Mixed greens

 

Ever since the scraggly mountain-roaming John Muir joined other Californians to found the Sierra Club in 1892, that state has led the country in protecting the environment.

California began regulating pesticides back in the horse-and-buggy era. Beginning in the 1950s, it passed comprehensive laws for air and water quality, regulation of toxic substances, tougher emissions and efficiency requirements for cars and a ban on offshore oil drilling. All those helped inspire federal laws that covered the whole country. The state has also blazed the way for action on climate change, with the country's toughest renewable-energy requirements: Its utilities must get 20 percent of their electricity from renewables by next year and cannot buy from new coal plants.

Despite its leadership on those green issues, California has a hard time coping with another kind of green: money.

California's government now suffers the worst economic problems of any state, which is really saying something, since the Wall Street/housing industry bust has thrown nearly every state into crisis. California's annual budget deficit is a staggering $27 billion, and its debt from past borrowing stands at $70 billion. That's begun to erode some of the state's environmental achievements. This winter, California froze millions of dollars in funding for thousands of conservation projects. Though that money has begun to move, its long-term availability is uncertain and many conservation groups are still reeling from the delay. Now, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he might have to close hundreds of state parks and eliminate many social programs, such as health care for a million poor kids. No kidding: On July 2, the government began writing IOUs to vendors and taxpayers who are owed refunds. (It's the only state ever to try that -- so far.)

And those are only the symptoms of deeper problems. California's government has been short of money for more than a decade, even as other states went through good times. "It's unfixable," says George Skelton, who covers state politics for the Los Angeles Times. "It will remain unfixable until California's system of governance is pulled apart and overhauled."

In other words, California's politics are like those in every other state and the federal system, only more so.

A one-track anti-government movement has limited California's tax collections and made it nearly impossible to pass any new state tax or even the annual budget. (A two-thirds majority in the Legislature is required.) It's constantly knocking out the most experienced legislators with an imposition of term limits. Failures of the Legislature and governor also trigger barrages of ballot initiatives, in which voters pass special-interest laws with little thought about consequences. Ballot measures to get tough on crime and expand mental health care, for instance, have caused those expenditures to skyrocket.

California's political parties have gerrymandered legislative districts so that the majority party in each district almost always wins the general elections. That shifts the action to the primaries, where the hard-liners rule. "We have a system … where getting stuck in our ideological corners is being rewarded and compromise is being punished," says Schwarzenegger, who's a Republican.

In a May 19 special election, when the governor and Legislature presented five ballot measures to address aspects of the current economic catastrophe, four were rejected -- a crucial decision made by just 12 percent of the eligible voters. That's how many voted against the measures; 7 percent supported the measures and nobody else bothered to vote.

Efforts to reform California's system are making some headway, though, as more people recognize how bad things have become. Voters passed a measure last November establishing an independent bipartisan committee to reshape legislative districts, which could make elections more competitive and increase the odds for moderates to win. There are calls for more ballot measures to roll back the anti-government movement.

All this is a reminder to environmentalists everywhere: It's a good idea to work as broadly as possible, politically and economically. Consider the needs of others. Money shortages and destructive politics might cause environmental goals to be weakened or put off. And unless the basic problems of government and society are addressed, any environmental victory will be hollow.

Snapshot

Carbon capture chimera?

When the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed the House of Representatives on June 26, the U.S. took another cautious step toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Such regulations eventually may take a bite out of the fossil fuel industry and the nation's cheapest source of energy: coal. So lawmakers and officials have been pouring resources into geologic carbon sequestration – a process for scrubbing carbon dioxide out of the exhaust streams of big emitters like coal-fired power plants and oil refineries, compressing the gas into a liquid, and injecting it deep underground. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about two years into an estimated half-decade rulemaking process to accommodate sequestration under U.S. underground drinking water protections. In the West, where disused oil and gas fields are likely candidates for initial attempts at large-scale carbon storage, several states have passed laws to govern the as-yet-nonexistent industry. So far, Wyoming has led the push, and it's not hard to see why. The state's economy relies heavily upon energy development and, according to Headwaters Economics, is more vulnerable to fossil fuel market volatility than any other state in the Lower 48.

--Terray Sylvester

481 million Dollars the Department of Energy invested in geologic sequestration research and development between 1997 and 2008

3.4 billion Dollars allocated to the same purpose under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act                 of 2009

20 Minimum percentage of a standard coal-fired power plant's electricity output required to capture
 and compress its CO2 emissions with current technology

67,000 Minimum number of new sequestration wells the U.S. would need to drill in order to maintain emissions near 1990 levels for the next 20 years

670 billion Rough cost estimate, in dollars, for those wells

40,000 Average number of new oil and gas wells  drilled annually in the United States

0 Number of large-volume carbon capture and sequestration projects active in the United States

3 Number of large-volume carbon capture and sequestration projects active worldwide

1 million Metric tons of carbon dioxide injected annually under the North Sea since 1996, when                 Statoil's Sleipner project began operating

1 million Average annual carbon dioxide emissions, in metric tons, of one 150-megawatt coal-fired power  plant


High Country News Classifieds
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Board of Diablo Trust is seeking applications for full-time Program Manager with duties of overseeing the coordination and administration of the Diablo Trusts ongoing...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • SECLUDED TWO-STORY CUSTOM LOG HOME
    in 16-acre pinion pine forest with year-round stream, mountain views, wildlife. Garage, root cellar, wood shop, one-room cabin, RV shed, pasture, garden. [email protected]
  • BEAUTIFUL, CUSTOM RASTRA BLOCK ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME
    Mature, six-acre Ponderosa forest, open pasture. Spectacular Sangre de Cristo mountain & valley views. Well maintained, paved county road, easy drive to world-class skiing &...
  • OJO CALIENTE RIVERSIDE SECLUSION
    Private, 2bd/2bath green home on 2 acres on the Ojo Caliente River between the confluence of the Chama & Rio Grande Rivers. Close to hiking,...
  • CLASSIC NEW MEXICO MOUNTAIN VIEWS
    of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. 3.19 acre lot to build on to escape the crush of city/town life. Short distance to trails, skiing, fishing,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • ASSOCIATE OF PROGRAMS
    The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision-making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...