Map of Extreme Weather in 2012

2012 was a year of extreme weather events, with record heat waves, significant drought across the Southern and Western States, and major wildfires. A map posted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) allows users to watch the events on the national map over the course of the year.

The map also allows user to look at a summary of extreme weather events at the state level.

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According to the NRDC, in 2012 California experienced:

  • Record-breaking heat in 15 counties
  • Record-breaking snow in 5 counties
  • Record-breaking precipitation in 18 counties
  • 102 large wildfires

The website lets users see the specific records set (for example, the records for monthly highest maximum temperature below) and the previous record.

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For those (like me) who like to know the source of the data, the map was based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations’s National Climatic Data Center.

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Are suburban corporate campuses falling out of fashion? NRDC staff blog predicts an increase in smart growth.  Lonely Planet surveyed travelers to find a list of the top 20 walking cities.  Grist readers nominated 10 additional cities that didn’t make the original Lonely Planet list. A study commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations finds that roughly one third of the food produced for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted.

10 American Cities Running Out Of Water?

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Las Vegas, Nevada (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

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24/7 Wall St. evaluated a couple recent studies (from Ceres and the NRDC) and also conducted some of its own analysis, focusing on the 30 largest American cities,  to  come up with the following list of 10 large American cities at the greatest risk of running out of water:

10. Orlando, FL

9. Atlanta, GA

8. Tucson, AZ

7. Las Vegas, NV

6. Fort Worth, TX

5. San Francisco Bay Area, CA

4. San Antonio, TX

3. Phoenix, AZ

2. Houston, TX

1. Los Angeles, CA

You can read more about their analysis and reasons for inclusion of each city here.

A note from Anna – I do not know much about 24/7 Wall St. or their track record on this sort of analysis. I think this sort of list is good for raising awareness that it is not just cities in the dry Southwest that are facing future water shortages. However, there are a few items in this article that gave me pause – first is the consistent misspelling of San Francisco as “San Fransisco”, second is the consistent listing of the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) as the “National Resources Defense Council.”

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Election Day 2010 – Go Vote!

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So… it’s finally Election Day 2010. There are a couple propositions on the California ballot – Prop 23 and Prop 26 – that have implications for energy and transportation policy. Statewide ballot measures just need a majority to pass.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Proposition 23

Who is funding Prop 23?

According to MapLight.org:

Total Contributions in Support of Prop 23: $10,654,560

Total Contributions in Opposition to Prop 23: $31,245,543

Top Contributors in Support of Prop 23:

Valero Services, Inc. $5,075,315
Tesoro Companies $2,040,637
Flint Hills Resources $1,000,000
Marathon Petroleum Company LLC $500,000
Adam Smith Foundation $498,000
Occidental Petroleum Corp. $300,000
Tower Energy Group $200,000
CVR Energy Inc. $150,000
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc. $102,568
National Petrochemical & Refiners Assoc. $100,000
World Oil Corp. $100,000

Image credit: MapLight.org

Top Contributors in Opposition to Prop 23:

Thomas Steyer & Kathryn Taylor $5,099,000
National Wildlife Federation $3,000,000
L. John & Ann Doerr $2,100,000
The League of Conservation Voters $1,250,000
Vinod Khosla $1,037,267
Gordon Moore $1,000,000
James Cameron $1,000,000
Robert J. Fisher $1,000,000
ClimateWorks Foundation $900,000
Sierra Club $855,890
The Nature Conservancy $800,000
Bill Gates $700,000
Claire Perry $500,000
Green Tech Action Fund $500,000
John P. Morgridge $500,000
Julian H. Robertson Jr. $500,000
Pacific Gas & Electric $500,000
Wendy Schmidt $500,000

Image credit: MapLight.org

What is Prop 23?

From the Official Voter Information Guide:

SUSPENDS IMPLEMENTATION OF AIR POLLUTION CONTROL LAW (AB 32) REQUIRING MAJOR SOURCES OF EMISSIONS TO REPORT AND REDUCE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS THAT CAUSE GLOBAL WARMING, UNTIL UNEMPLOYMENT DROPS TO 5.5 PERCENT OR LESS FOR FULL YEAR. INITIATIVE STATUTE.

  • Suspends State law that requires greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, until California’s unemployment drops to 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters.
  • Suspends comprehensive greenhouse-gas-reduction program that includes increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements, and mandatory emissions reporting and fee requirements for major emissions sources such as power plants and oil refineries.

Summary of Legislative Analyst’s Estimate of Net State and Local Government Fiscal Impact:

  • The suspension of AB 32 could result in a modest net increase in overall economic activity in the state. In this event, there would be an unknown but potentially significant net increase in state and local government revenues.
  • Potential loss of a new source of state revenues from the auctioning of emission allowances by state government to certain businesses that would pay for these allowances, by suspending the future implementation of cap-and-trade regulations.
  • Lower energy costs for state and local governments than otherwise.

Why does Prop 23 matter?

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Proposition 23 would stop progress on curbing global warming emissions and transitioning to clean energy by “suspending” California’s landmark law, AB 32, until unemployment is below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters.  This unemployment threshold has only been reached 3 times in the past forty years.  Prop 23 would pull the rug out from the one sector of our economy that is actually growing – clean technology and clean energy – and create loads of uncertainty for businesses that have already made investments and are looking to expand.

According to the supporters of Prop 23:

We all want to do our part for global warming, but implementing our current plan is not the way to go. Families and businesses simply cannot afford to pay fifty percent or more in higher electricity and utility costs, and even more at the gas pump. A Yes vote on Proposition 23 temporarily postpones a new, costly program until our economy stabilizes and people are back to work, making it easier for families to make ends meet.New rules, regulations, and fines are about to take effect under California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), which will increase energy costs by billions of dollars and destroy more than a million jobs. Proposition 23 would suspend those new rules until the economy improves and unemployment drops.

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Proposition 26

Who is funding Prop 26?

According to MapLight.org:

Total Contributions in Support of Prop 26: $18,306,433

Total Contributions in Opposition to Prop 26: $6,547,122

Top Contributors in Support of Prop 26:

California Chamber of Commerce $3,937,323
Chevron Corporation $3,750,000
American Beverage Association $2,450,000
Philip Morris USA Inc. * $2,250,000
Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. * $925,000
ConocoPhillips $525,000
Cypress Management Company, Inc. * $500,000
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association $432,948
Wine Institute * $381,093
Aera Energy LLC $350,000
MillerCoors $350,000

* Includes contributions from the Small Business Action Committee

Image credit: MapLight.org

Top Contributors in Opposition to Prop 26:

Democratic State Central Committee of California $1,326,674
Thomas F. Steyer $1,000,000
League of Conservation Voters (Prop. 23 Committee) $900,000
California Teachers Association $505,050
California State Council of Service Employees $500,000
John Doerr $400,000
Ella Baker Center $350,000
SCOPE S.I. $250,000
A.L.L.E.R.T. $200,000
California Public Securities Association $150,000
State Building and Construction Trades Council of California $150,000

Image credit: MapLight.org

What is Prop 26?

From the Official Voter Information Guide:

REQUIRES THAT CERTAIN STATE AND LOCAL FEES BE APPROVED BY TWO-THIRDS VOTE.FEES INCLUDE THOSE THAT ADDRESS ADVERSE IMPACTS ON SOCIETY OR THE ENVIRONMENTCAUSED BY THE FEE-PAYER’S BUSINESS. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.

  • Requires that certain state fees be approved by two-thirds vote of Legislature and certain local fees be approved by two-thirds of voters.
  • Increases legislative vote requirement to two-thirds for certain tax measures, including those that do not result in a net increase in revenue, currently subject to majority vote.

Summary of Legislative Analyst’s Estimate of Net State and Local Government Fiscal Impact:

  • Decreased state and local government revenues and spending due to the higher approval requirements for new revenues. The amount of the decrease would depend on future decisions by governing bodies and voters, but over time could total up to billions of dollars annually.
  • Additional state fiscal effects from repealing recent fee and tax laws: (1) increased transportation program spending and increased General Fund costs of $1 billion annually, and (2) unknown potential decrease in state revenues.

Why does Prop 26 matter?

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Proposition 26 is another disastrous measure for California’s environment, public health and local communities.  It would eliminate the ability of a majority of the legislature to enact fees on industries that pollute our air and water and endanger our health.  Currently, a simple majority vote can enact a fee (used to remedy a specific harm), but a tax (used for general purposes) requires a two-thirds vote.  Prop 26 would make it much harder to ensure that polluters are held accountable for the harm caused by their activity.  But Prop 26 goes farther – it also dictates what local governments should do by requiring cities and counties to run costly elections and reach a 2/3 majority to enact a fee.  Prop 26 would make it nearly impossible for local communities to deal with issues like traffic and public safety for large events and would shift the burden to taxpayers for cleaning up hazardous waste and other pollution.  A broad coalition of environmental and health groups, local governments, civic organizations and public safety professionals have come together to defeat this initiative.

According to the supporters of Prop 26:

State and local politicians routinely circumvent the state Constitution’s requirements by disguising taxes as fees because fees are easier to pass than tax increases.  At the state level, the Legislature calls many taxes “fees” so they can pass or increase the tax with a bare majority vote – not the two-thirds vote required for taxes.  At the local level, politicians call taxes “fees” so they can avoid voters and our Constitutional right to vote on most tax increases… Prop. 26 will give voters more control to stop the politicians from using gimmicks to impose hidden taxes on California families just by calling them fees.  No longer will the politicians be able to hide new or higher taxes under the name of a “fee” to try to get more taxpayer money with a bare majority vote of the Legislature – or without any public vote at all at the local level.

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The Hidden Costs of California’s Water Supply

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report in 2004 titled “Energy Down the Drain: The Hidden Costs of California’s Water Supply.” Especially in the western part of the United States, there is a tight connection between water and energy resources, as energy is needed to reliably treat and distribute water.

Because energy and water decision-making is often siloed, water planners are not generally taking into consideration the energy-related consequences of their planning.

The full report is available here as a pdf.

The authors carefully quantified the link between water and energy for three specific case studies – San Diego County’s future supply, the Westlands Water District, and the Columbia River basin (in the the Pacific Northwest). According to the report, the Westlands Water District is one of the largest agricultural users of water in the western United States.

The overarching message of the report is that decision makers should integrate energy issues in to water planning and decision-making. It also suggests a methodology for incorporating energy impacts into water planning.

The report contains numerous interesting tidbits:

  • “The more than 60,000 water systems and 15,000 wastewater systems in the United States are among the country’s largest energy consumers, using 75 billion kWh/year nationally – 3 percent of annual U.S. electricity consumption.”
  • “According to the Association of California Water Agencies, water agencies account for 7 percent of California’s energy consumption and 5 percent of the summer peak demand.”
  • “Ninety percent of all electricity used on farms is devoted to pumping groundwater for irrigation.”
  • “End use of water – especially energy intensive uses like washing clothes and taking showers – consumes more energy than any other part of the urban water conveyance and treatment cycle.”
  • “When water is diverted for irrigation before it reaches a dam, an enormous amount of energy – the foregone energy production – is lost.”

City Rankings – Energy, Walkability, and Transit

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This Friday’s links highlight a few examples of city rankings…

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has released a list of 22 American cities named “2010 Smarter Cities” for their investment in green power, energy efficiency measures and conservation – Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz are the Northern California cities that made the list and have profiles on the NRDC website.

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Walk Score has ranked 2,508 neighborhoods in the largest 40 U.S. cities to help you find walkable neighborhoods – San Francisco is ranked #1!

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The 2006 American Community Survey measured the percentage of commuters who take public transit, as opposed to walking, driving, riding a bicycle, or other ways of getting to work. In the top 50 are the Bay Area cities of San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, and Concord.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Assorted Links

NRDC rates the USA’s cities on smart energy use and clean energy sources.

Contractors in Montana develop portable housing for $20 per square foot.

CalISO opens market to demand response.

The city of San Francisco launched a website listing products it considers eco-friendlySFapproved. org

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Major Appliance Efficiency Agreement

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

A few days ago, appliance manufacturers and energy efficiency advocates announced an agreement to call for new national minimum efficiency standards to improve energy and water efficiency standards for refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and room air conditioners. The coalition of major appliance manufacturers, their trade union, and the energy efficiency advocates propose that the new national minimum efficiency standards and tax credits be instituted through action by the Department of Energy and by Congress.

According to the press release, the recommended standards and tax credits would save more than 9 quads of energy over 30 years. The recommended water efficiency standards and tax credits for clothes washers and dishwashers would save about 5 trillion gallons of water over 30 years.

Below, I’ve put together a rough timeline of how the proposed standards would take effect:

  • January 2013 – dishwashers would see 14% energy savings and 23% water savings
  • January 2014 – new refrigerator and freezer energy reduced up to 30%
  • June 2014 – room air conditioners would increase in efficiency 10-15%
  • 2015 – top loading clothes washers would have 26% energy savings and 16% water saving compared to current standards
  • 2015 – front loading clothes washers would have 43% energy savings and 52% water savings compared to current standards
  • 2015 – clothes dryers will increase in efficiency 5%
  • 2018 – top loading clothes washers would have 37% energy and water saving compared to current standards

An overview of the agreement is here.

The agreement was signed by major appliance manufacturing members of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and by major energy and water efficiency organizations, consumer groups and environmental organizations including the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Alliance for Water Efficiency, Alliance to Save Energy, Appliance Standards Awareness Project, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumer Law Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships.

California – 20th in Beach Water Quality

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photo credit: Alan Cleaver 2000

According to the National Resource Defense Council’s annual water quality report for the nation’s beaches, this year had the sixth highest levels of contamination in the 20 year history of the study. The NRDC reports that a range of causes are contributing to dirtier coastlines, including stormwater runoff and aging sanitation and combined sewer systems that may overflow into coastal waters during storm events.

Although contaminated waters can pass pathogens along to swimmers, the water tests currently employed take up to 24 hours to reveal problems, and so warranted beach closures are often delayed.

How does California fare in all of this? Of the 30 states with coastal waters, the cleanliness of California beaches rank at a sad #20. The top 3 polluted beaches include North Avalon beach in Los Angeles County where 82% of sampled water exceeded national pollution standards; Mendocino County’s Pudding Creek beach where 65% of samples exceeded national standards; and Poche County beach in Orange County that had an excessive pollution rate of 62%.  The county that received the dubious honor of  having the highest percentage of  beach water samples that  exceeded national pollution standards was San Francisco County at 17%. However, on a more positive note, the level of pollution in California beach water has trended downward in the last five years.

Read the report on California’s coastal waters, hereand the full Testing the Waters NRDC report, here.

NRDC Report on Climate Change, Water and Risk

Image: NRDC

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has released a study, conducted on their behalf by Tetra Tech, which examined the effects of climate change on probable future water supply and demand in the United States. One of the main findings of the study is that one-third of the U.S. counties (> 1,100 counties) will likely face water shortages by 2050.

The full report is available as a PDF here.

The Water Supply Sustainbility Index developed by Tetra Tech for the report can be viewed interactively in Google Earth – a link to the data can be found on the NRDC’s website here. You can also turn on and off markers for which counties are top producers of different crops to get a sense of the potential impact of the water shortages. It looks like this (the green dots indicate that the county is one of the top 100 counties for producing vegetables):

The NRDC also released a one-page overview of water shortage risk and crop value in at-risk counties by state (as a PDF here). According to the overview of California’s risk due to climate change:

Percent of CA counties at risk of water shortages: 83%

Total number of CA counties at risk: 48

Total number of CA counties at extreme risk: 19

Total number of CA counties at high risk: 17

Total number of CA counties at moderate risk: 12

The value of all the crops being producing in at-risk CA counties (in $1,000s): $21,585,354

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