By Tommy Hough
Two years ago this body gave its support to the city of San Diego's landmark Climate Action Plan. In doing so, it gave Democratic lawmakers on city council the confidence to move forward with advocating for that plan, knowing the party's "rank and file" had their back.
Ultimately, the Climate Action Plan was passed on a unanimous vote by San Diego City Council. Democrats and Republicans, seeing the environmental writing on the wall of a warming planet, and perhaps seeing things through the political filter of necessity – but seeing the future nonetheless – understood this city must do its part to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in conjunction with the rest of the state, the rest of the nation, and the rest of the world.
This body created the opportunity for our elected officials to succeed, and move the ball down the field to a cleaner future. We are all components in making this happen – every person here. In 2015, we did that.
The city of San Diego's Climate Action Plan is a legally binding plan. It's ambitious, and it's not going away. Community Choice Energy, or Community Choice Aggregation, is a crucial component of that plan. The mayor must begin to meaningfully move forward on implementing it, and in a manner that is more substantive than simply painting bicycle lanes onto busy city streets and creating P.R. and press events.
Community Choice Energy provides consumer choice by expanding your energy purchasing and energy consumption options. It enables cities and counties to purchase cleaner power provided to consumers at a competitive or lower price. It is a partnership between the city San Diego, and the lone utility that serves this county: San Diego Gas and Electric.
Community Choice Energy – or CCEs for short – will provide you, your friends, and your families with choice. CCEs create competition between energy providers, some of whom may utilize one source of energy, some of whom may utilize multiple sources.
But you will get to determine who you want to buy from, and the idea is you may go with the greenest options available. Or not. It's up to you – it's your choice. But, over time, standard Community Choice Energy options based upon renewable sources have been demonstrated to beat the rates of competing utilities.
San Diegans pay the highest electricity rates of anyone in California. Part of the reason for that is we are currently subject to a power monopoly which doesn't allow other options. Without competition, there is no other market-based mechanism to provide a counterweight. Community Choice Energy enables local control and accountability for electricity rates, while reducing our region's carbon footprint by providing a greater mix of clean energy sources on our grid.
The city of San Diego is legally bound to get to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2035, and we can't get there without clean energy provided by a multitude of Community Choice Energy providers. Over time, local community choice programs may be able to purchase increasing amounts of solar, wind or geothermal power from local sources, thereby supporting local, union jobs and local economic development in a burgeoning green-collar economy.
There are already eight operational CCE programs covering 70 cities in the Golden State, some with several counties joining together under joint operating agreements. In each case, they're offering residents competitive if not lower rates, more clean energy, and exceeding state climate goals – with more scheduled to launch in 2018.
When this body gave its approval to the Climate Action Plain in 2015, we were in the vanguard in San Diego. But over the last two years, the rest of the state saw what we were doing, and picked up the ball. Now, we're getting lapped. We were first, but among large California cities we're now being passed by.
CCEs are going on-line in next year in Los Angeles County, Riverside County, the Coachella Valley, Alameda County and the city of San Jose. These areas represent a wide swath of the state's political spectrum, and no one is going to mistake Riverside County as a hotbed of progressivism. But all see the value for their residents and constituents, and the promise of cleaner air and more renewable energy on the grid.
The city of San Diego recently published a technical study that concludes the CCE program is not only feasible, but will:
The next step is for the City Council to vote to enable staff to move into the second phase of CCE evaluation in January.
We're on track, and we're pushing for this resolution so our city officials see the support for CCEs are as strong now as they were in 2015 when this body helped greenlight the city's Climate Action Plan. We need the implementation of CCEs to get underway now so that by 2035 we won't be reacting to a deadline, but instead, will be comfortably arriving at our destination with a portfolio of functional renewable energy options available to consumers.
We can do this. We have the opportunity to move this process along tonight.
Now, I want to make this next point perfectly clear – and our club says as much in the language of this resolution. This is not a resolution that is aimed at harming anyone. This is not an anti-this or anti-that resolution.
You and I all have friends, colleagues, and family members who work for SDGE. These are dedicated professionals who love and value this community, and with our union brothers and sisters work hard to keep the lights on. They are our neighbors and they have an extraordinary volume of institutional knowledge about this region's energy needs. They have been assets to this community, and we need them more than ever. We need that knowledge. We need that aptitude. That's part of the reason SDGE has had a seat at the table on Community Choice Energy since Day One.
For CCEs to be successful, we need to utilize SDGE's transmission lines and transmission network. We need their billing capabilities. These aren't asides or minor items or small asks. SDGE has an opportunity to play a significant role in making CCEs successful as our city meets our Climate Action Plans by 2035. And as is the case with other utilities in the state, SDGE will remain whole.
You and I have a chance to get this right – tonight. We have a chance to demonstrate leadership – tonight. We have a chance to do right by our families and our neighbors and people who believe competition is inherently American and essential for a fair marketplace. And that 100 percent renewable energy, powered by good-paying, union jobs is not only attainable – but is necessary if we are going to be planning a future beyond 2035 at all.
The tipping point is here. We're on it. We've arrived. We are at the very early stages of coming to grips with rising sea levels affecting our beach communities, and wildfires that kill people and destroy lives when they dash in from the county's interior. We are fighting a two-front war against climate change in this county that grows more intense each year. Let's show the state that we know where San Diego's energy and environmental priorities are by supporting the resolution before you.
The time is now. We're not going to sit on our hands as others would prefer we do. Delay is death. Our leaders need to hear us from Downtown to Sacramento to Washington. We're not going to wait. San Diego is not only doing its part, we're leading, we're paving the way, and with your help, support and your vote in favor of this resolution we will continue to be leaders in this state and this nation in arriving at a green, renewable future.
We can do it, and we're going do it tonight.
Photo by Tommy Hough
By Richard Ram and Tommy Hough
Several large California utilities, including San Diego Gas and Electric, are pressuring state lawmakers to add amendments to legislation that will impose a moratorium on Community Choice Energy (CCE) programs operated by local governments as alternatives to existing power companies.
Put simply — this is an emergency, and we are calling on all Democrats and environmentalists to stand with us and contact legislators in Sacramento. The bills that threaten Community Choice Energy could be voted on any moment.
One of the principles our club was founded upon was to give Democratic lawmakers the opportunity to succeed when green legislation is at stake. This is one of those moments, and frankly, the stakes are very high.
Almost everything our club has been working towards over the last three years as far as implementing the city of San Diego's landmark Climate Action Plan is on the line.
Community Choice Energy (CCE), also known as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), is under attack from large utilities who want to maintain their monopolies and deny ratepayers the ability to choose locally-developed renewable energy. CCE is a key component of San Diego's Climate Action Plan, and in similar plans in municipalities around the state.
San Diego Gas and Electric and other large utilities have engaged in last-minute backroom deals with state legislators to block the ability of cities and communities to choose their own energy, resulting in two bills, AB 726 and AB 813, that would essentially freeze Community Choice Energy. For us, this is a non-starter.
Another bill, SB 100, enjoys wide support among proponents of clean energy, but is threatened by potential amendments that would similarly freeze CCE programs. If CCE provisions are gutted in SB 100, we'll lose an important engine of innovation and consumer empowerment needed to reach our renewable energy goals.
If you believe in free markets, it's hard to see how you can abide by monopolies. Pushing for competition is the best way to ensure consumers have the best, greenest options available to them. But as we know, monopolies are loathe to give up their power.
So we need you to call and make an ask of legislators.
Ask our Democratic lawmakers to stand firm with us at this crucial moment, and ensure that Community Choice Energy isn't stripped away or shut down by these 11th-hour, backroom deals with utilities. We will remember those who demonstrate courage and steadfastness on this issue. CCE is the wave of the future and one of the ways we can ensure we have cleaner air and more renewable energy -- and meet our climate goals. Please vote NO on AB 726, and vote NO on AB 813.
Please contact your state senators and assembly members. Let them know we'll have their back for taking a stand for energy choice and competition. Now is the time to do the right thing for ratepayers, our environment, and communities working hard for a greener future.
State Assembly Members
Todd Gloria (AD-78)
(619) 645-3090 (district office)
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (AD-80)
(610) 338-8090 (district office)
MESSAGE: Vote NO on AB 276 and NO on AB 213. Please reach out to Speaker Anthony Rendon to let him know you will vote NO on AB 276 and AB 813 because of the harm they will cause Community Choice Energy efforts and program.
Toni Atkins (SD-39)
(619) 645-3133 (district office)
Ben Hueso (SD-40)
(619) 409-7690 (Chula Vista)
(760) 335-3442 (El Centro)
MESSAGE: Vote NO on AB 726 and NO on AB 813. Please reach out to Senate Pro Tem Kevin DeLeón to let him know that you will vote NO on AB 726 and AB 813 because of the harm they will cause Community Choice Energy efforts and program.
Also, please urge your elected officials that NO amendments be made to SB 100 that would freeze or otherwise negatively affect Community Choice Energy provisions.
Thanks for making calls on this very important matter. The legislative session ends this Friday.
In addition, San Diego County Democrats For Environmental Action will present our club's Community Choice Energy resolution before members of the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee this upcoming Tuesday, Sept. 19.
We're seeking the support of local Democrats, Democratic clubs, and especially voting members of the county Democratic Party Central Committee in passing this resolution, and your active support and attendance is requested at the Central Committee meeting this Tuesday, Sept. 19, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Machinists Hall in Kearny Mesa at 5150 Kearny Mesa Road.
Thank you for all of your help with these efforts. We're up against powerful special interests lobbying to maintain their monopolies, and seeking faultlines upon which to drive wedges into our Democratic coalition.
Don't let them. Stand up now for Community Choice Energy.
"People of privilege will always risk their entire destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage." — John Kenneth Galbraith
SDCDEA president Tommy Hough spoke at the Flip the 50th Empty Chair Town Hall event on Saturday, Aug . 26, at Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego.
By Tommy Hough
As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Congress was often the butt of jokes, but Congress was also still working in what many now refer to as the Golden Age of Congress. For 40 years, between 1954 and 1994, Congress ably utilized the power of government to make the lives of Americans better.
There were some mistakes, but by and large, Congress functioned in a bipartisan manner, working to make the lives of Americans better, and into the 1970s passed environmental legislation that continues to serve us today: the Clean Water Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the EPA – now subverted under President Trump and Scott Pruitt beyond the comprehension of anyone but the most cynical right-wing political operator.
I say "all Americans" because it makes no dissemination between rich and poor, between race or religion. Our environmental laws are not there to make life easier for corporations, they're there to ensure our corporations function in a manner that doesn't harm our nation's health, our citizens, our greater ecology, our air or our water. Damage to our environment is in part death by a thousand cuts, and in part like toothpaste – once it's out of the tube, it doesn't go back in.
This remains an ongoing struggle. There is ongoing give and take. Part of the reason the great legislation of the 1960s and 70s was passed was because engaged Americans and robust citizens' groups were demanding it. But after a while, people begin to assume it was always illegal to dump paint or industrial detergents into a river. And since the radicalization of Congress by the Republican wave of 1994, Congressional Republicans have taken on a far more contrary approach to the environment and conservation – to the point, where, today – they hate it. They despise it.
They reject clear and obvious empirical evidence in order to keep their worldview from being upended, and more important, to fit the desires of their donor class, which has little in common with those who actually vote for Republican candidates. That has only been aggravated by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 – because citizens were not empowered by that decision. Only the weathly.
Today's modern Republicans reject any consideration that doesn't fit with the views of a narrow band of AM talk radio hosts and conspiracy-laden websites. And we are now seeing the results and impact and consequences of 30 years' worth of cumulative exposure to radical, right-wing ideology on the public's airwaves. Today, Republican lawmakers like Duncan Hunter Jr. don't respond to real issues – they respond to issues driven by a Republican noise machine. Lazy governing.
Part of that ideology is an abdication of the conservation tenets of one of our nation's great environmentalists: Theodore Roosevelt – a Republican. This is a president who once ducked out of a cabinet meeting to go hiking with John Muir at Yosemite. And Roosevelt listened and learned at the feet of Muir – and in doing so helped begin the process of building modern American conservation, by way of passing the Antiquities Act in 1906 and embracing the cause of protecting our special places as National Parks and National Monuments.
And what makes the current Congress so unusual, so radical, is it's dogged willingness to ignore actual, pressing issues, like infrastructure and opioid addiction and the cancer of economic inequality and the integrity of our elections – and instead, use the power of government to make life more difficult for regular Americans.
Duncan Hunter Jr. has to answer for that, because he votes the GOP party line – a line that does not benefit his constituents, or the environment. Just last year, in 2016, Congressman Hunter:
I would encourage everyone to contact Congressman Hunter and his office and ask if he knows anything about any of the items listed here. If he did, he would be here today to justify his votes to you, his constituents.
Very soon, possibly under a more organized President Trump, or under a capable and effective President Mike Pence, Mr. Hunter will be able to vote on the radical legislation that we know is ready to go on Capitol Hill, but is stalled by the cruel, disorganized mania of King Donald.
Very soon, Mr. Hunter will have opportunities to blindly vote on legislation that undoes the entirety of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. He will vote on legislation to undo the 1964 Wilderness Act. He will vote to take away any kind of reasonable protections from the worst impulses of corporate America. When even oil companies are telling Trump to slow down on deregulation for the sake of appearances, is there any doubt that Duncan Hunter isn't willing to ape and endorse the extremist right in Congress, or the desires of President Trump or Mr. Pence?
We need to flip districts this election cycle. It must happen here, in the 50th.
You are the beginning of that.
Empty Chair Townhall photo courtesy of James Elia
By Tommy Hough
Today, Donald Trump inflicted a grievous wound upon everything the United States has stood for since 1945.
Today, instead of maintaining our role as a world leader, free with the ideas, empathy and support a nation born in hard-won liberty can provide, we have ceded that leadership.
Under a foul pretense of phony populism and patriotism in a weird, rambling and thoroughly logic-free speech, Mr. Trump has cast our nation's long-standing mantle of leadership into the wind – like a used wrapper or discarded newspaper. China and Russia will surely benefit from our absence.
Today, instead of leading the world by example of American grit, innovation and intelligence, President Trump has moved the United States from a column with 195 nations to a column with two – Syria and Nicaragua, the only other nations, now along with the United States, not a party to the Paris Climate Agreement.
The reasons for Syria's absence from this landmark document are clear. The reasons for the Trump-led United States should be clear as well.
Trump is a man with no moral or ideological center. He is a child, moved only by the last people who spoke with him. In this case, it was White House adviser Steve "Breitbart" Bannon, and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – a man who has been gleefully tasked with dismantling the once-laudable regulatory agency and gutting its staff of expertise and decades of research with the civility of a dumpster fire.
Trump may believe he's a bold political juggernaut by pulling the U.S. out of a global agreement that brought together an astonishing number of nations to face down and combat climate change, but he is only defying the wishes of over half the nation's citizens in favor of a loud, cruel constituency no longer made up of conservatives or even Republicans – but rather, talk radio listeners, internet trolls, radical authoritarians, deranged Infowars addicts and wealthy suburbanites who can't stop looking over their shoulder.
Trump even turned a blind eye to the dozens of CEOs and corporate leaders (!) committed to becoming more energy efficient and reliant upon renewable energy, including business leaders he brought into his orbit to "advise" him, like Tesla innovator Elon Musk. All now clearly a matter of time-wasting optics.
Even oil companies, which I am the last person to support, aren't so cynical as to have called for the U.S. to leave the Paris Climate Accord, knowing full well that oil is a finite resource that is expensive to find, litigate and extract, and that renewable energy is cheaper to produce and infinite as long as there is sun and wind. But in the Trump White House, only the president's enablers have access to their "useful idiot," as they feed him another scrap of fake news and manipulative compliments.
If Trump or the modern Republican Party actually cared about economic issues, they'd be supportive of the move to cleaner energy for no other reason than it is becoming cheaper to harness and utilize. In developing countries that have no coal industry to protect, the price of solar is now half the price of coal. And even though China remains an importer of U.S. coal, the administration would be loathe to admit that China cancelled the construction of 110 coal plants in January – enough to meet the total annual electricity needs of Germany. China is rolling out solar at an unprecedented rate, and the whole world understands it is a far better economic move to go with un-subsidized clean energy than to stick with coal.
If we do not come together as Democrats and jettison the rudderless suspicions and trivial intraparty spats when there is zero sunlight between us on the biggest issues of our time, and effectively take on the Trump White House and ongoing GOP machine of lies, evasion and ignorance, we do not deserve to inherit the leadership our nation so desperately needs.
To defeat the Wall of Ignorance across the aisle we need to repeat realities again and again, like how the state of California employs more people in the renewable energy sector than there are coal jobs in all of the United States. As the memory of a functional, bicameral legislature working on a shared reality in the interest of all Americans slips into obscurity, it has become our charge to rescue our nation from a new Dark Age.
If we don't come together at this moment, we will miss the opportunity to reclaim the direction of our nation and willfully carry what I call the "burden of the party of good government." We must focus, NOW on 2018 and 2020. We must unify NOW. We must show the world Americans are still committed to the same American values of progress and equality that have inspired so many corners of the globe. We must reclaim our planet's health in the name of all Americans and citizens of earth.
Our democracy has never faced a threat quite like the mania of the Trump administration and the runaway nihilism of the 115th Congress. We must counter Mr. Trump and his cabal at every turn, and we must decisively defeat them in 2018 and 2020. Only then can we begin to assess the damage and re-build what Trump is rapidly desecrating.
We begin by coming together NOW and moving forward together. We begin by unifying over our abundance of common ground. We begin by acknowledging that what has become of our nation cannot stand. We begin by ignoring the small grains of sand on the floor and instead fight to keep the landslide next door from inundating our families and ourselves.
To our president, I can only add:
History will not be kind to you, Mr. Trump, and neither will we. You are a child who cannot weigh the abundant evidence around you, or consider our nation's standing in the world without squandering it.
You recklessly fail our country, and now, our planet, at every turn – even as immense opportunities for progress stare you in the face and lie within your grasp. If only you and your family weren't so busy raiding our nation's coffers to notice. If only you cared to act upon the opportunities of your office like a man instead of a child. In the end, you're incapable of even making your own bad decisions, unless they come down to 140 characters.
In a matter of months you have become the president of nothing. All but the paranoid and prejudiced loathe you.
We will move this nation forward in spite of you, but we will not forget your treacherous ignorance, and the damage and humiliation you continue to pile upon our country, which we remain proud of and believe in, in spite of you.
You sir, have become liberty's darkest hour.
We will remind you at every turn of what you have done. And we will defeat you on any level playing field of ideas, reality and reason.
History will not be kind, sir. And neither will we.
Bald eagle photo by Randy Hume
Tree of nations graphic by Marie Guillard
By Tommy Hough
Throwing all environmental law and conservation policy norms out the window, President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday directing the Interior Department to conduct a "review" of the establishment of all National Monuments going back to 1996, with the clear intent of undoing or shrinking some or all of these federally-protected areas.
As we've been expecting, it is the most full-fledged, naked assault on conservation policy in modern U.S. history, and another attempt by the GOP to ultimately privatize public land that belongs to you and I. The established National Monuments being subjected to "review" include:
As if Donald Trump hasn't already done enough to ensure his place as the most anti-environmental, anti-conservation president in U.S. history, all within a matter of weeks, he's now seeing fit to appease the Cliven Bundy fringe of Republican party extremism – the most reactionary wing of his constituency.
Almost all of the National Monuments listed above came together according to the guidelines set down by the landmark Antiquities Act of 1906. Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, one of our nation's greatest conservationists, the Antiquities Act is one of the most powerful pieces of policymaking available to the President of the United States. Along with preserving dozens of other sites under the policy, President Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to preserve what is now Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Olympic National Park in Washington as National Monuments in 1908 and 1909, respectively.
Theodore Roosevelt also established Pinnacles National Monument here in California in 1908, which became a National Park in 2013. Death Valley and Joshua Tree were both established as National Monuments by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and 1936, and both became National Parks in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, which also established Mojave National Preserve.
While National Monuments can be passed as legislation by Congress in the same manner as a National Park, the Antiquities Act gives the president the ability to immediately designate an area of federal land as a National Monument with the stroke of a pen. The idea is to quickly protect any area that may be threatened, or designate an area of importance if Congress is moving too slow on National Park or Wilderness legislation, or if Congress shows little interest in advancing a conservation option for the area at all.
While Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego won't be affected by the Interior Department review (it was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913), it's no accident the National Monuments called into question by the Trump executive order stretch back to 1996, the year President Bill Clinton protected what is now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which lies adjacent to Bryce National Park in Utah. The "cutoff" date on the executive order is a clear indication of the lobbying and influence of far-right and anti-conservation groups within the Trump administration and western counties in Utah, Nevada and elsewhere.
As today's Republican-controlled Congress moves further to the right and away from the political center of the American mainstream, conservation initiatives and protecting clean air, water, wildlife habitat, open space and our country's natural heritage have become another matter of kneejerk partisanship for Republicans – even in districts where many of our nation's natural wonders can be found, despite the fact many of those monuments have become economic engines by way of eco-tourism and park visitation.
In his remarks, President Trump specifically referred to Bear Ears National Monument in Utah, which was established as a National Monument by President Obama in December. Located along the borders of Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Bear Ears also surrounds Natural Bridges National Monument, and had been the subject of a lengthy, grassroots effort to protect its sage and oak woodland habitat going back to the 1980s, as well as areas within the monument sacred to the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Uintah, Ouray and Pueblo people.
Trump referred to the Bear Ears designation as a "land grab," parroting earlier and equally absurd charges made by anti-conservation extremists. It's anything but a land grab – and demonstrates the president's complete ignorance on the subject. Bear Ears has been managed by the federal government as public land since Utah was a territory. Declaring Bear Ears to be a "land grab" implies that the land was sitting around with no owner, or was seized (!) as part of the Obama designation in December.
While Trump probably doesn't know better, those who make the "land grab" charge are yelling fire in a crowded theater in a manner to incite fools like the Bundy clan, who conducted an armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, in late 2015, citing the "tyranny" of federal land control – apparently without noticing the Malheur has been a National Wildlife Refuge since 1908 (!) and is a center of jobs and economic activity for Harney County. Some tyranny.
Any and all land designated as National Monuments are already on federal land, there's no practice of seizing or taking land from others – unlike the kind of eminent domain laws Mr. Trump benefits from in order to build his buildings. The only thing that changes with the National Monument designation is the understanding that the area will be managed for long-term conservation, not for short-term gain. It is to be managed for all Americans to enjoy and revel in, not for a few to profit from at the expense of habitats and our environment. As a result, use of recreational machines may be curtailed and resource extraction may no longer be allowed, but hiking and hunting are prime activities.
The likelihood that the executive order's Interior Department "review" will ever lead to the undoing of an actual National Monument is dubious, as is the chance that it would survive any kind of court challenge, but it is the beginning of a larger assault on our public lands. Even though the Antiquities Act is 111 years old and has been used by over a dozen administrations to protect cultural or environmentally-valuable areas, no president has ever tried to undo a National Monument that was established by a previous administration or an Act of Congress. It's unheard of.
Typically a National Monument is managed by the National Park Service, which falls under the auspices of the Department of the Interior. However, since 1980, it has become more common for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage areas designated as National Monuments. The new(er) Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments in California are good examples of monuments managed by the BLM.
This is a developing story, so please check back.
Sand to Snow National Monument photo by Mitch Barrie
Carrizo Plain National Monument photo by Tommy Hough
Sand to Snow National Monument sign photo by Jay Calderon / Palm Springs Desert Sun
Giant Sequoia National Monument signing ceremony photo by Harold Wood
By Tommy Hough
It may hard to believe in 2017 that the idea ever went forward, but in the pre-Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima days of 1969, the first reactor of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) went on-line, located on the beach near the San Diego and Orange county line just south of San Clemente.
The namesake San Onofre State Beach (i.e., Trestles) was established just north of the facility in 1971, and the second and third reactors went on-line in 1983 and 1984. Legend has it surfers used to enjoy paddling out near the facility due to the abundance of warm seawater that discharged back into the sea from the plant, where it was used as part of the plant's cooling system to cool off super-heated fuel rods.
The original reactor was shut down in 1992 as the second and third reactors headed into their second decade, but following several high-level press accounts of mismanagement and a series of accidents, culminating in the shutdown of reactor two in 2012, SONGS reactors two and three were decommissioned by Southern California Edison in June 2013. The plant is currently undergoing the de-comissioning process, with the plant's lease due to expire in 2022.
While the closure of San Onofre may be good news given the plant's spotty safety record over the course of its service and the controversial nature of nuclear power since 1979 – greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in California have increased by 35 percent since 2011, which some say is due to the early closure of San Onofre. Even more controversial is the plant's legacy of nuclear waste, which while small, remains in the facility just yards from the Pacific Ocean.
How the nuclear waste will be handled and where it will go became an issue in the 49th congressional district in the 2016 race between GOP incumbent Darrell Issa and Democrat Doug Applegate (whom this club gave an early endorsement to). How Issa will pivot on San Onofre ahead of 2018 remains to be seen, particularly as Applegate and new Democratic challenger Mike Levin stake out positions.
The term "on the beach" in the title of this post is used half-ironically too, as it was also the name of a 1957 novel by Nevil Shute, and a 1959 Stanley Kramer movie starring La Jolla native Gregory Peck. Both the book and the movie depict the final months on Earth following a nuclear holocaust – typically viewed from the periscope of a submarine that escaped the initial disaster.
Photos by Tommy Hough and Jim Herrington
By Tommy Hough
Thanks to everyone who joined us on Sat., April 8, for our hike into the wetlands of the Tijuana River Valley Estuary – the largest such river mouth in Southern California.
While the spring wildflower bloom was nothing short of spectacular, our hike comes at a criticial moment for estuaries managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), now faced with draconian cuts from the Trump administration to NOAA coastal management funds.
While a variety of agencies like California State Parks, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service manage entities within the reserve, overall funding comes from NOAA, which manages 28 different National Esturary Research Reserves (NERRS) around the nation.
These are areas crucial for conservation, recreation, and wetland management. Natural wetlands and estuaries not only provide and protect wildlife habitat, they also play a signficant role in cleaning water and runoff before it enters the sea. Estuaries and wetlands also protect inland areas from storm surges during hurricanes and severe weather events, and support fish and wildlife and local economies.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration's budget would eliminate NERRS altogether, including the Tijuana River Estuary, with cuts of up to $250 million in targeted NOAA grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, training and education. This would effectively be the end.
For reference, last week's cruise missile strikes on the Shayrat Airbase in Syria cost about $93 million in hardware and facilitation by the U.S. Navy.
Congress needs to hear from us – right now – so that elected officials can questions, act on evidence, grandstand, draw media attention and make the risks of the proposed cuts to the Tijuana River National Eestuarine Research Reserve clear to all.
According to Chris Peregrin with California State Parks, the Tijuana River Estuary:
These are measurable benefits to the environment, and to the communities and quality of life of the South Bay – they could all be lost by the stroke of a very ignorant pen. Contact your congressional representatives and urge them and their colleagues in Congress to reject the Trump administration's proposal to drastically cut funding to NOAA and eliminate the NERRS program.
By Mark West
On Friday, Feb. 24, the city of Imperial Beach received an e-mail from the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) in San Diego, with a federal sewage spill report attached from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The news wasn't good, and in fact it confirmed our worst fears.
According to the report, over 143 million gallons of sewage was discharged into the Tijuana River from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23, during the course of a construction project upstream in Tijuana. The timeline of the report clearly coincides with a period of significant odor and stench that affected residents in south San Diego, Imperial Beach and Coronado, which prompted several news stories.
During this time, multiple inquiries were made to the IBWC and Baja California to find out what was going on. Despite the overwhelming evidence that a major sewage spill was in progress, what was remarkable, exasperating – and now possibly criminal – was the deafening silence from authorities on both sides of the border.
While this is the largest sewage spill in the Tijuana River in at least 10 years, it's important to remember there is a difference between storm-related runoff and the deliberate dumping of raw sewage into the Tijuana River when it is flowing. This was the latter – and while dumping has occurred before, it has never occurred at this scale or magnitude.
Activists have documented dozens of illegal sewage flows in the Tijuana River over the last several years and were able to stop them, even when authorities denied they were occurring. Last summer a group of activists even documented an illegal sewage discharge on the beach at Playas de Tijuana, right into the Pacific Ocean, and were successfully able to shut it down. As a result of these ongoing spills, Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina called for the dismissal of IBWC director Ed Drusina in July 2016.
Curiously, on Thursday, Feb. 23, the day before the official notification of the sewage spill from the IBWC, the city of Imperial Beach received a letter from the North American Development Bank (NADBANK) outlining plans by Baja California to build new sewage infrastructure in Tijuana to reduce beach pollution. So just as a bi-national group has been taking needed "baby steps" forward, this spill takes us back.
An additional concern is with U.S.–Mexico relations at a new low, these kinds of spills and the resulting lax notification could become the new normal – in which sewage spills that are supposed to be reported as according to the U.S.–Mexico Water Treaty Minute 320 are instead covered up without any regard for human safety.
So what can you do? Please call and write the San Diego offices of Congressman Juan Vargas, Congressman Scott Peters, Senator Diane Feinstein and Senator Kamala Harris, and ask for the following:
This isn't just an Imperial Beach problem. These kinds of spills impact all the residents of San Diego, Imperial Beach and Coronado, as well as the training of special warfare service members and all of the beaches of northern Baja, from Playas Tijuana to Rosarito. Any spill that contaminates a watershed as significant as the Tijuana River and a swath of the ocean from Rosarito to Coronado is entirely unacceptable.
We have the tools in place to stop such spills, and the communications available for our two countries to notify each other in a reasonable amount of time. What we need is greater advocacy, vigilance and effectiveness in implementing the processes the U.S. and Mexico have in place to enure a cleaner Tijuana River.
Mark West is a retired U.S. Navy officer and an Imperial Beach city council member.
Photos courtesy of the San Diego County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
By Renée Owens
On Thursday, Feb. 16, I sent my U.S. congressional representative, Duncan D. Hunter, a message urging him not to weaken or dismantle our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as the 2017 Congress is threatening to do. On Friday, Feb. 17, he responded, telling me the EPA is a "big problem." I know something about the EPA in my line of work, so I felt obliged to respond.
Dear Mr. Hunter,
I have worked as an environmental consultant in Southern California and Latin America since the early 90s. Along the way I have reintroduced endangered crocodiles, caught and released over 800 anacondas, and tracked jaguars in countries with no EPA or enforcement of environmental protections. I never once feared these animals. What I did I fear were the humans who cared nothing for them or their habitats, because they are the same habitats that keep us alive and well and provide trillions in ecosystem services when they are protected and respected.
When they are not protected, as they are not in many Third World countries, I can tell you who suffers: everyone. When water and air are polluted, having a lots of money doesn't necessarily protect you from the ravages of cancer, immune dysfunction, or a community that cannot sustain itself because it destroys the very nature it relies upon.
I am also a college environmental science instructor. Be aware that if any of my students made the same statements you are erroneously posing as fact they would fail the course, since what they learn is based upon science, history, and facts – not a fabricated mantra marched out and repeated with the singular goal of making unethical corporate CEOs richer while the rest of us suffer.
I am well versed in what authority the EPA has, and what authority it actually uses, now and in the past. Therefore I can say with complete confidence that you have no idea what you're talking about when you say in your e-mail:
"Throughout the Obama Administration and in many previous administrations since its inception, the EPA has drastically overstepped its authority to advance a political agenda that often fails to take into serious consideration the economic well-being of states and local communities. As a result, communities are stripped of jobs and economic mobility because of unaccountable Washington bureaucrats who are often more accountable to special interests than the American people they are employed to serve."
This statement is so incorrect it would be humorous if we weren't talking about livelihoods and the health of millions of people, animals, and our earth – all now at stake due to you and the majority of this Congress' lack of insight on the subject. I have watched for 25 years as environmental protections and protocols create thousands of good-paying, career jobs helping ensure that businesses do what they need to do while taking care not to cause undue and irresponsible harm.
When it asserts its authority (which it often does not due to budget and other constraints), the EPA urges unethical companies to follow the precautionary principle – that thing that helps keep arsenic and lead out your drinking water, deadly carcinogens out of the air your children breathe, and helps protect our beautiful wildlands that provide billions annually in non-consumptive tourism. EPA oversight helps to protect pollinators of our food, wetlands that naturally filter toxins from our water, forests that absorb extra carbon from our warming atmosphere, and parks that provide recreational and spiritual inspiration to millions, to name just a few.
Our own San Diego County has the highest biodiversity of any county in the nation, yet I get the feeling you would sell its biological value to the highest corporate bidder. After all, your record for protecting our environment is pretty poor: you have repeatedly voted to undermine river and other wetland protections, repeatedly voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, voted yes to drilling for oil in fragile marine ecosystems that host billions of krill – the pedestal of the ocean's food pyramid – and endangered whale breeding grounds, and even voted yes to slaughtering thousands of free-roaming horses.
And yet, you have voted in favor of almost every bill that serves fossil fuel interests over our nation's environment, including support of the Keystone XL pipeline. The EPA helps keep us healthy by keeping our environment healthy. If you weaken it, you undermine our nation's health. Given that you voted for the repeal of Obamacare with no working alternative in sight, how do you expect your newly uninsured constituents to deal with the increased health issues they will become victims of as our air and water become more polluted?
I find the flippant ease with which you trade protections of our air, water, habitats, wildlife, and the health of the people of our nation for the support of immoral lobbyists to be reprehensible. I am additionally aware, for instance, that you just voted in favor or allowing recreational hunters throughout 76 million acres of Alaska's wildlife Refuges to shoot sleeping bears and wolf pups in their dens, trapping, poisoning, baiting them all in the name of fun and profit. Only a coward would get a perverse thrill from such a thing. One wonders if you will proudly tell your grandchildren how you used your political power to support shooting wolf pups for entertainment?
Mr. Hunter, I have been an energetic activist for decades. I truly wish we had common ground upon which we could find compromise. But your statements now and in the past are clearly not based upon fact, nor do they have the well-being of the majority of your constituents in mind. Therefore, be informed that your actions to degrade and sicken the Earth that supports us all – regardless of political party or religion – only serves to fuel my energies tenfold so that you and your like-minded colleagues will be outvoted as soon as the next opportunity arises.
"Where is Duncan" State Route 67 overpass photo by Pamela Ellen Hughes
Congressman Duncan D. Hunter photo courtesy of the congressman's office
By Tommy Hough
Ansel Adams famously said in a 1983 interview, "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment." Unfortunately, that's the situation we environmentalists find ourselves in again. Elections, as they say, have consequences.
As revealed by the proposed declawing of the Endangered Species act in mid-January, and driven home last week by Congressman Jason Chaffetz's attempt to sell off more than 3.3 million acres of public land in 10 states, congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are joining forces to undo federal public lands policy and even drill in our National Parks – our nation's most sacrosanct places.
While finishing off any kind of tolerant pretense for conservation or public lands management on behalf of GOP lawmakers, these moves are entirely unprecedented in our nation's history.
Generations of Americans – Democrats and Republicans alike – have worked for well over a century to ensure responsible management of our public lands, and have sought to protect and enjoy them. In fact, it was President Lincoln who first set Yosemite aside for conservation in 1864, and President Theodore Roosevelt who crafted the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. But now, led by Utah's Jason Chaffetz and Arizona's Paul Gosar in the House and Texas' Ted Cruz in the Senate, today's Republicans – beholden and blinded by special interests disguised as populism – want to undo the very idea of public lands.
The reasons for the sell-off? To "give" federal lands "back" to the states – as though states are at all equipped to manage the volume of public land being discussed, especially in the west. Managing public land for a variety of uses is what the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) do every day – whether it's for recreation, resources, or simply to be left alone as wilderness or habitat.
Not even James Watt, Ronald Reagan's notorious Interior Secretary, ever suggested anything on the scale of what is being proposed now, but congressional Republicans have been engineering these moves since they took over following the Tea Party wave in the 2010 midterms (again - elections have consequences). Until recently, the GOP always came up against an immovable object – President Obama. But those days are gone, and the floodgates for rollback policy are wide open.
While reasonable people can have their differences about how agencies do their management jobs – and I've been on the other side of the coin on this many times, especially while at Oregon Wild – there's no doubt our public lands are better off with oversight than without it. But when the BLM tried to enforce policy in the case of the Bundys, they had guns pointed in their face. Now the weight of the GOP and Trumpistan is siding with the Bundys over its own civil servants and public land.
Don't be fooled – despite the withdrawal of H.R. 621 by Congressman Chaffetz, the desire to sell off public lands and drill in National Parks has strong support in Congress, and there's nothing to stop it other than the voice of the citizenry. While those voices were heard last week by Chaffetz and others, the House GOP will find new ways to try to separate Americans from their public lands. This is just the beginning.
Like toothpaste from a tube, once we lose these lands we'll never get them back intact – and the precedent will be set for even more pillaging. What will they come for then? Our deserts? The Central Coast? The Redwoods? The Sierras? How big a bite will it be? The decimation of lifetimes of conservation efforts and the squandering of the legacy of John Muir could very well happen over the next two years unless we remain incredibly vigilant, and respond with the full weight of outrage at every attempt.
Trump and the GOP Congress know that's a level of intensity difficult to maintain, but as Ansel Adams sagely noted, "It is a terrible thing when we have to fight our own government to save the environment."
The Antiquities Act of 1906, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Wilderness Act of 1964 , the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and at the executive level, the Roadless Rule of 2001 are some of the best conservation policies in place that enable public lands to be left as is. That's what Jason Chaffetz and Ted Cruz ultimately seek to undo. Remind your congressperson these and other environmental policies must remain in place, as is.
Vasquez Peak Wilderness photo by Tommy Hough
Notch Peak Wilderness Study Area photo by Michael Klein
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.