News about energy and the environment

Cal Fire: Wildfire Danger Still High

Oct 4, 2012
Sierra National Forest

The hot weather is expected to end throughout most of California on Thursday, with cooler temperatures in the forecast. But with no significant rainfall in sight, state officials warn of continued fire danger.

So far this year, Cal Fire crews have responded to more than 5,300 wildfires. That’s nearly 20% more than average. And state officials say the threat of new fires isn’t over.

“Even though the calendar says ‘October’ fire danger level is high. We want people to be prepared.”

Governor Brown Signs Environmental Bills

Sep 25, 2012
Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics / http://www.flickr.com/photos/modernrelics/4461010654/

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a number of bills Tuesday that he says are designed to help the environment and improve state parks.

The Governor signed two bills that will keep state parks open and improve their management. One of them places a two-year moratorium on any park closure. It designates 30 million dollars to prevent parks from closing, to match private and local donations, and for park maintenance.

Another bill requires the state parks department to create a plan to generate revenues and calls for tighter accounting practices.

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Historical Ecology Study / San Francisco Estuary Institute-Aquatic Science Center / California Department of Fish and Game

A new study released this week by the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the California Department of Fish and Game aims to turn back the clock and learn how the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta used to work - over 150 years ago.

It's part of an effort to allow scientists to better understand how to restore the Delta, by examining how the massive freshwater estuary functioned, before the gold rush and agriculture transformed the region with levees, shipping channels and dredging. 

Licensed using Creative Commons from Flickr user CHRISTOPHER MACSURAK / http://www.flickr.com/photos/macsurak/6195650749/

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation that imposes a 1-percent tax on lumber products starting in January. The bill also protects the timber industry from excessive legal damages for wildfires.

The bill had strong backing from the California timber industry for several reasons. It eliminates regulatory fees companies currently pay when harvesting and shifts the costs to consumers through the tax. It also limits legal damages landowners pay for starting wildfires.

Dry Lightning Sparks Increased Fire Danger

Sep 6, 2012

The weather forecast for Northern and Central California over the next few days has state fire fighters on high alert.   CalFIRE’s Daniel Berlant says thunderstorms and strong winds could lead to dry lightning.   "When we get lightning-sparked fires, there can be dozens – even sometimes hundreds – of fires spread out through a large area.  That always is a challenge for us, because that means additional resources are needed.”    So CalFIRE is placing more fire fighters on duty and staffing its reserve engines in preparation for the increased fire danger.

The operator of California’s power grid says a single-day record amount of energy was harvested from the sun not once, but twice in the past month.   The California Independent System Operator (Cal ISO)  reports solar production exceeded the one-gigawatt plateau twice in August.  Stephanie McCorkle with Cal ISO says higher production coincides with decreasing costs. “It’s just like with any of these breakthrough technologies, whether it’s cell phones or, in fact, I can remember when calculators came down in the cost the more they were produced and sold.

Licensed under Creative Commons from Flickr user moominsean / http://www.flickr.com/photos/sjrohde/7389804696/

California is working on a plan to balance goals of developing renewable energy projects on desert lands and protect the endangered species that live there. Californians can weigh in at a public meeting on Wednesday

Remote desert areas may seem like the perfect place for wind and solar energy projects. But some projects have already stalled because they threaten endangered species such as the desert tortoise or bighorn sheep.

The state and the federal government are working on a plan to balance those two goals.

California Tests Cap and Trade System

Aug 31, 2012

California officials are ramping up for the greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade market this November, where companies will be required to pay for their pollution. The state held a trial auction to test the new system for selling carbon credits on Thursday.

The main goal of the test run is to make sure the software works smoothly and prevents attempts to game the bidding system, according to, Stanley Young who is with the California Air Resources Board.

Many rural Tulare County residents can't drink water from their wells due to nitrate pollution. But now a group of Visalia Rotarians are working to change that, by donating $15,000 worth of reverse-osmosis filters to residents in the small community of Monson.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Plans for a controversial aggregate mine on Jesse Morrow Mountain east of Sanger have stalled after the Fresno County Board of Supervisors failed to approve the project after a marathon meeting Tuesday night. The supervisors were being asked to reverse a decision by the Fresno County Planning Commission, which rejected the project in May. 

Overhaul of Environmental Law Dead for the Year

Aug 23, 2012
Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics / http://www.flickr.com/photos/modernrelics/4461010654/

A last-minute effort at the State Capitol to overhaul California’s complex environmental review process for development projects is dead for the year. A big push from business and labor groups to reform the law came to an abrupt halt today.

Around 40 environmental and public health activists from the San Joaquin Valley staged a rally today at the state capitol, pushing for a wide range of regulatory and legislative actions that they claim will improve air quality in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition traveled to Sacramento to gather public support and to meet with legislators on a number of environmental issues. The group is asking the legislature to fund more air quality monitors in the Valley and in the Sierra, as well as to restore a monitoring site in Arvin that had been moved.

State Water Resources Control Board

Two major environmental groups have filed suit against the California State Department of Public Health for what they call a failure by the state to set rules for the safe amount of a toxic chemical in drinking water. Hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, gained widespread attention as the chemical that sickened residents in the film Erin Brockovich. 

GMO Food Labeling Initiative Could Affect Natural Foods Too

Aug 13, 2012

California’s Proposition 37 would require foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. But a part of the initiative regarding what foods can be labeled "natural" has sparked controversy.

The fuss is over the language that supporters say aims to ban genetically engineered foods from being labeled "natural."

Residents in the Fresno County town of Easton get their water from backyard wells. But many of those wells recently tested above the official limit for certain toxins. It's just the latest case of rural San Joaquin Valley residents struggling to find safe water to drink. Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee reports.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

People use more energy when it’s hot, and California’s power grid operator has issued a Flex Alert because of the current heat wave.

Cal-ISO is the state’s Independent System Operator. When the forecast for demand gets close to the state’s power generating capacity, the operator calls a Flex Alert. Stephanie McCorkle with Cal-ISO says it’s most important to conserve during the peak usage hours between 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

"Electricity is not something you can bottle up and store on a shelf. It is basically consumed the instant it is produced.”

Sierra National Forest

Fires sparked by lightning on Saturday  continue to burn today in rugged terrain in the Sierra Nevada mountains, nearly a week after they began. In the Sierra National Forest east of Fresno the Bear Fire has consumed over 700 acres of timber between Edison and Florence Lake.

Ten smoke jumpers, four helicopters and four fixed wing aircraft are battling the blaze, which is in terrain ranging from 7,500 to 9,000 feet in elevation. The fire is currently 50 percent contained. No structures are threatened. 

Fresno County Dept Public Works & Planning / Librun Corp

The Fresno County Planning Commission approved a controversial proposal for a gravel mining project near the Kings River north of Reedley today on a 6-1 vote.

The Carmelita Project is a planned 886 acre gravel mine between Reed Avenue and the Kings River.  The project will be divided into 22 mining "cells" each of them 40 acres in size and up to 50 feet deep. Over the next 100 years, the mine will produce as much as 1.25 million tons of sand and rock each year. The land is owned by Fresno based Gerawan Farming, and is currently home to fruit orchards.

California’s top wildlife official lost that job today seven months after he shot a mountain lion in Idaho. As KPCC’s Julie Small reports, the state Fish and Game Commission voted him out of office.

It wasn’t illegal for commission president Dan Richards to kill the cougar, or to pose with his prey for a photograph that later circulated online.

California banned mountain lion hunts decades ago - but Idaho and many other states allow them.

California Air Resources Board

The California Air Resources Board has created a map that shows the state’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. It is a significant step in the development of California’s Cap and Trade program.

On the new Google Earth map are 625 facilities that each produce more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. The map breaks down facilities by industry, zip code and emissions. But, Stanley Young with the Air Resources Board says state-to-state comparisons aren’t yet available.