Urgent Need to Re-think State’s Failing Water Policies

water-desalinationAs the debate rages over the election of the next president, it seems that another debate with significant implications for California has yet to take place.

It concerns the one commodity which our state and the planet cannot do without — water.

As California enters its sixth year of a historic drought, the solutions from Sacramento have been short in coming and predictions that there will be continuing water shortages are as solid as the belief that the sun will always come up again.

The drought-induced impacts on drinking water, food supplies, industrial needs, community services, electricity requirements, new housing development, labor demands, wetlands restoration, fish and wildlife preservation, fire prevention, recreational uses, and a host of other concerns are not going away. And this is the short list.

The litany of troubles can be expected to continue and grow if the state, regional and local governments are content with short-sighted often conflicting approaches for tackling the state’s number one problem.

At least eight state agencies headed up by the State Water Resources Control Board have some role in combatting drought — and that by itself may be one of the issues.

The governor appointed a “water Czar,” Felicia Marcus, a former public interest lawyer and EPA regional administrator with the unenviable task of needing to create some order out of the sprawling network of autonomous agencies that have a say in water policy.

While given generally high marks for imposing some discipline on an unmanageable enterprise, she is mainly a regulator whose principal job is to police the worst water abusers and make sure that violators pay the penalties.

In the absence of a comprehensive long range plan to deal with future droughts, the governor has resorted to a steady issuance of Executive Orders restating the urgency of beefing up conservation efforts since his well-publicized Drought State of Emergency proclamation on January 17, 2014.

It called for the creation of an interagency Drought Task Force responsible for overseeing the implementation of drought mitigation plans throughout California. It is better known for holding hearings, reviewing water allocations and serving as a clearinghouse for information.

Similar task forces have been assembled during past droughts with mixed results. Naming them is the first thing chief executives do in a crisis. However if their charters are not backed by strong political muscle and the funds needed to carry out the job they can become just another toothless entity in the vast machinery of government.

Regardless, nature has its own ideas and stopgap measures to bring drought relief have been a poor substitute for long term remedies that planners have ignored and for which there has generally been insufficient funding. That remains the case today.

The state’s $1 billion drought relief plan was put into effect only last May which amounts to a down payment on what will be needed. In comparison, the high-speed rail project — still a distant vision beset by legal challenges and bureaucratic delays — has a projected tab of over $70 billion.

The principal battle cry of the drought fighters is stricter conservation and improved water management practices.  Nothing wrong with that, but since these traditional palliatives require major behavioral changes which many consumers choose to ignore, the gains are usually short lived and inadequate.

Better water management makes good sense but only if users comply with the rules.

When “voluntary” measures failed, the governor invoked mandatory regulations calling at first for 25 percent water savings across the board by all communities, businesses and farms.

Initially that brought some positive results persuading the state water mavens to lower the mandate to 20 percent. The reprieve was a mistake with the citizenry soon reverting to its old ways.

Just a week ago the Water Resources Control Board announced monthly water savings has declined to 17.7 percent — down from a 27 percent savings in August 2015.

No doubt this will soon prompt another edict from the governor’s office to turn down the spigots once again, take fewer showers, stop washing sidewalks, and let lawns die. But that’s only the tip of the water bucket.

With weather forecasters predicting a warmer, drier winter for much of central and Southern California as La Nina makes another appearance, the territorial feuding over water allocation is certain to heat up as well.

This has pitted the state’s giant and powerful agribusiness interests which generate $46 billion annually for California’s economy against urban communities and small businesses with a comparable stake in hoarding the precious liquid.

According to one report, the state‘s agricultural industry is losing $9.6 billion each year as a result of the drought and water restrictions. California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced 17,000 agricultural jobs have been lost to date as a result of crop reduction with the number rising.

At the center of the controversy is the governor’s “twin tunnels” plan that would divert freshwater from the Delta through two 35 mile tunnels to feed water-starved southerners leaving northern farmers with less water they claim would be too salty to grow crops.

In addition to the devastating effects of droughts, 30 percent of southern California’s water supply flows through the Delta which could be disrupted by a major earthquake — another of nature’s events whose worst consequences even the most intelligent planning might not fully avert.

It isn’t that the water crisis is not seen as a high priority. The challenge is to get ahead of the issue as you would in treating a chronic disease before it overpowers other bodily systems.

That will not happen if droughts are looked upon as nasty yet unavoidable short term episodes such as forest fires that can have dramatic consequences but will eventually get containment.

In discussing responses to the drought Brown recently commented, “It takes a long time for people to grasp an unprecedented change in the state of California.”

This somewhat laisse fair approach does not give confidence that we are doing all that is possible and necessary to deal with the inevitable.

According to an earlier report by the authoritative University of California Agricultural Issues Center, “The state has sufficient surface and groundwater storage capacity to withstand one or two dry years. However, long droughts – projected to become increasingly common due to climate change – will have significant consequences”.

Increasing storage facilities — one of the recommendations of policy makers – has limited benefit with accelerated construction of new dams and reservoirs are already reaching near capacity during the less frequent periods of major rainfall.

If the principal argument for doing so is to collect more water, the vanishing snowpack in the Sierra Nevada which is the main source of the state’s water makes expensive projects for capturing more of it a questionable investment without contingency plans.

Given that the state’s population (a key factor in drought control) continues to grow with no signs of let-up, the supply-demand formulas are in need serious rethinking.

With rising demand for water, there is enough history already to show that the Pollyannaish notion that we can simply conserve our way out of the current dilemma notwithstanding expectation of even more severe droughts simply does not wash.

The time is past when we should be looking at alternative sources of water not merely during emergencies but also to meet the daily needs of our communities and businesses.

One very promising innovation is hardly a blip on the radar screen. It is commonly known as desalination — the conversion of salt water into safe and reliable drinking water. It is now in use in 120 countries worldwide have desalination including Algeria, Chile, Spain, Egypt, the United Kingdom, Iran, Israel, South Africa, Portugal, Greece, Italy, India, China, Japan, and Australia.

With trillions of gallons just off our long coast line, there is an infinite supply ready to tap.

 The largest plant in North America is now fully operational in Carlsbad, south of Los Angeles, and is supplying water to more than 15 percent of the San Diego County population. This will enable it to reduce its water purchases from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California by 66 percent over the next 15 years. The agency says it will reduce.

While this was the result of private financing, ($1 billion of it from the Poseidon Resources Corporation) and took 16 years from concept to completion, in the end it was not questionable technology but regulatory hurdles and misplaced environmentalist opposition that held things up.

Even some of the loudest desalination skeptics are grudgingly coming around to seeing the benefits:

“There are definite advantages to seawater desalination,” says Heather Cooley, water program director at the Oakland-based environmental think tank, Pacific Institute. “It’s a reliable supply, independent of weather conditions like drought. But it’s still among the most expensive water supply options.”

As more are plants are built at economies of scale and more cities reap the rewards the cost argument should fade away.

The biggest concerns of desal critics have been the large up — front investment outlays and the cost of energy needed to run them. Those arguments also collapse since smaller plants (the trend) need much less energy which can be renewable and are kept off line as a back-up reserve in the event of emergencies. Public-private partnerships could go far in offsetting construction costs, and water user bills should ultimately decrease with tax savings as well.

Poseidon is already in late-stage development of a second plant in Huntington Beach which will yield 50 million gallons per day. It is said to be a “100 percent carbon-neutral, cost-effective, and an environmentally sensitive solution for providing safe and reliable water.”

Less than $100 million of the $1 billion state allocation is budgeted for desalination.

The Brown administration needs to get on the bandwagon and put justified resources into solving the most urgent issue facing the state — the need for an ongoing supply of water.

 writes about political issues and is President of a Public Affairs Management Firm. He also teaches courses on the Presidential & Congressional Elections at the University of San Francisco and is Vice Chair of the California Commonwealth Club.

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

Should EPA Prosecute Volkswagen to the Fullest Extent of the Law?

If the EPA chooses not to prosecute Volkswagen for its air toxins to the fullest extent of the law, then other automotive companies will violate the EPA’s standards continuously at the detriment of our health, Environment and morality.

Executive Summary & Background

Volkswagen has recently become a ubiquitous conversation topic across global business following its massive scandal.The company not only programmed its emission system deliberately to pass their car’s failed emission metrics; it had done so by carelessly allowing their cars to produce Nitrogen Oxide (NOx; a fairly harmful biohazard affecting respiratory function) by an astounding 40 times the legal limit, and has gone unseen dating back to 2009. Volkswagen has caused virtually irreparable harm to the automotive industry’s transparency, its reputation and to the trust of its “valued” consumers. The EPA should make an example of Volkswagen and fully prosecute them for their negligible actions in order to fully reconcile with the industry they brought much scorn and suspicion to in addition to bringing justice to the public and environment that were negatively affected. Volkswagen should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the EPA’s authoritative power to such a degree that this punishment serves as precedent that any company willing to pursue such deceptive and illegal measures will be deterred to do so by what VW will have to face. There is an abundance of compelling reasons that support the EPA to embark on these sanctions, penalties and lawsuits to ensure this never occurs again.

Widespread Current Trends of Eco-Awareness from the Public and Consumers Support this Action from the EPA

Often times it is emphasized in our world today that our generation (the youth), the millennial faction, represents and demonstrates the highest degree of activism and awareness in our country to battle and voice our opinions on the wrongdoings that should be brought to justice. We have an overwhelming amount of NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) currently ranging from a general petition-based group such as Change.org to RAN (Rainforest Action Network), which is spearheading the preservation and protection of our rainforests around the world.

With that said, there is a deeply ingrained prevalence of activism efforts in this nation that just so happens to involve a large ecological presence. If Volkswagen genuinely believes that in our current day in age with activism, their efforts won’t cause long-term sustained damage to their sales, reputation, brand-loyalty and stock price, they are surely mistaken because a majority of those aspects of their business have already been significantly impacted in the short-term and can potentially cause long-lasting implications to their bottom line among other negative effects. From a non-economic standpoint, the following intangibles will likely happen or have happened already.

  • Brand Loyalty is not only put into jeopardy, it can also cause deter prospective VW buyers from ever becoming a customer as well as use word of mouth to ensure others don’t buy as well.
  • Reputation not only was temporarily tarnished given that the executive management conspired to deceive the public and the EPA with its quality control of its emissions, but has likely been made to enable a cascading effect for generations to come hearing this story and seeing VW as a deceitful, negligent company.
  • Recall: VW has already publicly stated 500,000 cars will be recalled for further inspection and correction of the programming and emissions. This alone will cost staggering amounts of capital. Luckily, VW set aside $7.4 billion to cover the scandal’s overwhelming amount of financial damage. That number recently was adjusted to 800,000 cars for recall.
  • Stock Price: A substantial amount of investors reneged following the news of VW’s emission/programming scandals, and this will cause their market capitalization to decline greatly (dropped over 20 percent of its value directly after news came out), their stock price to suffer, and the likelihood of future investors to be deterred from investing.

This is a natural fact of life with how our civilization operates. Credibility is an integral part to our society and when that is compromised, it’s generally very difficult to regain that trust from whichever party or group was affected. The following elaborates on the financial aspect in greater detail of what their debacle has led to.

Economic Failures/Consequences

  • Volkswagen recorded its first quarterly net loss ($1.83 billion) for at least 15 years after making great strides to cover the cost of the lawsuits, and vehicle recall expenses following the emission scandal that include nearly 11 million cars worldwide allegedly containing the deceptive software.
  • $16.9 billion dollars according to the Economic Times was “wiped off the market value” of VW. Granted once the CEO, Martin Winterkorn, stepped down, the stock did recover incrementally, showing some positive signs.
  • The EPA has indicated through their reports that Volkswagen faces fines that could total “more than $18 billion.”

With how interconnected our society is, injustices like theirs that are eventually debunked never really end well, and have grave consequences that cause even an established, goliath firm like Volkswagen to derail into a turbulent chaos. This is due to an unrelenting force, which is the rejection, litigation and disgust brought forth by the public and the market that they have successfully sold their products to since 1937. Despite this, companies still continue to engage in deceptive activities to deliberately deceive the EPA time and time again, and if the EPA doesn’t decide to place the highest penalties possible on VW, other companies won’t feel inclined to take them seriously which will create a cascading effect of dissent with the EPA.

What the EPA has done Thus Far in Managing the Emissions Scandal

The EPA has officially issued two notices of violation against Volkswagen adding 10,000 additional affected cars under the Porsche and Audi family, which only escalates the scandal, further denoting that three car companies, all under VW, were affected by the scandal. Not surprisingly, VW officially refuted these claims that the scandal had proliferated to the other two car brands. An assistant administrator of the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance department by the name of Cynthia Giles commented, “VW has once again failed its obligation to comply with the law that protects clean air for all Americans.” This is clearly a current issue in our society that companies feel the right or need to cheat the system repeatedly. She goes on to say, “all companies should be playing by the same rules. EPA, with our state, and federal partners, will continue to investigate these serious matters, to secure the benefits of the Clean Air Act, ensure a level playing field for responsible businesses, and to ensure consumers get the environmental performance they expect.” Unfortunately, automotive companies like this that engage in highly illegal and immoral behavior show no remorse or shame in failing to satisfy our expectations and hopes, when we, the public, are the ones purchasing and supporting their company making it financially possible to continue their operations. All the second notice does is add the 10,000 affected vehicles to the massive list, which could spell subsequent fines for VW to pay. Is sending petty fines truly enough to resolve this issues reflecting the entire industry and beyond. It is not just VW that has been caught failing to comply with EPA emission standards and regulations. Regulators and NGOs fear European groups (BMW, GM) are doing the same kind of thing.

The EPA should make a concerted effort to publicly make an example out of VW by restricting their operations, fining them to the fullest extent allowed by law, and try to somehow prohibit them from releasing cars to the entire country if they continue to pollute excessively and defy all standards enacted to prevent health and environmental hazards in the first place. By doing this, the EPA will make a bold statement that they are a federal force not to be trifled with, and that those defectors of these regulations will face intense public scrutiny, enormous financial loss, a tarnished reputation, and endless legal battles that will ensue if companies in this industry follow VW’s example and try to deceive the system put in place. All it is meant to do is to ensure quality for our society and for our environment, and to make sure that we as a civilization are good stewards of the environment and its inhabitants along with genuinely caring about our actions reflecting our values. Unfortunately, this case is just another example of defiance to these basic human values that indicates the EPA must take greater, more drastic actions to mitigate these disasters created by companies like VW.

In contrast, The EPA might be asking too high of standards, making automotive companies feel tempted and even inclined to cheat

In our age, the environmental movement has taken off full steam ahead, leaving the companies that are unable to swiftly adapt to their regulations obsolete and unfit to perform their daily operations. The efficiency, fuel-economy, carbon emissions, and smog tests have been regulated stringently, leaving no room for added pollution in our time of a great anthropogenic crisis of global climate change. Critics of the EPA say the regulations are unrealistic and not generous enough with extending adequate time to these companies being forced to comply with their constantly changing legislation and pollution control mandates.

David Morotta from Forbes magazine argues that the EPA’s general solution to solving issues “must not only solve the problem at hand, but it also must not create a new problem as a result.” He argues that they shouldn’t try to solve the “original” problem, implying an ineffective solution. He goes on to say that “distributed natural systems respond faster, better and smarter than government regulations.” He ends his argument by saying that “further empowering the EPA is a move in the wrong direction. EPA’s nameless and faceless bureaucrats are completely disconnected from any dependence on the people. Delegating regulatory authority to a concept as legislatively vague as sustainability ensures no control can ever be exercised.”

However, what VW did was short-lived, and 6 years after they started this habit of cheating the system, they were eventually caught, exposed, brought to justice and faced numerous business, legal and environmental implications where they are paying a tremendous total amount (exceeding $30 billion) in order to mitigate and reconcile with those affected. These types of scandals in this industry at all costs must come to a screeching halt because if emissions are being mishandled that greatly, who’s to say the other companies aren’t doing this as we speak.

Going the cheating route does cut costs significantly and enhance the company’s main objective; maximize the bottom line. But what about the true external costs of this horrendous event that remain to be seen if they emitted their vehicle’s gases by 40 times the legal amount allowed? Global warming exacerbation, habitat loss due to increases in temperature, health defects, ecosystem contamination and so much more are the result of this irresponsible wasting/pollution. This action that the EPA can make against VW must be done in order to achieve some progress so that the industry doesn’t allow scandals like this to become normative and have the industry and the public become so incredibly used to this that we become desensitized. For the sake of our present and future generations, we cannot allow that to be the case. Forget the politics of it and think about the well-being of us, our children, and future generations, who will have to somehow endure this atrocity.

Citations:

  • “Volkswagen Pushed Into Loss By Emissions Scandal- BBC News.” BBC News. N.P., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.
  • Marotta, David. “EPA: Green Gone Wild.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 13 Jan. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.
  • Nasr, Reem. “Porsche, More Audi Models Pulled into VW Scandal.” CNBC. N.p., 02 Nov. 2015. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.
  • Boston, William. “Volkswagen Emissions Investigation Zeroes In on Two Engineers.” WSJ. N.p., 05 Oct. 2015. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.

Cost of Regulations Will Take Your Breath Away

HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- Trucks began arriving here to pre-position water, military rations, ice and tarps for the post-hurricane relief effort. The trucks, which began arriving Oct. 20, have delivered supplies from Key West to northern Miami-Dade County since the storm passed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lisa M. Macias).

In 2008, the California Air Resources Board banned diesel truck engines manufactured before 2010. Over a million trucks operating in California, including 625,000 that were registered out-of-state, were suddenly illegal.

Existing diesel engines could only be operated in California if they were retrofitted with a filter that could cost as much as $15,000.

The regulation, known as the Statewide Truck and Bus Rule, carried an estimated price tag of $10 billion. If you were wondering why everything moved by truck in California is more expensive, it’s because you’re paying that bill. A little of the cost is passed along in the price of everything from furniture to strawberries.

It’s a basic principle of freedom that the government cannot pass a law that applies retroactively, criminalizing something that was legal at the time it originally happened. The U.S. Constitution says no “ex post facto Law shall be passed” by the federal government or by the states. “Ex post facto” is Latin meaning “from a thing done afterward.”

It’s another basic principle of freedom that the government exists by consent of the governed, meaning government officials are accountable to the people, not the other way around.

Alas, in California, these principles have been kicked to the curb. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say they’ve been kicked to the CARB.

The California Air Resources Board is accountable to no one, something that troubled lawmakers in both political parties during the recent debate over climate legislation. When the governor would not agree to amendments giving the Legislature more oversight over the agency, lawmakers dropped a proposal for a 50 percent cut in petroleum use for transportation that CARB was set to enforce.

CARB claims an urgent need for the Truck and Bus Rule. But there are serious questions about whether this is true.

In the fall of 2008, a CARB staff report concluded that reducing “fine particulate” air pollution from diesel engines would prevent 9,400 premature deaths in California between 2011 and 2025. The report was presented to the CARB board members, who quickly voted to approve the new regulation requiring filters or new diesel engines.

But the lead staffer responsible for that report, Hien Tran, was later revealed to have lied about his academic credentials — he purchased his Ph.D. from a diploma mill for $1,000 — and although CARB chair Mary Nichols knew about the deception, she withheld that information from board members until months after they voted to pass the new rule.

The problems with the report were not limited to credentials. Extensive studies of the health effects of fine particulate air pollution, including one by CARB-funded scientist Michael Jerrett of the University of California at Berkeley, showed that it is not causing any premature deaths in California.

That’s all ignored by officials who are now throwing the book at companies that have failed to comply with the rule.

On Oct. 8, CARB and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that trucking firm Estes Express Lines will pay a $100,000 fine and another $290,000 for pollution-reduction education programs for operating 73 trucks in California between 2012 and 2014 without the required filters. In addition, Virginia-based Estes “voluntarily” replaced its trucks with new models to comply with California’s regulations.

In announcing the penalties, Jared Blumenfeld of the EPA stated that the Truck and Bus Rule will prevent 3,500 premature deaths in California between 2010 and 2025. The precise origin of this number, which used to be 9,400, is a little murky. The real number appears to be zero.

Meanwhile, billions of dollars are being spent to replace or retrofit diesel engines that already meet the clean-diesel engine standards established in 2001. It’s one more reason for businesses to take their jobs and leave the state.

California regulators can create any kind of rule, apply it retroactively, and declare illegal the equipment that five minutes earlier was in full compliance with the law. And the EPA is helping CARB enforce its rules on out-of-state companies that are beyond the jurisdiction of California authorities.

Why is this even legal?

It may not be. The California Construction Trucking Association, now renamed the Western States Trucking Association, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether federal courts have jurisdiction to review the matter.

Truckers will never get their billions back. But it’s not too late to save everybody else’s jobs from being retroactively criminalized by reckless regulators.

CARTOON: Fracking Fool

Fracking cartoon

BURNING MONEY: Congressman Publishes 10 Most Atrocious Examples Of Government Waste

Sen. Tom Coburn’s legacy of exposing the worst of the federal government’s waste in his annual report may have a new man to carry the torch.

Freshman Republican Rep. Steve Russell laid out 10 of the worst instances of government waste Tuesday in his first “Waste Watch” publication, the Washington Examiner reports. The waste totaled more than $117 million and ranged across several government agencies. Coburn’s wastebook became famous for exposing government waste, but he retired at the end of the last session.

Here are Russell’s top 10 examples of terrible government waste.

1. U.S. Builds Melting Walls

The U.S. military spent $456,669 on a training facility in Afghanistan that melted when it rained. The military had the “dry fire range” built to use as a training spot with Afghan special police, but since the structure was built with bricks made mostly of sand, it only took four months for the walls to disintegrate in the rain.

2. Uncle Sam Pays For Contractors To Party Like It’s 1999

International Relief and Development, a nonprofit contractor that received about $2 billion in federal money to rebuild struggling countries, threw multiple lavish get-togethers that totaled $1.1 million. It billed the federal government for the parties – which included spa treatments, crystal chandeliers and a private zoo – saying they were for “training” and “staff morale.”

3. The Federal Government Accidentally Funded An Anti-U.S. Movie

In 2013, the U.S. embassy in Iraq paid for five Iraqi filmmakers to fly to the states for film classes at UCLA. As part of the program the students received a stipend to fund their own movie. One of the students, Salam Salman, focused his film on the 2007 shooting of 17 Iraqis by the U.S. private security company, Blackwater, an incident that hurt America’s reputation in Iraq.

4. More Explanation Needed For Big Payouts To Afghan Government

The Department of State gave the Afghan government $100 million in 2014 to help it close a budget shortfall that the Afghan leadership said was dire. Critics have blasted the department for failing to explain if the money was necessary and if the department will do it again. The funding of projects in Afghanistan has been rife with waste for years.

5. Storing Way Too Much Stuff For Way Too Much Money

The Department of Defense spent $15.4 million in 2013 to store millions of cubic feet of equipment that no one in the military needed for five years. Some of these items could be useful but much of it is outdated or costs more to store than it would cost to simply throw out and buy a new one. For example, one component of a power mast worth $391 cost the DOD more than $8,000 to store.

6. Feds Help Amateur Filmmakers Use Video Games

The National Science Foundation shelled out almost $700,000 to help amateur filmmakers create movies by using 3D characters in virtual worlds. The goal was to reduce the barriers to learning the technical skills involved. At least it sounds fun.

7. Government Teaches Conflict Resolution Skills To Moroccan Teens

The United States Agency for International Development dropped $559,000 in the last two years to teach teenagers in Morocco “public speaking, team building, and conflict mitigation techniques” in the hopes of reducing extremism. How effective this will be at reducing Islamic extremism is unknown.

8. A Lot Of Dead People Are Still On Social Security

About 6.5 million social security accounts belong to people who are at least 112 years old, which means all but a few are dead. Although the Social Security Administration sent few payments to these accounts, active accounts exemplify issues with record keeping for deceased individuals that are ripe for abuse by scammers who can continue claiming the benefits for the dead person and impersonate them to defraud other agencies.

9. The Environmental Protection Agency Spent Big To Track How Much Water You Use In Hotel Showers

The EPA spent $15,000 to create a system to track how much water each hotel guest uses during their stay. The hope is to encourage people to conserve more water when they see their consumption on a smart phone app.

 10. Missile Defense Agency Jumped The Gun And Overpayed Big Time

The MDA overpaid for a big contract by $11 million dollars even after an auditor warned it there could be problems. An auditor told the agency there was $200 million in questionable costs and needed more time to finish the audit before it should sign the deal. The audit was five days from revealing the massive waste, but the impatient agency went ahead and agreed anyway, a costly mistake.

Read the full report here.

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

An Engineered Drought

California governor Jerry Brown had little choice but to issue a belated, state-wide mandate to reduce water usage by 25 percent. How such restrictions will affect Californians remains to be seen, given the Golden State’s wide diversity in geography, climate, water supply and demography.

We do know two things. First, Brown and other Democratic leaders will never concede that their own opposition in the 1970s (when California had about half its present population) to the completion of state and federal water projects, along with their more recent allowance of massive water diversions for fish and river enhancement, left no margin for error in a state now home to 40 million people. Second, the mandated restrictions will bring home another truth as lawns die, pools empty, and boutique gardens shrivel in the coastal corridor from La Jolla to Berkeley: the very idea of a 20-million-person corridor along the narrow, scenic Pacific Ocean and adjoining foothills is just as unnatural as “big” agriculture’s Westside farming. The weather, climate, lifestyle, views, and culture of coastal living may all be spectacular, but the arid Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay-area megalopolises must rely on massive water transfers from the Sierra Nevada, Northern California, or out-of-state sources to support their unnatural ecosystems.

Now that no more reservoir water remains to divert to the Pacific Ocean, the exasperated Left is damning “corporate” agriculture (“Big Ag”) for “wasting” water on things like hundreds of thousands of acres of almonds and non-wine grapes. But the truth is that corporate giants like “Big Apple,” “Big Google,” and “Big Facebook” assume that their multimillion-person landscapes sit atop an aquifer. They don’t—at least, not one large enough to service their growing populations. Our California ancestors understood this; they saw, after the 1906 earthquake, that the dry hills of San Francisco and the adjoining peninsula could never rebuild without grabbing all the water possible from the distant Hetch Hetchy watershed. I have never met a Bay Area environmentalist or Silicon Valley grandee who didn’t drink or shower with water imported from a far distant water project.

The Bay Area remains almost completely reliant on ancient Hetch Hetchy water supplies from the distant Sierra Nevada, given the inability of groundwater pumping to service the Bay Area’s huge industrial and consumer demand for water. But after four years of drought, even Hetch Hetchy’s huge Sierra supplies have only about a year left, at best. Again, the California paradox: those who did the most to cancel water projects and divert reservoir water to pursue their reactionary nineteenth-century dreams of a scenic, depopulated, and fish-friendly environment enjoy lifestyles predicated entirely on the fragile early twentieth-century water projects of the sort they now condemn.

It’s now popular to deride California agriculture in cost-benefit terms, given that its share of state GNP (anywhere from 4 percent to 8 percent, depending on how one counts related industries) supposedly does not justify its huge allotted consumption of state water (anywhere from 65 percent to 80 percent). But note the irony: California supplies a staggering percentage of the nation’s fresh vegetables and fruits; it’s among the most efficient producers in the world of beef, dairy, and staple crops. One can purchase an iPhone 6 or a neat new Apple watch, but he still must eat old-fashioned, pre-tech food. There are no calories in Facebook, and even Google can’t supply protein. On the other hand, I can live without an iPad. Who is to say which industry is essential and which isn’t? Insulin and antibiotic production constitute a micro-percentage of GDP, but is their water usage less important than Twitter’s? Is a biologist who studies bait-fish populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta really more important than a master tractor driver whose skill gives broccoli to thousands?

We’re suffering the ramifications of the “small is beautiful,” “spaceship earth” ideology of our cocooned elites. Californians have adopted the ancient peasant mentality of a limited good, in which various interests must fight it out for the always scarce scraps. Long ago we jettisoned the can-do visions of our agrarian forebears, who knew California far better than we do and trusted nature far less. Now, like good peasants, we are at one another’s throats for the last drops of a finite supply.

EPA Regulation: Unjustified and Punitively Burdensome

Does anyone remember President Obama’s executive order requiring that regulations be justified and not unduly burdensome? It would be hard to find a better  example of the vast gap between requirement and reality than in Michigan v. EPA, before the Supreme Court Wednesday, March 25.

At issue is the EPA’s new nationwide rule slashing mercury and other emissions that would put coal- and oil-fired power plants in the cross-hairs of what industry representatives describe as the EPA’s “most costly rule” ever under The Clean Air Act. Unfortunately, the very political “science” behind the EPA’s claim of far greater benefits than the 10-digit annual compliance costs comes nowhere close to justifying the policy.

Power plants emit only a tiny fraction of the mercury released into America’s air. The EPA reported that in 1995, total U.S. emissions from all human activity (158 tons) was about 3 percent of all mercury released to the air from all sources (5,500 tons). And power plants are only part of that total. Eliminating so little mercury will not save many thousand lives, as the EPA asserts. But it will dramatically raise the cost of coal-powered electricity.

Perhaps most troubling has been the EPA’s use of selective science to transform small effects into massive benefit claims. For example, it ignored the fact that CDC surveys show blood mercury levels for American women and children falling and already below the levels found safe by both the EPA and FDA, and well below the standard set by the World Health Organization.

The EPA could have used evidence from a University of Rochester study of the Republic of the Seycheles, whose residents consume types of fish — the primary “carriers” of methylmercury from atmospheric deposition to humans — similar to American diets. But the Center for Science and Public Policy found that the study of high-dose exposure, which followed the same children from six months to nine years of age, found “no observable health effect effects associated with fish consumption in which methylmercury is present.”

Instead, the EPA based its criteria on a study of Faroe Islanders. Not only do they eat more fish, their diets include a great deal of pilot whale meat and blubber. That gives them not only far higher doses of mercury, but also of PCB. Further, they ingest little selenium (which limits conversion to methylmercury), or fruits and vegetables. Given that in epidemiology, one of the most basic rules is that “the dose makes the poison,” their circumstances are virtually irrelevant to Americans. As the Center for Science and Public Policy concluded, “The Faroe Islands study should not be the sentinel study upon which assessment of methylmercury inake via should be gauged.”

The proposed EPA mercury restrictions on power plants, despite a massive PR campaign to the contrary, would have very small effects on human exposure to mercury, at a very high price. And there is no need for a nationwide command and control “solution.” The EPA has found that only “between 1 and 3 percent of women of childbearing age (the group of most concern) eat sufficient amounts of fish to be at risk from methylmercury exposure.” And the FDA and most states already issue advisories for citizens to limit their intake of contaminated fish.

Mandating massively expensive policies on everyone is not justified because a small fraction of women of childbearing age are potentially at risk from mercury ingestion, out of fear some of them may not sufficiently heed existing warnings. That is particularly so when there is so little evidence that substantially higher exposures than in America impose measurable damage. Rather than being “justified and not unduly burdensome,” the EPA mercury rule is unjustified and punitively burdensome.

Gary Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University

California Chemical Laws Fail Science Test

Every day, we make choices that carry a degree of risk. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for those under 44, but that doesn’t stop us from getting behind the wheel. While we can’t completely reduce our risk of a crash, we can lower it by avoiding risky behaviors like speeding recklessly or texting.

Yet despite the potential deadliness of an automobile crash, car makers aren’t required to put a safety label on vehicles. And even if they did, it’s unlikely that we’d see a dramatic decline in the number of car crashes. It’s curious then that California law requires warning labels on products that pose dramatically less risk.

When California citizens went to the polls in 1986, it probably seemed like a no-brainer to vote for a law that required manufacturers and businesses to warn consumers when they might be exposed to chemicals that could cause cancer or developmental defects. The law, known as Proposition 65, sounds like an excellent public health initiative in theory. In execution, however, the law has created warning label overload.

There are myriad problems with the law. But in a new paper on Proposition 65, I’ve identified two fatal flaws with Proposition 65’s procedures: the threshold for determining whether a chemical poses a health risk is incredibly low, with no way of explaining to consumers the degree of risk exposure to the chemical poses, and the process for determining which chemicals require warning labels is alarmingly unstandardized.

For starters, a chemical earns a place on the state’s list of dangerous chemicals if California regulators find that exposure causes one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals over a 70 year period.

To put that in perspective, roughly one in 100,000 people will die from running or playing soccer. At the same time, research has shown that exercise can lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a number of deadly health ailments.

This is precisely why Proposition 65 warning labels are ridiculous — there’s no context for what level of exposure poses an actual risk and when a chemical might actually have health benefits.

Take seafood for example. Researchers have suggested that consuming fish and shellfish has numerous health benefits. They contain a number of essential nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, but almost all fish contains at least a small amount of mercury. In fact, recent research suggests that consumption of fish by pregnant mothers might actually boost brain development and has no impact on prenatal development.

Mercury is listed as a carcinogen under Proposition 65. Therefore fish in California comes with a warning label.

Scaring consumers away from fish flies directly in the face of U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s advice that “Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet.” According to the FDA, “for most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern.” Yet California’s Proposition 65 warnings indicate otherwise to consumers — research suggests the prominent warning labels in restaurants and markets where fish is sold have resulted in a dramatic decline in fish consumption.

This begs the question: How are California’s regulators determining which chemicals are harmful? Unfortunately, as I’ve explained in my new paper, there appears to be no consistent or standardized testing protocols for what constitutes sufficient evidence to label a chemical as either carcinogenic or causing developmental harm. That’s why the state’s chemical decisions can contradict opinions rendered by the FDA, EPA, and other regulatory agencies across the globe. Chemicals are listed even if the scientific consensus isn’t on the state’s side.

To truly make Californians healthier, the state needs to develop a standardized process, ideally with input from outside experts, for determining which chemicals should be listed and explaining the actual risk to consumers. After all, it’s more likely that taking car rides will have you swimming with the fishes than eating fish will put you six feet under.

Dr. Joseph Perrone, Sc.D., is the Chief Science Officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, a project of the nonprofit Center for Organizational Research and Education. CORE is supported by a wide variety of businesses and foundations, including those in the hospitality, agriculture, and energy industries.

Prison Time For ‘Environmental Crimes’ Has Doubled In 4 Years

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency charged 187 defendants with environmental crimes and sentenced offenders to a combined 155 years of jail time. That’s more than double the amount of jail time eco-offenders were sentenced to in 2010, according agency data.

The EPA, however, charged significantly fewer people for environmental crimes in 2014 compared to 2010, reflecting the agency’s strategy of going after larger, more lucrative criminal and civil cases.

“By taking on large, high impact enforcement cases, EPA is helping to level the playing field for companies that play by the rules, while maximizing our ability to protect the communities we serve across the country,” Cynthia Giles, head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement.

EPA data shows the agency raked forced companies and other offenders to pay $9.7 billion in actions and to pay for “equipment to control pollution and clean up contaminated sites” as well as $163 million in civil penalties and criminal fines. The agency also got offenders to pay $453.7 million to clean up Superfund sites.

EPA enforcement actions resulted in 141 million pound reduction in of air pollutants and a 337 million pound reduction in water pollutants, according to agency data. Enforcement actions also cleaned up 856 million cubic yards of contaminated aquifers.

“Despite challenges posed by budget cuts and a government shutdown, we secured major settlements in key industry sectors and brought criminal violators to justice,” Giles said. “This work resulted in critical investments in advanced technologies and innovative approaches to reduce pollution and improve compliance.”

But probably EPA’s most startling statistic is its more than doubling of prison sentencing for environmental criminals in the last four years. In 2010, the EPA successfully charged 289 defendants, garnering 72 years in prison sentences.

Jail time for offenders has now doubled to 155 years among a successfully convicted group of only 187 defendants.

So who were some of the top environmental criminals of 2014?

Mark Kamholz, the environment control manager at the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act and other federal laws and sentenced to one year in prison, 100 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine.

All this for “releasing coke oven gas containing benzene into the air through an unreported pressure relief valve” and because a coke-quenching tower did not have federally mandated pollution control technology, says EPA. Kamholz order another employee to conceal the fact a pressure valve was releasing pollutants into the air.

The Tonawanda Coke Corporation was hit with fines as well. The company was forced to pay a $12.5 million penalty and pay $12.2 million in community service payments for violating federal environmental laws. The EPA says this is “one of the largest fines ever levied in an air pollution case involving a federal criminal trial.”

Ohio waste disposal company owner Benedict Lupo was sentenced to two years in prison and a $25,000 fine for ordering his employees to dump waste from hydraulic fracturing operations into a tributary of the Mahoning River. Lupo illegally dumped fracking waste into the tributary 30 times in 2012 and 2013, having his employees dump the waste at night when nobody else was around.

Robert Lewis, a hazardous waste transporter, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for illegally storing hazardous waste in a self-storage facility in Macon, Georgia. He also illegally stored waste in Rex, Georgia and at his home in Albany.

And finally, Benjamin Pass, the owner of a recycling business, was sentenced to 42 months in prison and forced to pay $21 million in fines for “mishandling of used oil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) that led to widespread contamination and millions of dollars in clean-up costs.” Pass also fined $539,000 for not paying incomes between 2002 and 2011.

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation