Thursday, October 9, 2014

"It's Cold War to Conservation" in Coyote Valley

Historic Silicon Valley site becoming new public open space preserve
Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News, October 5, 2014

The Santa Clara County Open Space Authority has agreed to spend $8.6 million to buy 1,831 acres of the former United Technologies Corp. (UTC) site and open it to the public -- the biggest deal in the agency's 20-year history.

UTC, an early Silicon Valley aerospace company, built rocket motors in a secretive, sprawling property in the hills east of Highway 101, about 5 miles south of San Jose. The massive engines powered Tomahawk and Minuteman missiles for the military, as well as NASA spacecraft that explored Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and the sun.

The lands, a rolling expanse of hills, oak trees and serpentine outcroppings across Highway 101 from Coyote Creek Golf Course, will be open to the public by 2018, the open space agency says.

One portion of UTC's property not being purchased is still being cleaned up. That adjacent 3,282-acre parcel has pollution from perchlorate and other chemicals in the groundwater. It had 241 buildings and about 750 employees when UTC shut down the site after 45 years and moved its operations to Florida in 2004.

Read the complete story here.

Oakland Museum of California to Receive $20M Sculpture Studio and Gardens

Angela Hill, Oakland Tribune, October 9, 2014

Bruce Beasley has bequeathed his two-block cluster of studios and sculpture gardens -- plus many of his own massive abstract works, personal archives of his illustrious career and an endowment for future sculpture-related events and programs -- to the Oakland Museum of California.

The gift, said to be unprecedented by a living artist, is valued at about $20 million, making it the largest single private gift in the museum's 45-year history. Beasley and museum officials will reveal details of the plan on Thursday morning during a reception at the artist's Lewis Street studios -- someday to be called the Bruce Beasley Sculpture Center.

Beasley says the relationship with the Oakland museum is a "logical marriage," considering his deep ties to Oakland where he's lived, worked as a community activist, and created massive sculptures since bursting into the art world in 1962 at the height of the abstract sculpture movement. However, the timing of the gift is certainly not set in stone, as it rests on the advent of Beasley's death, which may be a long time coming.

"You've seen how healthy he is -- when this actually transpires, I hope to be long retired by then," joked Lori Fogarty, OMCA's executive director. In the meantime, some prototype studio tours and community events may begin as early as 2015.

Read the complete story here.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Trash-Collecting Big Wheel

Baltimore's water wheel keeps on turning, pulling in tons of trash
Julia Botero, NPR, June 23, 2014

John Kellett, who works at the Baltimore Maritime Museum, has developed an innovative way to collect the solid waste that flows from the Jones Falls river into the Inner Harbor after rainstorms: a water wheel.

"It looks sort of like a cross between a spaceship and a covered wagon and an old mill," says Kellett.

The water wheel has been installed in the harbor since May, during which time it has removed 40 tons of trash.

Read and/or listen to the complete story --> here.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Join the Conversation with USGBC Founder David Gottfried

Join TriplePundit’s Founder, Nick Aster, for a “Stories and Beer Fireside Chat” with David Gottfried, Founder of the USGBC.

David’s work has impacted the global building industry more than almost any other individual, having founded both the U.S. Green Building Council and World Green Building Council, with GBCs in 100 countries.

This event will be held Thursday, June 19th at 6:30 pm PDT at the Impact HUB San Francisco, and online via web cam.

Register here:

The Cost of Water (or lack thereof)

via TriplePundit

Researchers at the University of California Davis Center for Watershed Sciences have attached a dollar estimate to the economic impact of the drought in California’s Central Valley. Their preliminary report, released earlier this week, estimates a total economic loss of $1.7 billion, along with “substantial long-term costs” of groundwater overdraft that will go unaccounted for.

Last year marked the driest year in California since records began in 1895, and in January Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency. Seven of the state’s 12 main reservoirs are at or below 60 percent of the historical average, and a dry winter has left snowpack levels–an important source for replenishing water supplies–at just a fifth of historical levels, as of late April.

Read the complete article here:

Monday, April 28, 2014

CARB Gives Truckers More Time to Meet Emissions Standards

On April 25, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved a two-and-a-half year enforcement delay to the state’s Truck and Bus Regulation for small trucking companies who are struggling to obtain loans and grants to make required improvements on time.

CARB's action will give small fleets, lightly used trucks and those operating in rural areas more time to upgrade to newer, cleaner models or install filters to remove soot from their exhaust. The extended phase-in deadlines for small fleet mean that truck owners with three or fewer trucks now have an extra year to bring their second truck into compliance and an extra two years for their third truck, as CARB extended the phase-in deadlines for second and third trucks from January 1, 2015 and 2016, to January 1, 2016 and 2018, respectively.

The vote marks the second time CARB has relaxed its diesel truck regulations since 2010, when it made changes to offer the industry relief after the recession.  The extensions, approved by a 10-1 vote, came after pleas from small trucking firms and owner-operators who became subject to new pollution-cutting requirements for the first time this year. The amendments were adopted over fierce objections from another segment of the industry: truck owners who have already made the costly upgrades.

Multiple speakers at Thursday’s public hearing slammed CARB for sparking a civil war between large carriers and owner-operators that counted as small fleets under CARB’s definition. The large carriers said they didn’t like being put in a position to argue against mom and pop trucking operations – many of whom they hire.

Among those urging regulators to hold to the deadlines were environmental groups and students from Oakland who live near freeways with heavy truck traffic and cope with respiratory illnesses. "We understand that cleaning up trucks is expensive, but somebody has to pay," said Pamela Tapia, a community college student from Oakland with asthma. "Right now we're paying with our health and that's not right."

Final versions of the amendments will be produced within the next few months and will have a 15-day public comment period, after which CARB will put them into effect.
For more information:

Friday, April 25, 2014

Levee Breach in San Pablo Bay

A landmark moment in the effort to restore Bay Area marshland habitat
Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 2014

A cheer went up as salt water from San Pablo Bay poured through a breached levee Friday and flooded old, abandoned Hamilton Army Airfield in Novato.

The flooding of the runway at the former Air Force base, which was closed starting in 1973, is part of a regional effort to restore 100,000 acres of former wetlands around San Francisco Bay. The Hamilton area was diked off around the turn of the 19th century, cutting off a primary landing spot for thousands of migrating waterfowl along the Pacific Flyway. It had remained dry until Friday when a backhoe dug out the remaining mud barrier.

Creating the new tidal marsh, which cost $107 million over 10 years, involved importing 5.6 million cubic yards of dredged mud to raise the land to its natural height, three quarters of which came from dredging at the Port of Oakland, and growing and planting tens of thousands of native plants.  The project was designed create different habitats, including tidal marshland, brackish and fresh water wetlands. The restored area, which includes a 3-mile section of the Bay Trail, will provide crucial habitat for endangered and threatened species, including Steelhead trout, salmon, California clapper rail, black rail, brown pelican, and salt marsh harvest mouse.

"This was designed with sea level rise, climate change and ecological resiliency in mind," said Congressman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. "This is also a model project for re-use of our resources."

Read the complete article here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cal/EPA Issues Environmental Hazard Scores for 8,000 Census Tracts

New map could refocus state's pollution battles 
Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2014

The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) has released a statewide assessment of census tracts most burdened by pollution, providing a powerful tool to pressure regulators to clean up neighborhoods with long-standing health risks.

The environmental health assessment, published in draft form this week, was a major update to an initiative that includes an interactive online map and is being refined over time by Cal/EPA. The state's first such report last year assessed the state by ZIP Code and yielded broadly similar results, showing that Latinos and African Americans make up a disproportionately high percentage of the population in areas most affected by pollution. But the previous list was criticized by environmental justice groups and researchers who complained that ZIP Codes were too large and arbitrary to reveal much.

The screening and ranking tool, called CalEnviroScreen, was developed to pinpoint the communities with the highest exposure and vulnerability to multiple environmental hazards, including polluted air and water, waste facilities and contaminated soil. The rankings are not based only on measures of environmental exposure: they also take into account socioeconomic characteristics and health data on residents to assess the overall vulnerability of communities. Those factors include poverty, education, unemployment, rates of asthma and low-birth-weight infants. In total, 19 criteria are considered.

State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) wrote a 2012 law that requires the state to spend 25% of the auction proceeds from California's GHG-cutting cap-and-trade program to benefit disadvantaged communities that face disproportionate effects from pollution and climate change. Governor Jerry Brown's proposed budget for 2014-15 would set aside $225 million of $850 million in proceeds. Budget documents say projects could include energy-efficiency upgrades for homes in low-income areas, improvements to bus and rail systems, urban forestry projects and programs to fund cleaner trucks and equipment near ports, rail yards and distribution centers.

Read the complete article here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An Allegory about NIMBYism

Remove contaminated soil.
Restore the aquifer to drinking water quality.
Replace air strippers that vent to the atmosphere with carbon filters.
Redevelop properties to bring in new tenants and raise property values.

What do these objectives have in common?
Throughout the history of a particular Silicon Valley Superfund site, these goals have been supported by the community, responsible parties, and regulators.  And at face value, they each appear to be protective of human health and the environment and benefit the neighboring community.

Only more recently has the concept of sustainable remediation been used to look at cleanup programs from a holistic viewpoint, and examine the collateral damage that some remedial decisions can cause, even those that appear to be protective.

In the 2008 Optimization Evaluation reports prepared by Northgate, Geosyntec, Weiss, and Schlumberger, we found that annual carbon (CO2) emissions related to the operation of five treatment systems at the Silicon Valley Superfund site ranged from 42 to 281 metric tons. For comparison, the EPA estimates that the annual CO2 emissions from a typical passenger vehicle are approximately 5 metric tons.

In a 2010 economic analysis of 25 San Francisco Bay Area Superfund sites, Northgate staff, Maile Smith and Scott McLaughlin found that although concentrations of groundwater pollutants had been greatly reduced, contaminant removal rates were insufficient to reach cleanup goals.  Furthermore, we found that the benefits of groundwater cleanup were reduced by the cross-media (e.g., water to air) pollution impacts of the remediation programs. The study indicated that the collective pollution reduction achieved by the cleanup programs at these sites is less than the pollution generated by the production of goods and services required to operate and maintain the cleanup programs themselves.

And this week the Center for Investigative Reporting published an article on the journey of the groundwater pollutants from that particular Silicon Valley Superfund site, illustrating the pathway that pollution takes after it is pumped from the ground and filtered through those carbon vessels.

“There’s really no such thing as throwing something away,” said Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Rusty Harris-Bishop. “You’re always throwing it somewhere.”

It's an interesting tale, and certainly highlights the potential collateral damage that can occur when we collectively decide, "not in my backyard."

Read the complete article here:

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's Been a Dirty Winter

Kurtis Alexander, SFGate Blog, March 6, 2014

This year’s dry winter is making history not only for a lack of rainfall but for a lung-blasting surge in air pollution.

With few storms to clear out the stagnant wintertime skies, dirty air has built up more often than usual, prompting air-quality regulators in the Bay Air to issue a record-tying number of advisories, known as Spare the Air alerts.

On 30 occasions between November and February the Bay Area Air Quality Management District advised that pollutants such as particulate matter in smoke and haze were approaching or would hit unhealthy levels.  The number of Spare the Air alerts this winter was the highest since the 2006-07 season.

The story was similar in other parts of the state. While not a record, the notoriously polluted San Joaquin Valley recorded 66 days of air quality approaching substandard levels, up from 52 the prior winter.

Read the complete post here.