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Gov. Brown's Cozy Ties to Oil & Gas Is a Threat to California's Coast and Democracy
The four California Coastal Commission members appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown have been maneuvering to oust its outspoken executive director Dr. Charles Lester. This campaign to unseat Dr. Lester is an unsheathed assault on the coastal commission's integrity and a dire threat to the California coast. It is also an audacious display of industry power, which will come to a head Wednesday at the commission's quarterly meeting in Morro Bayon.
The 12-member coastal commission has regulatory authority over all permits, licenses and funding approvals for projects impacting coastal resources, including offshore oil and gas development. For more than 40 years the coastal commission has brought balance to the struggle between advocates of clean water, healthy wetlands, unspoiled vistas, unpaved agricultural farms and broad public access against the real estate and energy tycoons who now seek Dr. Lester's ouster. Dr. Lester has been the commission's most vocal champion for safeguarding California's public trust assets and preserving the coast from unwise and shortsighted development.
Industry launched its campaign to topple Dr. Lester shortly after he expressed skepticism over the proposed Banning Ranch development, which would place nearly 1,400 homes with resort and retail space on environmentally sensitive coastal habitat and wetlands. Aera Energy, a jointly owned affiliate of Royal Dutch Shell PLC and ExxonMobil Corp, is a leading project promoter.
Californians are increasingly aware of the anti-democratic clout wielded by energy barons and developers.
The ongoing Porter Ranch gas leak offers striking parallels and strong cautions about Sacramento's merger with corporate power. The Porter Ranch disaster is the offspring of a greedy company and its delinquent regulator who ignored a missing safety valve on a 62-year-old well for 31 years. When the inevitable blow out happened, it took Gov. Brown 40 days to declare a state of emergency to address the largest gas leak in history—one which has displaced 4,400 families, sickened hundreds of adults and children and drawn compelling comparisons to the BP oil spill.
Residents wonder if Gov. Brown's cozy ties to petroleum and real estate interests inspired his lethargy. Brown has taken $1.1 million from real estate developers since 2011 and $2,014,570 from oil and gas barons since 2006. His sister, Kathleen Brown, sits on the board of Sempra Energy, whose affiliate, SoCal Gas, is the culprit in the Porter Ranch well collapse. Sempra paid her $188,380 in 2014 and $267,865 in 2013. Kathleen Brown also owns rights to Sempra stock worth $409,945. She is a partner at a law firm that represents the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) and a defendant in a RICO—Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization—lawsuit against Gov. Brown and the oil industry. CIPA and its members donated lavishly to Gov. Brown's legacy ballot measure—Prop 30.
Beginning in 2011, CIPA joined with Occidental Petroleum to persuade Brown to approve a host of illegal injection wells of the kind that failed at Porter Ranch. In response to a direct request from Occidental's attorney Gray Davis, Brown fired two diligent public servants—State Oil & Gas supervisor Elena Miller and her boss Derek Chernow, the acting director of the state Department of Conservation—when they refused to issue illegal well permits.
Two months later, on Jan. 9, 2012, Brown's new State Oil & Gas supervisor, Tim Kustic, issued Occidental an illegal permit to drill a frack well in a Kern County almond orchard without the required environmental review designed to protect vital aquifers. Four days later, Occidental gave its first of two $250,000 contributions to the governor's proposition to increase taxes. In a striking expression of fealty to the carbon czars, Brown pledged on the same day as the Occidental contribution that neither human health injuries nor the law would deter him from continuing to serve their interests. “There will be indictments and there will be deaths. But we're going to keep going," he said.
In total, grateful oil and gas tycoons contributed more than $1.2 million to Brown's proposition to increase income taxes. Brown later boasted that firing Miller and Chernow facilitated oil development in Kern County. It also meant that millions of gallons of contaminated waste would be injected each month into the aquifers in the California San Joaquin Valley.
In her shocking new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Jane Mayer reveals how a small cadre of oil titans have used their astonishing riches to game America's political system, capture our regulatory agencies, corrupt our politicians in order to subvert democracy, defy our environmental laws and push American democracy toward a new Gilded Age for corporate kleptocracy.
California and a handful of other states have largely escaped this kind of hostile takeover of state government by corporate power. But California's democratic values cannot flourish long with Sacramento politicians suckling at pipelines of oily cash. The move to oust the coastal commission director is a signal that public servants with courage and integrity that stand up to well-connected robber barons will be crushed and silenced by government officials on industry payroll.
As the coastal commission convenes tomorrow, the rest of the world will be watching California, not just for how she protects her coastlines, but how she safeguards her democracy.
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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.
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Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.
But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.
Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.
The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.