Power Cut to 60,000 in Northern California to Prevent Wildfires
Major California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) shut off power to 60,000 Northern California residents Sunday night in an attempt to reduce the risk of wildfires sparking from hot, dry windy weather, the Huffington Post reported Tuesday.
A total of 100,000 people were warned their power might be cut off due to wind speeds of 60 miles per hour and gusts of 70 miles per hour increasing the risk of electrical fires.
"The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is PG&E's top priority," PG&E's senior vice president of electric operations Pat Hogan told the Huffington Post. "We know how much our customers rely on electric service and only considered temporarily turning off power in the interest of safety, and as a last resort during extreme weather conditions."
The communities covered by the blackout were about 42,0000 customers in El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras counties in the Sierra Foothills and 17,483 customers in parts of Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties, CNN reported.
PG&E tweeted Monday night that they had restored power to more than 38,000 customers in the North Bay and the Sierra Foothills as of 9:30 p.m. and expected to restore power to their remaining customers by Tuesday.
[Public Safety Power Shutoff Update] As of 9:30pm, +38k customers restored in North Bay & Sierra Foothills. We expe… https://t.co/NLiAXSpfot— PG&E (@PG&E)1539665978.0
More than 22 million people both in Northern and Southern California were under a Red Flag Warning Monday, the warning issued when conditions are ripe for wildfires, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said.
"It's fire weather season," Brink said. "Any new fires that do form today will spread rapidly."
Trees striking power lines are a major fire risk, and were the cause of a dozen of the fires that formed a deadly cluster in Northern California in the fall of 2017, according to a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection report cited by the Huffington Post.
But some customers and consumer advocates said the blackouts were less about protecting the public, and more about protecting utilities from liability.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law weeks ago that allows PG&E to pay off the more than 200 lawsuits it is facing over the 2017 fires using state bonds, but the legislation did not spare the utilities from future liability.
"When the utilities don't get what they want, they start turning the power off," Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court told The New York Times. "They were disappointed in the Legislature. They clearly want more. They want no liability."
Locals also complained that the blackouts were only necessary because PG&E hadn't done the work of maintaining its lines by clearing trees ahead of time.
"There's a feeling that this is because PG&E didn't take care of what needed to be taken care of in the past, and now we're having to pay the price for that," Nevada City independent movie theater manager Celine Negrete told the San Francisco Chronicle, as the Huffington Post reported. "That's what I'm hearing on social media really loudly."
Increased wildfires in California have been linked to climate change, and senior vice president for transmission and distribution at Southern California Edison Phil Herrington, whose utility also warned customers they could face blackouts, defended the utilities' actions as an extreme response to an extreme situation.
"The change in weather patterns that we're seeing, we have to look at everything in a new light," Herrington told The New York Times "It is something that truly is a last resort for us."
Wildfires, Record Highs Scorch California https://t.co/2AAbrihDqt #HeatWave2018 #HeatWaveLA @NRDC @ClimateReality… https://t.co/pHrHsyQMU8— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1531137679.0
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.