BAAQMD have proposed four alternative forms of Refinery Rule 12-16. But only one has the support of a coalition of environmental groups and the unions that represent refinery employees: a quantitative limit, or cap, on GHGs.
Processing the tar sands would dramatically increase greenhouse gas pollution at the refineries under the BAAQMD’s jurisdiction, and advocates from groups like Oakland’s Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), an environmental justice organization, say an emissions cap would turn back what they call the “tar sands invasion” from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Critics warn that without the cap, the oil industry will continue pursuing new tar sands infrastructure on the West Coast at a frenetic pace. “We’ve seen them come at us at a 10 times faster rate in the last few years,” says CBE senior scientist and refinery expert Greg Karras. “Up and down the refinery belt, refineries are retooling for the tar sands and creating infrastructure for export of refined tar sands products overseas.”
Read more at: Crude Awakening | Features | North Bay Bohemian

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Sonoma bans some leaf blowers; opponents vow ballot fight 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A divided Sonoma City Council on Monday adopted a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers within city limits, a move that would make the city of 11,000 the first in Sonoma County and one of the few nationwide to enforce such restrictions.
But the council’s action before a packed crowd does not end the city’s years-long debate over the landscaping devices. Opponents vowed to push forward with plans for a citywide referendum to delay and possibly overturn the prohibition.
The ordinance otherwise takes effect July 1. It would ban gas-powered blowers in Sonoma but allow the continued use of electric and battery-powered devices, albeit under more limited hours of operation. Commercial operators, as well as private property owners and tenants, could be subject to fines if they are caught using gas blowers.
Councilman David Cook called the ordinance a good compromise after years of debate.“It’s time we put something on the books in this town,” he said.
Mayor Laurie Gallian and Councilwoman Madolyn Agrimonti joined Cook in supporting the ordinance. Councilwoman Rachel Hundley and Councilman Gary Edwards were opposed.
Read more at: Sonoma bans some leaf blowers; opponents vow ballot fight | The Press Democrat