Special Transportation Session Stuck in Legislative Gridlock

road_blockMuch like much of the state’s traffic, the legislative special session on transportation/infrastructure is stuck in gridlock. Democratic legislators have a plan to provide $7.5 billion a year in new tax revenue. The governor’s plan also includes tax increases. Republicans want to use current tax revenue more efficiently, cap and trade funds for roads or direct some of the road related monies like truck weight fees directly into road improvements. Neither side budges.

Could this gridlock be altered by the results of November’s elections?

If the Democrats secure the two-thirds majority that would allow them to raise taxes without Republican support, then its game over, right? The Democrats will pass a tax increase and the governor will sign it.

Not necessarily.

While many Democrats are happy to blame the Republicans for the gridlock over the special session because the GOP won’t okay taxes, the scolding Democrats conveniently overlook a good portion of their own caucus, which is wary of raising gasoline taxes on constituents.

Recall that the piece dropped from the controversial SB 350 last year had to do with cutting gasoline use, which in turn would have increased gas prices, something Democrats particularly representing poorer or inner valley areas of the state did not want to do. Raising gas taxes will also add to the cost of gasoline.

Given the demands of voters to relieve gridlock on roads, the advocacy of the business community to spark the economy with a better transportation system, and the support of labor forces to get good construction jobs, you would think a compromise would be attainable.

But environmentalists and public unions don’t want to give on CEQA reform or restructuring CalTrans as some Republicans have suggested, and Republican legislators are concerned about a backlash if they raise taxes.

In the meantime, there are discussions about the possibility of a ballot initiative backed by the business community modeled after the school-funding plan, Proposition 98, which would dedicate money to transportation infrastructure and the roads.

If nothing comes out of the special session soon, other forces could attempt to deal with this crucial issue.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Gov. Brown signs legislation regulating cow, landfill emissions

As reported by the Orange County Register:

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday that regulates for the first time greenhouse-gas emissions tied to dairy cows and landfills, an escalation of California’s efforts to fight climate change beyond carbon-based gases to include methane and other pollutants.

The move by the Democratic governor targets a category of gases known as short-lived climate pollutants, which have an outsize effect on global warming despite their relatively short life in the atmosphere. Environmentalists hope that tackling short-lived pollutants now would buy time to develop new and more affordable technology to reduce carbon emissions.

The legislation will require steep reductions in a variety of pollutants, including methane; HFC gases used in aerosols and air conditioning refrigerants; and soot, known as black carbon. It’s tied to $90 million in funding for the dairy industry and garbage collectors. …

Click here to read the full story

Environmentalists suffer defeat on coastal commission bills

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Efforts by Democratic lawmakers to overhaul two state environmental boards they viewed as too tight with developers and the oil industry foundered badly on the final day of the legislative session.

Three bills to increase transparency at the California Coastal Commission and increase state appointments to a Southern California air pollution regulator fell far short of passage in the Senate and Assembly after business and labor groups stepped up pressure on legislators.

The loss was particularly stinging for members who have led a vocal campaign this year against perceived problems at the coastal commission. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said she would take up the fight again next session.

“Our coast is not the property of well-connected special interests. It is not a bargaining chip for backroom deal-making,” she said in a statement. “It is for all of us, and we must continue fight to protect it for our state and future generations.”

Environmentalists were enraged in …

CA fracking frozen by feds

Offshore frackingTwin legal settlements with environmentalist plaintiffs put a freeze on fracking in California waters. “The agreements in Los Angeles federal court apply to operations off Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. operate platforms,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Federal agencies will have to complete the review by the end of May and determine if a more in-depth analysis is necessary,” the paper added. “They will also have to make future permit applications publicly accessible.” If the practice clears federal scrutiny and is deemed adequately safe to the environment, fracking operations could continue. If not, they could be postponed or forestalled indefinitely.

Notching a victory

The result marked a significant win for the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Defense Center, two organizations that alleged frackers had imperiled aquatic life with “over 9 billion gallons of wastewater” each year, according to Grist. Accusing the U.S. Department of the Interior of “rubber-stamping fracking off California’s coast without engaging the public or analyzing fracking’s threats to ocean ecosystems, coastal communities and marine life,” as the Christian Science Monitor observed, the groups filed suit against the federal government.

In a report on the deal, the left-leaning think tank Think Progress noted that fracking had quietly been conducted off the California coast for years. “The initial revelation of ongoing offshore fracking came as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests filed with the Department of the Interior by the Associated Press and Santa Barbara-based community organization the Environmental Defense Center, which just released a new report on the issue,” the organization recalled. “The investigations have found over 200 instances of fracking operations in state and federal waters off California, all unbeknownst to a state agency with jurisdiction over the offshore oil and gas industry.”

Industry pushback

For their part, defendants insisted the case was without merit. “Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said that the petroleum industry has operated safely in California for decades, working closely with regulators and other officials,” Natural Gas Intelligence reported. Industry defenders have argued that offshore fracking levels in the Pacific haven’t been that high. While the moratorium “will not likely affect production at large because California has not been producing much offshore oil lately,” Reuters noted, “companies have fracked at least 200 wells in Long Beach, Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and in the wildlife-rich Santa Barbara Channel,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The American Petroleum Institute, which joined the suit as a defendant, has refused to agree to the settlement package. Other hurdles to its implementation have arisen. The two separate settlements must still be approved by a federal judge, according to NGI.

Porter Ranch debate

Although the EPA largely exonerated fracking of the dire accusations leveled against it by some environmental activists, the practice has re-entered the public debate in California due to the massive gas leak in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of greater Los Angeles. Maya Golden-Krasner, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, recently linked the disaster to fracking in an editorial at the Sacramento Bee; “newly uncovered documents show that hydraulic fracturing was commonly used in the Aliso Canyon gas storage wells,” she wrote, “including a well less than a half-mile from the leak.” Perhaps predictably, Golden-Krasner called for Gov. Jerry Brown to ban the practice of fracking across the state of California.

Regulators have been investigating a possible connection. “More than two months after Southern California Gas Co. detected a leak at its Aliso Canyon field, observers are searching for reasons the well may have failed. Some environmentalists are drawing attention to fracking, while experts caution that such a rupture is unlikely,” the Los Angeles Daily News observed. “The leaking well’s maintenance records don’t indicate that it was fracked, according to a review of the file released by the state Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

VIDEO: James Lacy — Why CA Gas Prices Remain Sky-High

James Lacy, author of Taxifornia, explains to Fox Business’ Stuart Varney how CA’s over-the-top environmental regulations cause the state’s gas prices to soar above the rest of the nation.

 

Libertarians, Government Unions and Infrastructure Development

 

“Alright, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
–  John Cleese, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979

Infrastructure constructionAny discussion of California’s neglected infrastructure has to recognize the three factors most responsible: Libertarians, environmentalists and government unions. Picking libertarians as the first example is not by accident, because libertarians are perhaps the most unwitting participants in the squelching of public infrastructure investment. By resisting government involvement in any massive public works project, libertarians provide cover to public sector unions who know that public works funding competes for tax revenues with their own pay and benefits.

When it comes to squelching public infrastructure investment, however, nobody can compete with California’s environmentalist lobby. Their lawsuits have stalled infrastructure development for decades. And the identity of interests between government unions and environmentalists is multi-faceted. The most obvious is that when there is no money for infrastructure there is more money for government worker pay and benefits. And of course, the more environmentalist regulations are passed, the more need to hire more unionized government workers.

Then there are the unintended and largely unnoticed financial consequences of environmentalism abetting the government union agenda. As California’s carbon emission auction collections slowly grow into billions per year, government jobs are redefined to incorporate “climate change mitigation.” Code inspectors and planning department personnel become climate change enforcers ala revised building codes and zoning laws. Bus drivers become mass transit workers mitigating climate change. Firefighters combat lengthier fire seasons, and even police are called into action because hotter weather is correlated to higher crime rates. And as they work to mitigate the impact of climate change, all of them quietly qualify for a share of the carbon emission auction proceeds.

The unintended economic consequences of environmentalism abetting the government union agenda are among the hardest to explain. Of course environmentalism can slow down economic growth. At some reasonable level – which we’re well beyond – that’s even desirable. But the environmentalist squelching of public infrastructure development, along with competitive private sector development of land, energy and water resources, has created artificial scarcity. In turn, this drives up asset values which helps government pension funds two ways (1) directly through appreciation of their invested assets, and (2) indirectly, by creating new real estate collateral for consumer borrowing which stimulates consumer spending which creates corporate profits and stock appreciation. In short, the economic consequences of artificial scarcity are asset bubbles that, for a time, keep unionized government worker pension funds solvent. When you can’t afford to own a modest home, or run an energy intensive business, remember this.

What libertarians and environmentalists both need to understand is that massive public works are one of the prerequisites for broadly distributed prosperity. And the environmentalist bias against massive civil engineering projects is two-faced. For example, managing delta salinity, the flow of the San Joaquin River, and the very existence of one of the largest refuges for waterfowl in the American southwest, the Salton Sea, are all dependent on dams, aqueducts and irrigation. But no more?

If you search for interest groups that favor massive civil engineering projects, you’ll look far and wide and find nothing of significance. Private sector unions ought to be leading the charge, but in recognition of the power of environmentalists and government unions, they settle for politically correct projects of marginal productive value – high speed rail, delta tunnels, and the occasional stadium. The Silicon Valley lobby is even worse – rather than support abundance through innovation, they embrace conservation through surveillance. If Californians recovered an additional 10 million acre feet per year of fresh water through civil engineering projects such as desalination, dam storage, and sewage reuse, there would be no need to embed internet devices into “smart” (and mandatory) side loading washers, low flow toilets, water meters, dish washers, and irrigation systems.

The biggest challenge ideologically however confronts libertarians. Because in the real world, we need to build civil infrastructure within a financial and legal framework that relies to some significant degree on government. If libertarians can reconcile their ideals with the needs of Californians, they might rally private sector union leadership, practical environmentalists, and altruistic members of the public sector. Massive infrastructure development in California on all fronts is long overdue. The revenue producing elements of this infrastructure could be financed through the pension funds – only consuming a fraction of their assets – and give truth to their currently preposterous assertion that they’re helping our economy.

Imagine if California’s government, with help from private and federal sources, was truly committed to creating abundance again through massive civil engineering projects across all areas of critical infrastructure. Can libertarians find a formula that would enable them to urgently support this without violating their core ideals? Can they support development while also being the watchdog against corruption? It could make all the difference in the world.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Drought: Many point finger of blame at environmentalists

As California’s potent drought inspired soul searching from analysts worried the Golden State can’t grow without water, politicians and officials focused on a more immediate task: laying blame for the problem.

Gov. Jerry Brown has tried to set a philosophical tone, cautioning that “we are embarked upon an experiment that no one has ever tried: 38 million people, with 32 million vehicles, living at the level of comfort that we all strive to attain. This will require adjustment. This will require learning.” But environmentalists have urged him to add water restrictions to California’s big farmers.

At the same time, environmentalism itself has become caught in the political crossfire.

Assigning blame

In recent radio remarks to The Blaze, likely GOP presidential contender Carly Fiorina castigated “liberal environmentalists” for creating a statewide “tragedy.”

“[D]espite the fact that California has suffered from droughts for millennia, liberal environmentalists have prevented the building of a single new reservoir or a single new water conveyance system over decades during a period in which California’s population has doubled,” she said. “There is a man-made lack of water in California — and Washington manages the water for the farmers.”

california drought, Cagle, Feb. 21, 2014Fiorina has not been alone in teeing up environmentalists for criticism over the Golden State’s dire straits. As The Hill noted, “Republicans in California and in Congress have proposed multiple times to beef up the state’s water storage with more dams and reservoirs. Environmentalists have pushed back and questioned the impact that the projects would have on the state’s water needs.”

In a related spat, Republicans at the federal level blamed environmental interests for President Obama’s threatened veto of a bill that would pump water from California’s Delta region into Southern California. The move drew howls from California’s Republican delegation.

When the president ordered Northern California water withheld to protect the tiny Delta smelt, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called the act a “culmination of failed federal and state policies that have exacerbated the current drought into a man-made water crisis. Sacramento and Washington have chosen to put the well-being of fish above the well-being of people by refusing to capture millions of acre-feet of water during wet years for use during dry years.”

Recently, faced with questioning on the drought, White House press secretary Josh Earnest rebuffed the matter. According to Politico, Earnest “said the Obama administration does not have any policy changes to share, and he listed steps that President Barack Obama has taken to offer relief to the state, such as sending $60 million to California food banks and $15 million for farmers and ranchers.”

“We’re going to continue to be in touch with California,” he concluded.

Fracking fight

At the same time federal water allocation has become a bone of political contention, the role of fracking in water consumption has also come under scrutiny. In furtherance of a law passed last year that requires oil and gas companies to disclose how much water they use, state officials told Reuters that last year that the figure hit some 70 million gallons’ worth.

But rather than bowing to objections from within his own party, Gov. Jerry Brown declined to crack down on the practice.

“Despite pressure from environmentalists, Brown has not called for a halt to fracking in the state, saying it is not a major drain on water supplies. ‘Hydraulic fracturing uses a relatively small amount of water – the equivalent of 514 households annually’ per well, said Steven Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor. About 100,000 gallons of water is used on average per well, he said.”

For environmentalists, who have been at odds with fracking for years, both in California and across the country, the drought’s intensity simply supplied yet another reason that the practice should end.