9/1/10

California lawmakers have rejected a bill seeking to ban plastic shopping bags after a contentious debate over whether the state was going too far in trying to regulate personal choice.

The Democratic bill, which failed late Tuesday, would have been the first statewide ban, although a few California cities already prohibit their use.

The measure offered California an opportunity to emerge at the forefront of a global trend, said Sen. Gil Cedillo, who carried the measure on the Senate floor.

"If we don't solve this problem today, if we don't create a statewide standard, if we don't provide the leadership that is being called for, others will," the Los Angeles Democrat said during Tuesday evening's debate.

Discouraging plastic bag use through fees or bans first gained traction outside of the U.S. in nations such as South Africa, Ireland, China and Bangladesh. In January, Washington, D.C., implemented a 5-cent surcharge on disposable paper and plastic bags.

A handful of California cities already ban single-use plastic bags, after San Francisco became the first to do so in 2007.

Palo Alto, Malibu and Fairfax in Marin County have since followed, while a ban approved in Manhattan Beach is tied up in litigation, said Matthew King, a spokesman for Heal the Bay, the Santa Monica-based nonprofit that sponsored AB1998.

Supporters of the bill said the 19 billion plastic bags state residents use every year harm the environment and cost the state $25 million annually to collect and transport to landfills. It had been the subject of a furious lobbying campaign by the plastic bag manufacturing industry, which called it a job killer.

The bill's author, Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Santa Monica, said lawmakers had failed Californians by defeating the measure. But she said the movement to ban plastic bags would continue despite the setback.

The bill's main opponent, the Virginia-based American Chemistry Council, spent millions in lobbying fees, radio ads and even a prime-time television ad attacking the measure. The organization represents plastic bag manufacturers such as Dow Chemical Co. and ExxonMobil Corp.

Last year, it helped defeat an effort by Seattle to impose a 20-cent fee on the use of plastic or paper grocery bags.

 

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8/26/10

With California lawmakers poised to vote on a historic effort to phase out plastic grocery bags, the American Chemistry Council is going all out to stop the proposal before the Tuesday legislative deadline.

The Virginia-based interest group, whose members include Exxon, Dow and plastic bag manufacturers, is a well-known player in California, where it has battled environmental bills and anti-plastic city ordinances it contends hurt businesses or limit consumer choice.

The council has marshaled an expensive TV and radio ad campaign against the bag bill, unleashed a flurry of fresh donations to politicians and assembled teams of high-powered lobbyists with ties to Republicans and Democrats at the Capitol.

This month alone, at least seven state senators – including four Democrats whose votes could prove crucial – have received campaign donations directly from the council or council affiliates Exxon and the South Carolina-based bag manufacturer Hilex Poly Co.

Hilex Poly Co. also gave $10,000 to the Democratic State Central Committee of California on Aug. 5. The next day, Exxon gave the Republican Party $10,000, among other donations it has made.

 

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8/25/10

The federal Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that it intended to ban all dumping of sewage by large cargo and cruise ships in California waters out to the three-mile limit. The state has been requesting the ban for five years.

California has long banned the dumping of untreated sewage, and international rules prohibit the largest ships from discharging untreated waste within three miles of the coastline. But, according to figures provided by the state’s Environmental Protection Agency, only about a third of California’s waters are covered by a state ban on any sewage discharge. If the proposed federal waiver is completed, even treated sewage cannot be dumped anywhere within the 5,222 square miles of California waters. More than 90 percent of the treated sewage that is dumped comes from cruise ships.

Jared Blumenfeld, the Southwestern regional administrator for the federal E.P.A., equated California’s push to ban all marine sewage discharge from large vessels to the state’s cutting-edge efforts to control greenhouse gases.

“California is leading the way,” he said. “They are setting the pace for the rest of the nation.”

 

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8/18/10

Seven years ago, a $100 million deal by the federal and state government to purchase 16,500 acres of industrial salt-evaporation ponds along the southern shoreline of San Francisco Bay made national news.

It was to be the biggest wetlands restoration ever attempted in the West, an opportunity to bring back fish, birds, harbor seals and other wildlife to levels not seen in perhaps a century. But then came years of scientific studies and public meetings.

On Tuesday, the follow-through took shape atop the earthen levees south of the San Mateo Bridge near Hayward, as 20 massive dump trucks moved piles of dark soil, and excavators reshaped the landscape while white pelicans and egrets drifted through breezy blue skies above it all.

"This is the culmination of all the work we have been doing. This is what we've been waiting for -- dirt being moved, bay waters coming back," said John Bourgeois, manager of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.

The work on the shoreline at Eden Landing is a microcosm of the overall bay restoration effort. It began in July and is scheduled for completion in two years. The project aims to restore to tidal marsh 630 acres of former industrial salt evaporation ponds that were once used to concentrate salt for roads, food and medical uses.

Over an area roughly the size of 600 football fields, workers in hard hats and orange vests are reshaping and taking down levees that now are 8 to 10 feet tall.  Next summer, bay waters will pour into the landscape, which in the 1800s was a rich mix of marshes and sloughs. Today, that area looks like an arid, whitish moonscape.

In some areas, crews will break thick crusts of gypsum up to one foot deep left from Cargill's old salt operations, to allow plants like pickleweed, native spartina and alkali heath to grow back more quickly.

 

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8/18/10

A federal appeals court decided Tuesday that mud washing off logging roads is pollution and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to write regulations to reduce the amount that reaches salmon streams.

A conservation group that filed the lawsuit said if the ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands, logging roads on federal, state and private lands across the West will eventually have to be upgraded to meet Clean Water Act standards.

"Those roads historically have gotten a free pass," said Mark Riskedahl of the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in Portland. "This is not rocket science. There are some very low-cost, low-maintenance steps folks can take to remedy this problem."

The center had sued the Oregon Department of Forestry over sediment washing off two logging roads on the Tillamook State Forest in northwestern Oregon.

A three-judge panel of the court found that the sediment exceeded Clean Water Act limits, and should be regulated by EPA as a point source of industrial pollution. The judges rejected arguments from the state that the sediment falls under exemptions granted by Congress and less stringent regulations for things like agricultural runoff.

Chris Winter, an attorney for the CRAG Law Center in Portland, which represented the center, said the EPA has long recognized sediment as one of the leading sources of water pollution in the country, and that it is harmful to fish, but has chosen not to address the issue of logging roads.


 

In 2001, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) filed a similar lawsuit: EPIC v. Pacific Lumber and U.S. EPA.