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Life On The Salinas River

October 15th, 2019 No comments
sea otter mom and recently born pup

sea otter mom and recently born pup

We’re at the mouth of the Salinas River, just north of Monterey.

Wonderful site to camp, right on the river, just outside the jurisdiction of a State Beach, and surrounded by the kind of farms John Steinbeck wrote about (we can almost taste the pesticides in the dust).

Here’s just some of what we saw today.

As I walked to the beach across a small bridge over the Salinas River, I looked down and saw a sea otter mom feeding and grooming her newborn.

I was stunned by the scene and absorbed.

I watched for 15 minutes or so in fascination as she fed and groomed her pup. She was continuously licking his anus and prodding his belly with her front paws as the pup fed (a seemingly knowledgeable fellow who also happened upon the scene told me that this is done by the mom to stimulate the pup’s nursing and digestion. He said the pup had been born in the last day or 2. He also told me that the pup is totally dependent for awhile and the mom floats on her back like this constantly nursing and sometimes abandons the pup to feed on land or in the water. The pup can not sink and apparently there are no predators, for what I saw as a vulnerable position to be in).

Every few minutes, she would move the pup off her teets to lick other parts of his body. The pup cried out loud when this occurred!

But she gently coaxed him back on the feet to feed after a few moments off.

Of course, I didn’t have my camera for all this!

But I walked back to the bus and returned a few minutes later and was luckily able to get these amazing shots (too bad I didn’t have my quality canon glass!):

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Here’s the larger context:

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Not to be outdone, there were tons of birds too:

Blue heron and possibly an egret (I'm no birder)

Blue heron and possibly an egret (I’m no birder)

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And of course, that wildest of wildlife, Bouy loved the beach:

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He also loved the bluffs at Davenport, where we also spent a few days exploring:

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All for now –

PS – I still plan on posting photos from British Columbia across the Olympic pennisula and down the coast.

 

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California’s PG&E Out-Blackmails New Jersey’s PSE&G

October 12th, 2019 No comments

Climate Chaos Meets Corporate Blackmail In California

One again, we are reaping the whirlwind of deregulation

Climate Chaos Meets PG&E

Climate Chaos Meets PG&E – near Pescadoro, Ca.

[See Update below about a PSE&G Corporate Murder In Newark, New Jersey]

My NJ friends know all about corporate blackmail, as NJ’s PSE&G blackmailed the State Legislature and BPU by threatening to create chaos in energy markets by abruptly closing down 3 nuke plans unless they were given a billion dollar bailout.

(Meanwhile, California is phasing out nukes, which is something NJ Senate President Sweeney and NJ US Senator Booker worked hard to stop, when they teamed up to support nuke subsidies).

Following that PSE&G Blackmail model, now, the Wall Street backed corporate NJ solar sector (and soon wind) is threatening to leave the state if they are not provided adequate “subsidies” (i.e. “profits”).

As I’ve written, that’s why we have to have public ownership of “public utilities” (from Bernie Sanders’ “Green New Deal”)

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So, it will come as no surprise that California – the land of Enron corruption –  is now going through a similar corporate blackmail shakedown, as the State’s public utility PG&E shut down power for approximately 2 million people to avoid wildfires. (Sanders “Green new Deal)

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I’ve been in the belly of this California Wildfire – Climate Chaos – PG&E beast for the last weeks, as I’ve travelled down the northern California Coast and inland to Sonoma County.

The conditions are extremely dry.

Conditions very dry - London Ranch, Glen Ellen, Sonoma County

Conditions very dry – London Ranch, Glen Ellen, Sonoma County

I’ve been living the power shutdown s for the last few days. It was chaos. I stopped driving for a few days to make sure I could get gas. The grocery store in Half Moon Bay was almost out of food – it looked like locusts descended on the place. And the power outages are not limited to northern Cali – I’m just north of Santa Cruz (Davenport) and they were blacked out too.

My coastal campsite just south of San Gregorio was besieged by PG&E trucks, as I found myself surrounded and in their staging operation.

The Green New Deal will bring us public power - no more corporate blackmail

The Green New Deal will bring us public power – no more corporate blackmail

The California media has been all over this story all week – Gov. Newsome has made some harsh criticism about PG&E greed – and today the NY Times finally reports what amounts to a “failure to communicate” story.

But, of course, Greg Pallast gets the real story:

PG&E is a Crime Wave, Not a Power Company

Blackout is Blackmail
The PG&E Blackout Con is all about threatening the judge in the PG&E bankruptcy case. The victims have joined with the bondholders to eliminate the equity of the stockholders who deserve nothing. So in desperation, the power company pigs are turning off your lights. Hopefully, the judge will not be intimidated.
Leaving hospitals, schools and 1 million homes without power — and that means without water — in California is the endgame of deregulation mania.
Jerry Brown, Bill Clinton and other deregulation snake-oil salesmen, and the PG&E greedster bosses, should be imprisoned for the people already burned to death.
Where is the California utility commission?

PG&E is protecting the financial assets of investors from further wildfire liability – to hell with the rest of us.

[Update 10/13/19 – Lee Fang at The Intercept nails it.]

Pallast argues that for years, PG&E received billions of dollars in ratepayer money for system maintenance and upgrades – yet their system is still unsafe – so they either did a very bad job or failed to make them and instead diverting those revenues to excessive compare managers salaries, profits and investor dividends.

The same game is being played by Con Ed in NY with a moratorium on gas connections, as they blackmail NY Gov. Cuomo and NY regulators for killing gas pipelines

It is corporate hardball.

Greetings from the state where Enron blackmail worked so well.

[Update – A reader, @GreenStreet, Tweeted at me to provide a story about a man who was killed by the PG&E shutoff.

That reminded me of a NJ PSE&G murder of a poor black woman for not paying her electric bill. For details, see:

While PG&E is also guilty of murder, at least that had a plausible reason: to prevent deadly wildfires.

In NJ PSE&G murder, there was not even a plausible rationale: it was pure corporate greed and sociopathic bureaucracy.  ~~~ end update]

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NJ Gov. Murphy Adopts Flawed Private Foundation Plan For Reducing Lead In Drinking Water

October 10th, 2019 No comments

Murphy’s Plan and Foundation Report Provide Cover For Failures and Dodge Key Issues

Wall Street Financed $500 Million Bond Program Provides Private Monopoly Profits

Why are infants and kids subject to weaker standards?

[Update: readers have accused me of being “soft”.

think you were soft – this a con – a plan to do plan with no teeth – more children will get lead poisoned – and nj future enj cwa gave cover for Murphy in action and negligence

I take that criticism but think it misrepresent most of my criticism below. I am not on the ground in NJ, I’m on the California coast. Here is the edge of the debate. ~~~ end update]

Just as we predicted at the outset and repeated 5 days ago, a private Foundation funded Panel released a flawed Report on lead in drinking water and Gov. Murphy immediately adopted the recommendations of that Report as his administration’s lead abatement plan.

That was quick!

And just as we predicted, the Report and the Gov. Plan dodge key issues (outlined below)(and the “transactional” frauds applauded right on que and even attended the Gov.’s event.)

But, contrary to our predictions, while the Report did provide cover for regulatory failures, it did not provide a “platform for privatization”.

In fact, the Gov. completely dodged the privatization issue by misleadingly calling private for profit water corporations “utilities”. Orwell lives.

Instead of allowing the private water companies to expand their profit empire by hostile takeovers of public systems, the private water companies were allowed to recover private monopoly profits on billions of dollars of public ratepayer backed investments.

That gravy train includes Wall Street bond finance fees and the lucrative legal fees for the law firms who serve as Bond Counsel.

Translation: what is being sold as a “no – cost to homeowners” program is really a $ billion pot of money to finance and recover a monopoly rate of return via special assessments on water bills. Here it is in the fine print of Gov. Murphy’s self congratulatory press release:

Financing

Governor Murphy proposes a $500 million bond to support the replacement of lead service lines and remediation of lead-based paint in homes across New Jersey. The Governor also supports efforts to allow water utilities to mitigate the cost of lead service line replacement for homeowners. 

Translation: “mitigate costs” means recover monopoly profits on investment of your money. There is no free lunch. You will pay higher  water bills. Period

Now to the details of the Foundation Report Gov. Murphy adopted as his plan’s framework.

In my set up post, I listed a bunch of issues I predicted the report would downplay or dodge completely.

1. The Whitewash starts in the first paragraph

Right off the bat, the whitewash begins in the first paragraph of the first page of the report, where they misleading provide a false assurance by stating as a fact (with no supporting evidence) that, aside from minor lead problems, that NJ drinking water is safe:

Most New Jersey residents take for granted that their tap water is healthy and safe. Federal and state regulations require drinking water utilities to test for nearly 100 primary contaminants and report the results annually; violations are unusual.

That misleading claim ignores over 500 “unregulated contaminants” that DEP knows are present in NJ drinking water but are not sampled for or regulated by DEP. It ignores DEP’s 2009 Report recommendation for a “treatment based approach” to regulation. It ignores the backlog of MCL recommendations at the DWQI and DEP. It ignores actual data on violations and notices of violations issued by DEP. It ignores the lack of followup DEP enforcement and corrective action Orders by DEP for violations. In fact, one of DEP’s many “Notices Of Violation” (NOV’s) to Newark for MCL violations actually contributed to the lead corrosion problem, because Newark altered the water chemistry in a failed attempt to comply with the DEP NOV.

2. No Sense of Urgency, no accountability and failed State leadership

I was pleasantly surprised by several of the recommendations on Executive Orders, legislation, regulation and monitoring.

The analysis and recommendations were far more detailed than I expected (they even took a bumbling stab at explaining statistics), but they were presented in such as way as to avoid criticism of the failure by regulators to tell the truth to the public about the various long known flaws and loopholes and failure by those regulators to seek stronger laws or enact stronger regulations.

In fact, instead of telling the truth, regulators have falsely assured the public that their water is safe, for decades.

First, In terms of urgency, the Report fails to note that NJ State agencies – like DEP and the Department of Health – have emergency rule-making powers. Rules become effective upon publication in the NJ Register.

That means that they could have corrected these long known regulatory flaws yesterday.

Second, the Report recommendations that critical public health policy and DEP regulations be addressed by DEP science and the Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI). That injects years of delay in implementation:

4.  Research health-based thresholds and expanded blood testing. (research) Study expansion of required blood testing to include pregnant women and infants. Engage DEP’s Drinking Water Quality Institute to review national studies and consider the advisability of adopting: 1) a state standard for lead in water that is lower than the existing federal threshold of 15 parts per billion; 2) a health-based household action level for lead in water; and 3) an appropriate standard for child care facilities.

That recommendation also is a major failure to adopt the longstanding policy that NJ adopt more stringent NJ state standards, compared to federal EPA standards.

Here it is again:

Given the health issues at stake, DWQI should seek to expedite its recommendations, and DEP should decide whether to pursue regulations that are more stringent than the federal LCR.

That is failed leadership and echoes the “federal consistency” policy dictated by the business community and adopted by former Gov. Whitman and Christie via Executive Orders.

Third, the Report’s recommendations completely ignore major policy, science and regulatory controversies, including:

  • a new “precautionary” public health approach to DEP regulation, MCL’s, and “risk assessment”, including cumulative impacts, multiple chemical exposures, and multiple exposure pathways
  • Regulatory mandates to consider environmental justice in DEP policy, rules, and decisions
  • Addressing over 500 “unregulated contaminants” in drinking water via what DEP has recommended as a “treatment based approach” (including new treatment requirements for drinking water plants AND wastewater discharges)
  • Lack of resources and professional expertise & capacity at NJ DEP
  • Inadequate oversight, negligence, and lax enforcement by NJ DEP
  • what really went on in Newark? The NY Times provided more detail in news coverage and the Op-Ed page.

These flaws are what caused the Newark crisis and have blocked effective drinking water protections in NJ.

3. Massive Loophole Guts The Entire Program

The Report recommends a longstanding DEP loophole strategy: “flexibility” via the waiver:

DEP should have flexibility to negotiate alternative deadlines through a Safe Drinking Water Act permit or Administrative Consent Order if a utility demonstrates that the 10-year deadline is not achievable.

You can kiss that alleged mandate and 10 year deadline goodbye – they do not exist.

4. Reliance on Flawed Current Law – Water Quality Accountability Act and School Program

As I suggested, this Foundation funded and corporate influenced group was designed not only to provide cover, but to not make waves or step on any toes.

Accordingly, the Report supports and suggests only cosmetic reforms to 2 current state laws and programs that are fatally flawed: the Water Quality Accountability Act and the school & daycare lead program.

5. False claim that there are “no costs” to homeowners

The Report claims that the lead line removal program will come at “no cost” to homeowners.

That is false (see above quote from Gov. Murphy’s financing plan). That approach is reflected in the Report’s recommendation:

Rate revenues are the source of funds for approximately 95% of water and sewer utility expenses, including capital improvements. Rates are not typically used to improve water infrastructure relating to private property; however, given the public health threat of lead in water, other states (e.g., IN, PA, MI) have authorized rate recovery to remediate such LSLs. Recognizing the unique nature of this situation, legislation would authorize both investor- and publicly-owned drinking water utilities to pursue rate recovery to replace LSLs located under private property during the 10-year plan

Homeowners will be paying for this “rate recovery”.

I’m sure that this rate recovery recommendation was the price of getting the water companies to support the Report.

6. Misleading claims about fairness

The Report creates the appearance that equity is a core policy objective.

But the fine print belies that commitment:

For example, if the rate increase required to fully address the LSL problem in a community with lead exceedances and/or a significant percentage of LSLs exceeds a certain threshold (e.g., 5%), and if that rate increase would make water rates unaffordable for more than a certain percentage of the population, that community would be eligible for the subsidy.

Get that? A “certain percentage” of the community will bear an unjust and unquantified burden.

7. Crocodile tears for Democracy – A Trojan horse?

The Report – mistakenly – recommends and states as fact that any debt issuance would have to be approved by the voters.

Program structure.               

Regardless of the funding source, voters would be asked to approve a constitutional amendment to ensure that the funds are not diverted.

This appears to be a faux appeal to democracy, but it is more likely a Trojan horse, because everyone knows that a lead abatement program, which, given the Newark crisis, will be politically spun as targeting NJ cities, is not going to be approved by the suburban voters.

This sense of faux Trojan Horse is bolstered by three facts:

One, the Report buries the fact that it is not really legally accuratevoter approval is NOT mandated:

If the borrowing were done through the New Jersey Water Bank (New Jersey’s State Revolving Fund), voter approval would not be required.

Second, no Constitutional amendment to prevent diversion of bond funds is necessary if financed by the NJ State Revolving Fund. The Official Statements on the Bonds, federal appropriation laws, and State pledges to bondholders legally would prevent diversion of funds.

Third, these people were nowhere to be found when the Legislature eliminated the prior requirement that any privatization be approved by local voters.

If they all are so committed to democracy and voters, they should have spoken up before our democratic rights were sold down the river by the Democratic Legislature’s privatization law.

8. Anti-regulatory ideology exposed

The Report calls regulation a “blunt instrument”.

This rhetoric could have come from the right wing Koch Brothers funded ALEC or The Federalist Society:

Rather than using regulation as a blunt instrument that treats all facilities the same, the State of Illinois applies regulatory pressure where it is needed most, varying testing requirements based on the compliance record of child care facilities.

9. The Report ignores Air emissions of lead, including from garbage incinerators

The Report identifies sources of lead exposure: lead paint, drinking water and “soil”.

While most of the lead in soil is from historical emissions from leaded gasoline, some of it is a result of contaminated toxic sites and industrial air emissions of lead, some of which is ongoing, like the garbage incinerators in over-burdened communities, Newark, Camden and Union County (se:

Garbage incinerators are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, lead and other pollutants.

They should be targeted and shut down.

10. Why Do Schools and Day Care Centers Have Weaker Standards Than Water Systems?

I leave the best – or worst – in the Report for last.

The Report properly goes out of its way to stress that infants and children are highly vulnerable to low level exposures to lead.

But, the Report absurdly support the current school and daycare program, which has far weaker standards and requirements that the drinking water systems do, in terms of monitoring and remediation.

Why are infants and kids subject to weaker standards???

First, with respect to monitoring and reporting, schools are on a 3 year schedule. Water systems are required to do far more frequent sampling and reporting. Why should sampling and reporting be weaker at schools and daycares, where even short term low level exposures can seriously or even irreversibly harm an infant or child?

Second, with respect to remediation of lead problems that are discovered, schools are not required to remediate:

Neither state-licensed child care facilities nor schools in New Jersey are presently required to remediate lead in water. Facilities served by a water utility can simply close off access to the water outlets involved and substitute an alternative water source, such as bottled water. (Note: The federal LCR requires facilities that use well water to remediate.).

Instead of closing these egregious loopholes and mandating remediation, the Report recommends a lame “Drinking Water Management Plan” submission process.

Finally, the Report inadvertently reveals why the lead problem should not be imposed on schools. In the recommendations on how to prioritize current $100 million funds available, the Report notes:

Focus funds where they will have the greatest impact on public health. Recognizing that childhood lead poisoning is particularly acute in older municipalities, many of which are fiscally distressed, the funding distribution should prioritize those municipalities to ensure that the greatest number of lead-exposed students are protected.

In addition to “fiscal distress”, most of these communities are urban, racially segregated, over-burdened and disproportionately impacted by pollution (i.e. the environmental justice argument), and lack the resources and expertise to address the complex science and regulation of lead.

Instead of tackling these major issues head on, the Report spews drivel and euphemism. 

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It’s Time For a Publicly Financed Renewable Power Authority

October 9th, 2019 No comments

Wall Street Financing and Corporate Profits Vastly Increase Costs

Democratically Controlled Public Power Reduces Cost & Accelerates Transition To Renewables

More Jobs With Better Pay & Benefits And More Equitable Treatment of Low Income People

Enough of the shakedowns, blackmail and ripoffs

NJ Spotlight is again reporting on an expanding crisis in the solar power sector, as Wall Street and Corporate America flex their political muscles and seek to leverage and continue current windfall profits (no pun) they are making from the current “market based” “incentive” approach to subsidizing renewable energy in NJ, se:

Under the current “market based” approach, NJ homeowners, businesses, and workers are held hostage to the power and investment decisions of Wall Street and solar corporations.

Those private corporations decide when and where  and how much renewable power to invest in, how many jobs to create, how much those workers get paid, what benefits they are provided, who gets solar power, how much they pay for it, and how fast NJ can transition away from fossil fuels.

Most importantly, the need for Wall Street financing returns and corporate profits drives the cost of renewable power. Consumers are not only held hostage, they are paying a significant profit premium for renewable power.

I found this blatant blackmail threat to leave the state no different than the recent threat to shut down nuke plants in the “highway robbery” by PSEG in their nuke bailout: (NJ Spotlight)

If most developers agree with that assessment, it could lead to an exodus of large portions of the [solar] sector to other states, some said. By most accounts, the solar industry employs about 7,000 in New Jersey, more than 40% in the residential sector.

Get that?

If NJ ratepayers don’t provide sufficient profits to Wall Street banks and greedy solar investors, they will walk.

I say good riddance. Enough of the blackmail, shakedowns, and ripoffs.

Wall Street and the corporations have gone too far – their greed and arrogance know no bounds.

It’s time for public renewable power.

Public renewable power would put people of NJ in charge of the transition to renewable energy, democratizing current private market based decisions and significantly lowering the costs of that transition.

Public financing and ownership of solar and wind renewables would be FAR cheaper than relying on Wall Street financing and providing sufficient corporate profits for greedy investors.

Public ownership would allow real energy planning to occur, which would not only lower the costs, but greatly accelerate and rationalize the many technological, regulatory, and practical problems inherent in the massive transition away from a centralized fossil fuel based grid to energy efficiency and local distributed renewable power.

So, why not abandon the current market based approach and form a public NJ Solar Bank and Renewable Power Authority?

Legislation could build on the current NJ Environmental Infrastructure Trust. The NJEIT is able to secure lower cost financing.

The Bernie Sanders Green New Deal plan calls for public power, in the form of redirecting and expanding the missions and jurisdiction of current federal Power Marketing Authorities (e.g. the TVA).

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That federal approach is not inconsistent with State’s taking the lead in forming public power banks and publicly controlled renewable power authorities.

We are facing an existential crisis as a result of the accelerating climate emergency –

We can not put the fate of human civilization in the hands of Wall Street and greedy corporations.

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Dear Motor Home Neighbor: We Are Hoping To “Get More Information On Your Living Situation”

October 8th, 2019 No comments

Translation: We are watching you, we know where you are, & we want you gone

I’m not sure what’s worse: gross neglect and attacks on the homeless, or paternalistic false care.

Let me explain.

Yesterday, I was forced to stop for new tires in Half Moon Bay, California.

It’s a lovely little coastal town, just south of San Francisco, with lovely (very rich) people.

The State beach charged $10 daily admission fee. No thank you. We parked and walked a mile to the beach.

The local tire shop didn’t have tires in stock that fit my bus and had to order them from their nearby warehouse, forcing me to spend the night.

The tire shop generously offered me their parking space for overnight parking to avoid the local restrictions.

The tires didn’t come until late in the afternoon, so we decided to stay over another night in a “12 hour” parking zone just down the road from the tire place, on the edge of downtown, but near some fairly nice homes.

After the tire job was done, we parked and took a walk at sunset to get dinner. Upon our return, there were two bright yellow notes on the bus. I initially thought they were tickets. But instead, they said (format as in original):

Dear Motor Home Neighbor

We are hoping to survey you and our other neighbors living in motor homes to get more information about your living situation and the kind of services that might be helpful to you.

And we’ll give you a $50 Safeway gift card for your time.

If we missed you today, we plan to be back on Tuesday, 4-7 pm, Thursday 9 am – 12 pm, or Saturdays 12-3 pm until October 12. Two volunteers will knock and hope to speak to you.

Need help now? Please contact your local Core Agency, Coastside Hope at (650) 726-9071.

This is an anonymous survey conducted in partnership with County of San Mateo Human Service Agency.

What to make of this?

I immediately was pissed off by the arrogant presumption that my bus was a “motor home” and – with absolutely no evidence to support their conclusions – that I was in need of their “help” and “services”, and right “now”.

Of course, the Mr. Rogers “neighbor” rhetoric was condescending, at best.

Then the real message sunk in loud and clear: this was not some effort to help people, but a politically correct way to let people know that the authorities are aware of my presence and that they’d really like to see me gone ASAP.

I’ve been told that recent federal court decisions block California police from harassing people who live in vehicles. So, obviously, they can’t just send the cops to roust people out.

Is that now the caring California way to keep the presumed homeless moving down the coast?

I sure feel that way – how would you feel?

I really don’t think I’m being paranoid and cynical – but I’ll call these folks tomorrow to see what’s up.

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