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Sonoma County supervisors eye changes to rules governing vineyard development

Tyler Silvy, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Changes sought by grape growers to Sonoma County’s ordinance governing vineyard development are set to come before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, with proposed revisions that county leaders say will streamline permitting and encourage more environmentally friendly farming practices.

The changes are meant to update the county’s Vineyard Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance, established in 2000. The rules have long been a source of friction between the county’s dominant industry and environmental interests.

But the changes before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, supporters say, are a common-sense approach to adapting land use that will be better for the environment.

“In my mind, not only does this not weaken (the ordinance), but this increases it,” said Supervsior James Gore. “I want to see landowners and producers changing practices to less-intensive systems. And if we can streamline this process, and reduce the costs of permitting to do that, that is the ultimate win-win.”

The revisions call for greater leeway and eased rules for growers who are seeking to replant vineyards, including incentives for those who use less invasive methods. The changes also would adjust permitting costs and timelines.

The changes came about through a series of meetings over the past two years between grape growers and Supervisors Gore and Lynda Hopkins, who together represent the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Westside Road and the Alexander Valley.

The original ordinance stemmed from a public push to prevent damaging erosion, tree removal and water pollution problems linked to vineyard operations, which now cover more than 60,000 acres in Sonoma County. In one case, a major landslide in 1998 caused Dry Creek to run red with sediment-laden runoff. The rules have been revised at least three times since the initial ordinance.

The latest proposal emerged from discontent within the wine industry about the work of an an outside contractor the county uses to oversee the vineyard erosion rules.
Continue reading “Sonoma County supervisors eye changes to rules governing vineyard development”

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Federal Court Declares Genetically Engineered Salmon Unlawful

EARTHJUSTICE

San Francisco, CA — Link to ruling

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) violated core environmental laws in approving the genetically engineered (GE) salmon. The Court ruled that FDA ignored the serious environmental consequences of approving genetically engineered salmon and the full extent of plans to grow and commercialize the salmon in the U.S. and around the world, violating the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Court also ruled that FDA’s unilateral decision that genetically engineered salmon could have no possible effect on highly-endangered, wild Atlantic salmon was wrong, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The Court ordered FDA to go back to the drawing board and FDA must now thoroughly analyze the environmental consequences of an escape of genetically engineered salmon into the wild.

In 2016, Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice — representing a broad client coalition of environmental, consumer, commercial and recreational fishing organizations, and the Quinault Indian Nation — sued the FDA for approving the first-ever commercial genetically engineered animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as its wild counterpart. The genetically engineered salmon was produced by AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. with DNA from Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon, and Arctic ocean eelpout. This marks the first time any government in the world has approved a commercially genetically engineered animal as food.

“This decision underscores what scientists have been telling FDA for years — that creating genetically engineered salmon poses an unacceptable risk if the fish escape and interact with our wild salmon and that FDA must understand that risk to prevent harm,” said Earthjustice managing attorney Steve Mashuda. “Our efforts should be focused on saving the wild salmon populations we already have — not manufacturing new species that pose yet another threat to their survival.”

The Court ruled that FDA failed to consider and study the environmental risks of this novel GE fish. When GE salmon escape or are accidentally released into the environment, the new species could threaten wild populations by mating with endangered salmon species, outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, and/or introducing new diseases. The world’s preeminent experts on GE fish and risk assessment, as well as biologists at U.S. wildlife agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife, heavily criticized FDA’s approval for failing to evaluate the impacts of GE salmon on native salmon populations. Yet FDA ignored their concerns in the final approval.

Read more at https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/federal-court-declares-genetically-engineered-salmon-unlawful

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, HabitatsTags , ,

Courts rein in fossil fuel agenda

ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. officials ignored potential ecological damage, judges rule.

Federal courts have delivered a string of rebukes to the Trump administration over what they found were failures to protect the environment and address climate change as it promotes fossil fuel interests and the extraction of natural resources from public lands.

Judges have ruled administration officials ignored or downplayed potential environmental damage in lawsuits over oil and gas leases, coal mining and pipelines to transport fuels across the U.S., according to an Associated Press review of more than a dozen major environmental cases.

The latest ruling against the administration came Thursday when an appeals court refused to revive a permitting program for oil and gas pipelines that a lower court had canceled.

Actions taken by the courts have ranged from orders for more environmental analysis to the unprecedented cancellation of oil and gas leases across hundreds of thousands of acres in Western states.

“Many of the decisions the Trump administration has been making are arguably illegal and in some cases blatantly so,” said Mark Squillace, associate dean at the University of Colorado Law School and a specialist in natural resources law. “They’ve lost a lot of cases.”
Continue reading “Courts rein in fossil fuel agenda”

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An easy, no-fuss, climate fix for that big first day in office

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

No, not rejoining the Paris Agreement, though that’s a good idea too. Something else.

This is kind of like one of those recipe things you see: putting a gourmet meal on the table in five minutes. But it’s more like: the one ingredient that will make all your recipes come out better. More seriously, what I’m about to propose is very conventional, easily integrated into agency procedures, and a big boost for climate policy.

So here’s this simple trick to improve your agency cookouts: fix the social cost of carbon. The social cost of carbon is the number that gets plugged into agencies’ regulatory analyses. The higher the number, the more climate change gets to be a priority. The Obama Administration did a very middle-of-the-road estimate. Trump, being Trump, came up with a figure 10% as big. My suggestion is to start by tweaking the Obama numbers upwards. That automatically means that agency decisions are forced to get a lot more climate friendly. It’s a simple tweak: use Obama’s 90th percentile figure to account for the risks of hitting major tipping points. If this seems too extreme, you could use another figure (the social cost of carbon with a 2.5% discount rate), or an average of these numbers.

The advantage of basing off the Obama numbers is that the numbers are already out there. But these would be higher numbers than Obama used, so you get a much more ambitious suite of policies. Depending on whether averaging was used, the new number would be up to three times as high as the preferred Obama estimate — $123 per ton versus $42 per ton. (Using an average between different estimates would give about $70, at least ten times as high as the Trump estimate.) So that means that, even putting aside co-benefits, we would get much stricter regulation even compared to Obama, let alone Trump. And all by changing one little number!

All this assumes agencies continue to use cost-benefit analysis. A progressive president might have doubts about that. Switching to a new system could take time, however, like learning to cook a whole new cuisine. In the meantime, boosting the social cost of carbon would start things moving quickly in the right direction in many agencies and many types of regulations.

Source: https://legal-planet.org/2020/03/05/an-easy-low-key-day-1-climate-fix/

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Montage Healdsburg resort developer recommended for $4.9 million fine for environmental violations

Mary Callahan & Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a luxury Healdsburg resort faces a record $4.9 million fine for egregious environmental violations after allowing an estimated 6.6 million gallons of sediment-laden runoff to leave the construction site during heavy rainfall last winter, threatening already imperiled fish species in tributaries of the Russian River.

Staffers for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board documented 38 violations of the federal Clean Water Act between October 2018 and May 2019 by developer Robert Green Jr., the owner of Montage Healdsburg, previously known as Saggio Hills.

The violations — hundreds of examples of them — were observed during repeat inspections, despite warnings to the developer of inadequate efforts to control erosion and runoff at the 258-acre site, according to regulatory documents.

Board personnel twice suspended construction through work stoppage orders, yet deficiencies still were abundant once crews were given permission to resume work, regulators said.

Even though there were points at which improvements were made, erosion control measures such as straw wattles and coverings for bare, exposed ground were not maintained, said Claudia Villacorta, the water quality control board’s prosecution team assistant executive officer.

Eventually, the controls were removed while wet weather still lay ahead so that a storm that came through in mid-May rained on the landscape without anti-erosion measures in place, she said.

“We felt like the conduct was, frankly, grossly negligent,” Villacorta said by phone. “They repeatedly failed to take action, implement effective practices, and I think that’s the reason why the penalty — the proposed fine — was significant.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10619065-181/montage-healdsburg-resort-developer-recommended

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Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists

Alastair Bland, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/11/18/774859696/wine-moguls-destroy-land-and-pay-small-fines-as-cost-of-business-say-activists

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Automakers, rejecting Trump pollution rule, strike a deal with California

Coral Davenport and Hiroko Tabuchi, THE NEW YORK TIMES

An executive at another large automaker said his company was considering joining the agreement because it includes meaningful concessions by California. The executive, who spoke on condition that neither he nor his company be identified, said that the Obama-era fuel economy standards were difficult for the industry to meet because car buyers increasingly prefer sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks that tend to have much lower fuel economy than sedans.

Four of the world’s largest automakers have struck a deal with California to reduce automobile emissions, siding with the state, and against President Trump, in a bitter fight over one of the president’s most consequential regulatory rollbacks.

In coming weeks, the Trump administration is expected to all but eliminate a signature Obama-era regulation designed to reduce vehicle emissions that contribute to global warming. However, California and 13 other states have vowed to keep enforcing the stricter rules, potentially splitting the United States auto market in two, with car companies forced to build different lineups of vehicles for different states.

The prospect of that nightmare scenario for automakers spawned secretive talks in recent weeks between California regulators and four auto giants — Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW — in which the automakers won slightly less restrictive rules that they can apply to vehicles sold nationwide.

The agreement provides “much-needed regulatory certainty,” the companies said in a joint statement, while enabling them to “meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/25/climate/automakers-rejecting-trump-pollution-rule-strike-a-deal-with-california.html

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California to ban pesticide chlorpyrifos

Brian Melley, ASSOCIATED PRESS

The nation’s most productive agricultural state moved Wednesday to ban a controversial pesticide widely used to control a range of insects but blamed for harming brain development in babies.

The move cheered by environmentalists would outlaw chlorpyrifos after scientists deemed it a toxic air contaminant and discovered it to be more dangerous than previously thought. California Environmental Secretary Jared Blumenfeld said it’s the first time the state has sought to ban a pesticide and the move was overdue.

“This pesticide is a neurotoxin, and it was first put on the market in 1965,” Blumenfeld said. “So it’s been on the shelf a long time, and it’s past its sell-by date.”

The decision comes after regulators in several states have taken steps in recent years to restrict the pesticide used on about 60 different crops in California, including grapes, almonds and oranges. Hawaii banned it last year, and New York lawmakers recently sent a measure to the governor outlawing use of the pesticide.

DowDuPont, which produces the pesticide, said it was disappointed with the decision and that farmers who rely on the pesticide say it will hurt their ability to control insects.

Read more at https://www.apnews.com/94c594ce51f441b6998fb83a4cda2c79

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California adopts new wetland protections as Trump administration eases them

Kurtis Alexander, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

California water regulators adopted a far-reaching plan Tuesday to prevent more of the state’s creeks, ponds and wetlands from being plowed or paved over, a move that comes as the Trump administration scales back protections under the federal Clean Water Act.

The new state policy targets the rampant spread of suburbia and agriculture across California’s watery landscapes, areas that have become increasingly sparse yet remain important for drinking water, flood protection, groundwater recharge and wildlife.

The regulation, to the chagrin of many industry groups, establishes strict rules for virtually any human activity that could disrupt the natural flow of water, like farming, home building and highway construction, on public and private property.

While the policy has been in the works for more than a decade, its adoption by the State Water Resources Control Board puts it in front of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rollback of the Clean Water Act, ensuring that California is largely insulated from any new latitude that Washington provides for watershed development.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/California-adopts-new-wetland-protections-as-13736056.php

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California first state to mandate solar power for new homes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

California became the first state in the nation to require homes built in 2020 and later be solar powered, following a vote by the Building Standards Commission.

The unanimous action on Wednesday finalizes a previous vote by the Energy Commission and fulfills a decade-old goal to make the state reliant on cleaner energy.

“These provisions really are historic and will be a beacon of light for the rest of the country,” said Kent Sasaki, a structural engineer and one of six building standards commissioners. “(It’s) the beginning of substantial improvement in how we produce energy and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.”

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California moves to require solar panels on all new homes
While nobody spoke Wednesday in opposition, the commission received about 300 letters opposing the mandate because of the added cost, the Orange County Register reported.

Energy officials estimated the provisions will add $10,000 to the cost of building a single-family home — about $8,400 from adding solar and about $1,500 for making homes more energy-efficient. But those costs would be offset by lower utility bills over the 30-year lifespan of the solar panels, officials said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9041250-181/california-first-state-to-mandate