- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 2, 2018

May 2

Los Angeles Times on defending California’s right to clean air:

World leaders may negotiate their climate change accords in foreign capitals, but the efforts to stem global warming may succeed or fail based on what happens in United States courtrooms, where the state of California is leading the charge to block the Trump administration’s anti-environment, anti-science agenda.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown and state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra announced that they have filed the state’s 10th, and potentially most consequential, lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Joined by 16 other states and the District of Columbia, California is trying to preserve a planned increase in vehicle fuel-economy standards, which were designed to make passenger cars more fuel efficient and less polluting.

Adopted under the Obama administration, the clean-car regulations were a crucial piece of the national effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow global climate change. And California, which has the unique authority to set its own vehicle emission standards, had agreed to forgo more stringent standards in favor of national regulations that would have a bigger impact on greenhouse gases.

But then the Climate Change Denier-in-Chief took office and appointed his anti-environmental-protection sidekick, Scott Pruitt, to head the EPA. Last month Pruitt announced the agency would abandon the stiffer fuel economy requirements that were supposed to be phased in from 2022 to 2025. Pruitt is widely expected to weaken - or even eliminate - fuel efficiency standards, and he is reportedly looking to do so in a way that effectively overrides California’s authority to adopt its own rules.

An attack on California’s authority would not only hinder the Golden State’s ability to clean up the air; it would stymie a dozen other states that have adopted California’s vehicle emissions standards. And that would cripple efforts to combat climate change: Cars and trucks recently surpassed power plants as America’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The clean-car rules were slated to improve the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 50% by 2025, to almost 55 miles per gallon. To meet the new standards, automakers were expected to develop and sell more hybrid and electric models, which, over time, would slash oil consumption, smoggy tailpipe pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

California’s lawsuit argues that the EPA acted arbitrarily to overturn the clean-car standards, violating its own rules and the Clean Air Act. Becerra said the federal government offered no evidence to support its decision.

Brown had harsher words, calling Pruitt an “outlaw” and accusing him and President Trump of leading the country off a cliff and into disaster.

“We’re losing our battle on climate change,” Brown told reporters Tuesday. “This is an existential threat to America, to California and the world.”

California leaders rightly recognize the threat that Pruitt and Trump present. Fortunately, so do 16 other states. The coalition formed to fight the EPA’s clean-car rollback represents approximately 43% of the new car sales market nationally and 44% of the U.S. population. That should make it abundantly clear to the Trump administration and to the automakers lobbying for looser standards that there is no desire to go backward on climate change and clean air.

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May 1

The Mercury News on not reversing course on Delta twin-tunnels project:

The fate of the environmentally fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the future cost of water in Silicon Valley once again rests with the Santa Clara Valley Water District board.

For the second time in six months, board members are being asked to commit a minimum of $650 million to help fund Gov. Jerry Brown’s ill-conceived $16 billion twin-tunnels project. They wisely rejected the deal in October, and they have no business reversing course when the same issue comes back Wednesday.

It’s a Southern California and Central Valley water grab that won’t provide a drop of new water to California’s water supply. The decision will impact the Bay Area and much of the rest of Northern California.

From a business perspective, it would be irresponsible for the seven-person board to sign on to the tunnels project, which has no governing structure in place, no clear cost-benefit study for the district and no reliable cost estimates.

From an environmental perspective, the so-called WaterFix does nothing to improve the health of the fragile Delta. At stake is the health of fish and other wildlife for Bay Area residents for decades to come.

Digging projects are notorious for massive cost overruns. And this would be a doozy - two 35-mile, four-story-tall tunnels under the Delta. It’s the equivalent of building a 10-lane freeway 150 feet underground. Remember that Boston’s Big Dig ballooned from $2.6 billion to nearly $15 billion before it was completed - eight years behind schedule.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District board could be committing to pay for a similar financial boondoggle by approving the project. And to do it without ratepayers having a say would be unconscionable.

Four of the board members - John Varela, Linda LeZotte, Tony Estremera and Gary Kremen - will be up for re-election in November. Any board member voting to commit ratepayers to this irresponsible plan would be making an unforgivable mistake.

The board made the most courageous decision in its history in October when it voted unanimously to reject the tunnels plan, saying instead it was willing to consider a significantly smaller, cheaper project with just one tunnel.

The twin-tunnels plan hasn’t changed in the last six months. But the ugly politics have.

First, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted April 12 to pay up to $10.8 billion to fund the twin tunnels, paving the way for construction to begin as early as the end of this year. Second, as the Bay Area News Group reported Saturday, the Santa Clara district might have struck a deal with the Brown administration to support the tunnels plan in exchange for state funding of a new dam the district wants to build near Pacheco Pass.

The California Water Commission recently gave the $485 million project full funding after recommending it receive no money in February. If true, this sort of quid-pro-quo is alarming.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District already correctly assessed the value of the twin-tunnels project. It doesn’t pencil out for ratepayers, and it doesn’t protect the environment. The answer should remain the same: No.

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May 1

The Fresno Bee on innocent students bearing brunt of adult revenge:

Atop Fresno State President Joseph Castro’s Facebook page is a photo carrying a message chiseled in granite: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Castro and the university will be measured in a big way this week during two forums to discuss the free speech controversy revolving around English professor Randa Jarrar.

While the Jarrar case at Fresno State is officially settled - she will not be fired for her harsh words about former first lady Barbara Bush - the campus and the community are decidedly unsettled.

As a recap, within an hour after the official announcement that Mrs. Bush died at the age of 92, Jarrar took to social media to call Bush an “amazing racist” who raised a “war criminal.” Jarrar also expressed no concern that she could be fired or reprimanded for her outspokenness. She made the comments from her personal social media account while on leave from the university.

Castro said the decision, reached after consultation with counsel, was made because Jarrar “did not violate any CSU or university policies and that she was acting in a private capacity and speaking about a public matter on her personal Twitter account. It is an issue of free speech and not related to her job or tenure. Therefore, the university does not have justification to support taking any disciplinary action.”

Castro’s tone throughout this ordeal has been impressively thoughtful, resolute and rational. He has answered the call of leadership and should use this week’s forums to promote a respectful exchange of ideas.

But this is not entirely Castro’s burden to bear.

Universities are inherently complex organizations with an amalgam of opinions and constituencies. Free-thinking residents of the central San Joaquin Valley must not let the tweets of a single professor slow the rising trajectory of Fresno State, which, under Castro’s strong leadership, has grown as a beacon of upward mobility for thousands of students - many of whom are the first in their families to pursue higher education.

Castro is clear in his messaging that the university stands for robust dialogue. Let the community stand just as strong in its remarks as well.

The unrelenting personal threats, attacks and rage - with some people even threatening harm or promising to punish students who had no role in the controversy - are pitiful.

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado, editor in chief of The Collegian, which produces multimedia student news, tweeted this message over the weekend:

“One day after we asked readers to #SaveStudentNewsrooms, an older reader who considered donating a couple thousand dollars to The Collegian withdrew his support in a written note. He cited the recent prof controversy as why. We had a respectful chat before he left our office.”

But it doesn’t stop with innocent students, who should not be made to shoulder the blame. It extends even to the president’s family.

On Friday, Castro’s wife, Mary, posted a Facebook message, “Thank you to those of you who have offered prayers and support. My energy and service will continue to be focused on showing love, respect and faith in the students.

“My passion has not been diminished by recent negative attacks. They have been brutal. Growing up on a farm developed my pride and devotion to this area. My heart will not be swayed. #BeLove #BlessedToServe .”

It’s a gut-check time for all of us. Where will this community and region stand at a time of challenge and controversy for one of its most beloved institutions?

Fresno State’s mission is too important to be derailed by one professor’s tweets. Now, more than at any football or basketball game, true Red Wave fans of Fresno State need to rally to support the university and move it onward from the controversy. If you were thinking about enrolling, by all means do so. If you were going to make a donation, keep to that decision. Fresno State will endure, and we will all be the better for it.

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April 30

The San Diego Union-Tribune on why migrant caravan on U.S.-Mexico border merits asylum consideration:

President Donald Trump’s outraged reaction to some 200 Central American residents who have arrived in Tijuana to seek U.S. asylum after a five-week “caravan” across Mexico clearly plays to his base, whose opposition to both illegal and legal immigration may be their most defining characteristic. But his assertion that the caravan reflects lawlessness and anarchy at the border simply isn’t true.

What’s now unfolding is absolutely within the parameters of U.S. law - and U.S. history. In 1980, the United States formally enacted a refuge law built on principles the nation already followed that were established by a 1951 United Nations convention on refugees. That convention was prompted by the wrenching experience of World War II and its aftermath, in which millions of refugees fled nations taken over by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Under the 1980 law, the federal government is required to consider providing asylum to an individual who is “unable or unwilling to return to (his or her home country), and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Since World War II, U.S. officials have given asylum to millions of people from war-torn or repressive nations. While the numbers vary from year to year, the number of refugees admitted is a small fraction of the overall number of people legally migrating to the U.S. each year - normally about 1 million people. Homeland Security reports an average of 72,000 refugees were admitted annually from 2014 to 2016.

But the process is hardly automatic. Instead, as detailed in a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune, it amounts to a daunting challenge. Applicants are generally required to stay in U.S. detention facilities. They are interviewed by several federal agencies, and they’re expected to provide photos, official reports or other evidence documenting the threats they face if they return home. Finally, they must make their case to special judges. Those without compelling cases are routinely rejected. This lengthy process doesn’t reflect anarchy. This reflects a nation functioning under the rule of law.

What’s not clear yet is if the Trump administration has broken with this long and honorable record. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s weekend statement that it had “reached capacity” at the San Ysidro Port of Entry for processing persons “without appropriate entry documentation” can be seen as in keeping with its past reactions to an influx of asylum-seekers, such as what happened in 2016, when thousands of Haitians sought entry. But given Trump’s comments, few will be surprised if the agencies that report to the White House have made something of a pre-determination that those on the caravan don’t qualify for asylum status - without even hearing their stories.

This callousness about refugees no doubt sits well with the millions of Trump supporters who believe his canard about America having open borders. It’s also likely to please the many people who look at European nations’ struggle to absorb more than 2 million refugees in the wake of the Syrian civil war and who fear that’s what might happen here.

But those who say the president merely wants to follow the law on asylum seekers - unlike the presidents who came before him - are lying to themselves. To the contrary, residents of violent, gang-dominated areas of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who believe they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” because they have crossed the wrong people are legally entitled to asylum consideration. Given that so many critics of U.S. immigration policies like to say “what part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” this irony is painful - and ugly.

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April 28

The Press Democrat on water investment needing to include flood preparation:

The next huge natural catastrophe to strike California might not be an earthquake. New research suggests that a major flood could inundate large swaths of California in the next few decades. The last “200-year flood” was more than 150 years ago, and climate change is jacking up the odds of a repeat sooner rather than later. In order to prepare, state water officials must rethink whether big, costly dams really are the best investment of limited resources.

The peer-reviewed research, which appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change, predicts that California’s average annual rainfall will remain fairly stable in a warming world. The problem is in the annual fluctuations and potential for shorter more-intense wet seasons.

Right now, average annual precipitation in Sonoma County is about 31 inches. We could average that with 30 inches some years and 32 inches in others.

The models predict much greater variation. We could dip into prolonged droughts followed by a year of extreme rain such as the one that hit in the winter of 1861-62. That winter it rained for more than 40 days, with more than 100 inches falling on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. The Central Valley became a 300-mile long, 25-mile wide inland sea. Some of the valley’s farmlands and natural areas were under 20 feet of water.

It was catastrophic. People drowned and disappeared. Homes were destroyed. More than a million sheep, lambs and cattle died, ruining people’s livelihoods. In one of the more surreal moments, Gov. Leland Stanford arrived at his inauguration by rowboat on the streets of Sacramento. Shortly afterward, lawmakers moved the Capitol to San Francisco temporarily while the water slowly receded.

Now researchers warn that transitions between dangerously dry spells to dangerously wet could become more common. “Precipitation whiplash,” as they call it, isn’t a far-off thing that only our grandchildren need worry about. The new study predicts better than a 50 percent chance that an 1862-like rainfall could hit in the next 40 years. And today there are far more people, buildings and investment in flood-prone areas.

California is not ready, but at least we’ve been warned. With luck, we have time to act.

In 2014, drought-stricken voters approved $2.6 billion in bond funds to improve the state’s water infrastructure. The California Water Commission, tasked with spending that money, is being lobbied hard to go with big-ticket projects. Two of them - a 10th dam on the San Joaquin River and the Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley - could suck up most of the money. Big dams aren’t cheap.

Meanwhile, smaller, less-expensive proposals that deliver much greater bang for the buck languish. The water commission is supporting a handful of them, including groundwater recharging and recycling, but they are afterthoughts when these and other projects that spread flood resilience should be priorities.

The water commission will meet next week, beginning on Tuesday, to discuss appropriations of the bond money. It should consider how to prepare the state not just to fight drought with huge dams but also how it can begin to protect California from the next 1862 flood. That’s won’t please the big Central Valley growers who have been driving the conversation so far, but it’s the responsible forethought the state needs.


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