While difficult economic times are not far removed from our collective consciousness, Californians as a whole are feeling optimistic about how things are going in the state. Generally speaking, when economic times are good, Californians are more willing to take affirmative, collective action for the common good. In particular, at times like these we expect to see concerted action on improving the environment, whether through water conservation (a big topic these days), regulating greenhouse gas emissions, or other air quality improvement measures.
So it came as a complete shock when we learned that Barry Wallerstein, the long-standing Executive Officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (the AQMD) - the agency responsible for providing breathable air in the Nation’s most polluted region - was unceremoniously fired from his post. What had caused his sudden ouster? Was there some scandal at the AQMD on Mr. Wallerstein’s watch? No. Was the air quality in the LA Basin deteriorating, due to some AQMD ineptitude that was laid at Mr. Wallerstein’s feet? Nope. So what changed? What was behind Mr. Wallerstein being sacked? In a word: politics.
This is not good!
Before I go further, a bit of background. In the early nineties I was the Director of Clean Air Programs for a statewide non-profit environmental organization. In that role I was a frequent participant at AQMD workshops and Board Meetings, first in El Monte and later in Diamond Bar, trying to push the staff and the Board to do more to protect public health.
Are we headed back to this?
The early nineties was a time of recession, and its lingering effects emboldened many polluting interests to lobby heavily against the allegedly “job killing regulations” coming from the AQMD. For the relatively small cadre of environmental activists who engaged in that debate, we were generally outnumbered and always outgunned. When I or one of my colleagues would address the Board, it was not uncommon for us to be booed by industry allies in the audience. We referred to it as “getting dissed at the District.”
Barry Wallerstein was a senior staff member during my tenure, not yet the Executive Officer, and far from an environmental booster. More often than not, we were arguing against positions taken by Mr.Wallerstein. Far too often, in our view, he adopted the position advocated by industry at the expense of the environment.
This is the man that the new Board deems too enviro-friendly to continue in his post?
How did this happen?
The short answer is that a recent change in AQMD Board membership gave the Republicans on the Board a 7-6 majority. But to really understand what is going on here, you need to know who is on the Board and how they voted. Here’s the tally, along with a link to their bio page and the source of their appointment:
|Name||Vote||Source of Appointment|
|Dr. William Burke (Chair)||Retain||Speaker of the Assembly|
|Mike Antonovich||Fire||Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors|
|Ben Benoit||Fire||Cities of Riverside County|
|John Benoit||Fire||Riverside County Board of Supervisors|
|Joe Buscaino||Retain||City of Los Angeles|
|Michael Cacciotti||Retain||Cities of Los Angeles County, Eastern Region|
|Dr. Joseph Lyou||Retain||Governor|
|Larry McCallon||Fire||Cities of San Bernardino County|
|Judy Mitchell||Retain||Cities of Los Angeles County, Western Region|
|Shawn Nelson||Fire||Orange County Board of Supervisors|
|Dr. Clark Parker, Sr.||Retain||Senate Rules Committee|
|Dwight Robinson||Fire||Cities of Orange County|
|Janice Rutherford||Fire||San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors|
One thing here is unlike the others. All of the sources for pro-business votes - the cities and county representatives of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino - voted against clean air and for the polluters. All of the sources for pro-enviroment votes, save one - i.e., the cities of LA County, the Democrat-dominated legislature and governor’s office - voted for protecting the environment. So who is the odd man out? That would be LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a true dinosaur on environmental issues - who has been on the AQMD Board since my days appearing there!
How can that be? The LA County Board of Supervisors is 3-2 Democratic, and has been since 1993. So how on earth has Mr. Antonovich managed to remain as the representative of the millions of people in LA County before their most important local public health agency when he routinely votes - as he did here - against their best interests? Are the three Democrats on the Board just too lazy to take on the job themselves, happy to leave the AQMD workload to Mr. Antonovich, even if it imperils the health of their constituents?
We decided to find out, so we sent the three Democrats on the Board this email:
Dear Supervisor –
I run a small business in LA County and am also the author of a blog, Thoughts on Solar, regarding the solar industry. I am preparing a post regarding the recent firing of AQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein and I would like an answer to the following question – your response to which will be included in my post:
The LA County Board of Supervisors has a Democratic majority and has had since 1993. Yet for all of that time, Supervisor Antonovich has represented the County’s millions of residents before the AQMD Board where he has been a reliable vote in favor of polluters and to the detriment of the health and well-being of your constituents – including his most recent vote to oust longstanding Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein. So why is it that Mr. Antonovich has been allowed to remain as the County’s representative to the AQMD Board?
Thank you for your consideration; I look forward to your reply.
That email was sent to the offices of Hilda Solis (First District), Mark Ridley-Thomas (Second District), and Sheila Kuehl (Third District). Only Ms. Kuehl’s office bothered to respond, and her spokeswoman’s response was terse in the extreme:
Thanks for reaching out to our office. Supervisor Antonovich is serving a fixed term and there will be a new appointment in December.
Director of Communications
Office of LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl
Of course, her response doesn’t address the question posed (though it is better than no response at all), but it does highlight an important fact. After a lifetime on the Board, Mr. Antonovich is finally termed out this November. Moreover, the other Republican on the Board, Don Knabe, is also termed out. Under the election rules, if a candidate gains an outright majority of the vote in the June 7th primary, they are elected. Otherwise the top two finishers face off in the November general election.
Despite their enormous power, elections for County Supervisor tend to be down-ballot snoozers with very little public scrutiny of the candidates. Once elected, as with Mr. Antonovich, they have largely remained in office for decades. Hopefully this year will be different. Given the enormous stakes for public health in the home of the Nation’s most polluted air, the outcome of the Supervisorial elections - and the subsequent appointment of the LA County representative to the AQMD board - is of the highest importance.
This is not a political blog, but this issue is just too important to everyone who lives and breathes in this Basin to ignore. We intend to return to the issue and seek to make representation on the AQMD Board an issue in the upcoming campaign. Watch this space.
UPDATE - 3/31 - The Solar Power World Webinar has come and gone, but the good news is that you can watch it anytime by going to the SPW website, register and then watch. To get started, click on the “Watch Webinar!” button. The whole event is worth a listen, but if you wish to cut to my presentation, it starts around the 25 minute mark!
Run on Sun Founder & CEO, Jim Jenal, is frequently quoted on topics related to solar power and the nature of the solar industry. Two media events this month demonstrate that continuing influence. Check these out…
Run on Sun has long had a happy relationship with the folks at industry magazine, Solar Power World, having been named to their “Top Solar Contractors” list three years running, but this upcoming webinar is a first for us. Directed toward other solar installation companies, the one-hour presentation offers the perspective from Jim and two other industry leaders on steps to take to develop a first-class operation. From the online blurb:
Technology is constantly changing; are you using the right tools to ensure your business is operating as efficiently as possible? The desire for great customer service stays the same; are your offerings and sales techniques making it easy for the customer to go solar?
Join us in a special 1-hour presentation in which several presenters explain:
- How innovative software can streamline your business
- Why PACE financing can help enable you to service more customers
- What best practices are most effective when working with clients (this is Jim’s topic!)
Readers of this blog know that Jim brings a distinct point of view to his writing, and this presentation will certainly be no exception!
SUNMetrix is a cool portal that is designed to allow homeowners to gather information about how to go solar, and check out highly rated solar companies in their area. Headed up by Simone Garneau, and winner of the SunShot Catalyst Business Innovation Contest, we are fans of the concept, and of Simone. When she contacted Jim about contributing to her upcoming blog post, he was happy to oblige.
The result is Are Solar Panels Worth It? and here’s an excerpt:
In the past decade, the expansion of the residential solar energy market has been nothing short of astonishing. Though it’s still early days, all key market metrics point to continued growth for the coming years…
For most homeowners though, the decision to go solar boils down to a single question: is it worth it?
…Homeowners, frustrated by their ever increasing utility bills, are looking for an alternative that will save them money in the long run. They are also looking for ways to help the environment by producing their own clean energy. Jim Jenal, CEO of the solar company Run on Sun in Pasadena, California knows this firsthand:“For most homeowners it starts with a desire to save money; however, even for the most cost conscious, the understanding that they are doing something good, sweetens the deal.”
With dramatic price drops in solar equipment, solar energy is more affordable than ever for homeowners considering the switch.
Of course, as we have written in the past, the answer to the question of is solar worth it, is… it depends! (Check out Laurel’s great post on Assessing My Home’s Solar Potential: Step-by-Step to see more of our thoughts on this key point.)
Simone’s post provides lots of good information, along with quotes from other industry experts - check it out by clicking here.
Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, ventured south of the border last week to visit the White House, marking the first official Canadian Prime Minister visit in 19 years! What are Trudeau and Obama palling around about? You guessed it… collaboration on a North American transition to renewable energy! The leaders announced a joint strategy to move coordinated climate action even beyond their respective commitments at COP21 in Paris last December.
Trudeau has been much more willing to implement climate change policies than his predecessor, Stephen Harper, who opposed cutting greenhouse gases to the point that he pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol. In the joint announcement they emphasized the special relationship between the two countries and the importance of collaboration on energy development, environmental protection, as well as Arctic leadership.
In the joint press conference they remarked that Paris was a turning point in the global effort to take action on climate and anchor economic growth in a clean energy transformation. One important outcome in Paris was the launch of Mission Innovation. Mission Innovation is a global initiative including 20 countries commiting to double their governments’ clean energy research and development investments over the next five years. Indeed Obama’s 2017 budget is seeking $7.7 billion in discretionary funding to boost clean energy research. (Hopefully those R&D dreams won’t be dashed by Congress.) Last month, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico also signed a memorandum of understanding seeking to expand our countries’ cooperation to include climate change and energy collaboration activities. Building on these and other multilateral agreements, last Thursday the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to working together to:
“strengthen North American energy security, phase out fossil fuel subsidies, accelerate clean energy development to address climate change and to foster sustainable energy development and economic growth.”
Specifics regarding the clean energy highlights of the joint pledge include:
Few further details were included but the leaders’ focus on the need to accelerate clean energy innovation and a transition to renewables is a giant step in the right direction!
Check out the full press conference here:
On August 3, 2015, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Clean Power Plan (CPP) – an exciting, historic and truly critical step in tackling climate change. Advocates say its policies will create jobs, make our grid more reliable, and our economies more resilient while helping protect all of us against climate change’s worst impacts. The CPP is the heart of Obama’s effort to uphold commitments agreed upon at the Paris COP21 climate conference last December.
Power plants are the largest polluters in the US. They account for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions! We wrote about the controversial carbon standards for NEW power plants put forth by the EPA in December 2014. Obama’s Clean Power Plan takes it a giant step further by forcing all EXISTING coal-fired power plants to cut carbon emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030.
Despite the seemingly fair and flexible terms of the Clean Power Plan, vested interests (including coal and mining groups and a coalition of Republican states) fiercely opposed, stating the regulations are an overreach of the EPA’s power. On February 9th the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to stay implementation of the CPP until the litigation challenging the Clean Power Plan is addressed. Justice Scalia’s passing doesn’t change anything since a 4-4 vote also stays the implementation until the Federal District Appeals Court makes a decision likely in late 2016.
Experts are confident that the CPP’s contents are on solid legal ground and courts will ultimately uphold it. However, a final decision is unlikely before June 2017 or even into 2018 (depending on when the Supreme Court makes their final ruling after going through the DC Court). These delays only make global progress more and more difficult as all eyes are on the US to set an example by honoring our Paris climate commitments.
While 27 states filed the petition to delay the CPP implementation, eighteen state governors - both Democratic and Republican - have announced an accord to move forward on clean energy solutions regardless. The governors declared that “we recognize that now is the time to embrace a bold vision of the nation’s energy future,” and that their states “are once again prepared to lead.”
“As the world gets hotter and closer to irreversible climate change, these justices appear tone-deaf as they fiddle with procedural niceties. This arbitrary roadblock does incalculable damage and undermines America’s climate leadership. But make no mistake, this won’t stop California continuing to do its part under the Clean Power Plan.” – California Gov. Jerry Brown
Its leaders like these governors, and many large private businesses who have come out in favor of upholding the Clean Power plan, who seem to understand the gravity of climate change and the many benefits that moving to a clean energy future brings. We hope the alliance of leaders in politics and the private sector continues to grow and soon will outnumber those that back the interests of dirty energy!
Here at Run on Sun we are big fans of Electric Vehicles (EVs) - we started writing about them years ago as a natural marriage, if you will, with solar power. We have long had a page on our website devoted to the synergy between solar and EVs, and we drive a Volt as our main company car.
But one thing we hear from skeptics is that EVs will never replace gasoline cars - they are too expensive or they are too limited in range (that latter point being why we drive a Volt and not a Leaf). But an interesting analysis from Bloomberg Business suggests that this will change, and far faster than most might think! Check out their very thought provoking video (h/t climatecrocks.com):
Quite the range of opinions on EV penetration - from 1% of new car sales in 2040 (according to Exxon) to 50% in this video. Frankly we are betting with Bloomberg. People who drive EVs have no desire to revert to an internal combustion engine. When you combine that EV with solar power to charge it, you are really getting to a game changer.
So what if, as the video suggests, instead of having to regulate away fossil fuels, we just stopped buying them? That future can’t get here fast enough!
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