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The Compost: Climate funds on the chopping block

Welcome to The Compost, a weekly newsletter on key environmental news impacting Southern California. Subscribe now to get it in your inbox! In today’s edition…

Would you vote for a bond to help California pay for water recycling, Salton Sea restoration, statewide parks programs, urban greening and other climate-related efforts?

The question will likely be on the 2024 ballot. And Gov. Gavin Newsom is counting on voters saying yes to avoid axing more than $1 billion in projects that he no longer plans to fund through the state budget.

That was the big climate news Friday, as Newsom presented a revised version of the 2023-24 budget that accounts for a deficit that’s expected to be $9.3 billion larger than when the governor presented his first budget proposal in January.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office weighed in on the bond proposal Monday, saying it’s a “reasonable response to weakening fiscal conditions.” But the office also gave a word of caution, adding that “the merits of the individual projects proposed warrant scrutiny, especially given that with higher interest rates, the related debt servicing costs will be higher into the future.”

The California Native Plant Society said that while they agree a climate bond is needed, it won’t cover everything necessary to hit a goal known as 30×30, to conserve 30% of the state’s land and coastal waters by 2030. The organization also asked state leaders to restore funding for vegetation mapping and monitoring, to support the state’s response to wildfire.

The revised budget still includes $48 billion for climate projects over a five-year period, including:

$20.5 billion to help accelerate the transition to clean transportation
$2.7 billion for wildfire and forest resilience programs
$1.4 billion for “nature-based” climate solutions, such as trees and healthy soil
$444 million for projects the will help residents cope with extreme heat
$1.6 billion for community resilience programs
$734 million for coastal resilience programs
$8.5 billion for water projects, including projects aimed at droughts and floods
$1 billion for climate smart agriculture projects
$7 billion for clean energy projects

There are important environment-related funds in other parts of the budget, too. There is $5.1 billion budgeted for environmental protection projects, including sustainable groundwater and pest control management. And Tony Briscoe with the Los Angeles Times has a story on how the revised budget includes $67 million “to clean thousands of lead-contaminated parkways in front of homes, schools and parks near the former Exide battery smelter in southeast Los Angeles County.”

wrote in my story Friday about the irony of how some of the uncertainty both the California and federal governments are now facing around their finances is related to what Newsom deemed climate change-induced “extreme weather events.” Tax filing deadlines were pushed to October for most Californians, after a series of unusual storms pounded the state this winter and early spring. That means governments are operating based on revenue projections, rather than hard numbers. Grist has a story on how the climate crisis is impacting the federal debt ceiling crisis.

Advocates say such impacts illustrate how funding for climate and environment projects is a bit like paying for preventative health care. It seems expensive up front, but it’s far less expensive than the consequences of doing nothing. Looks like we’ll find out in 2024 if a majority of California voters are convinced.

— By Brooke Staggs, environment reporter

 ENERGIZE

Floating a wind farm: Long Beach officials have announced plans for the largest floating offshore wind facility in a U.S. seaport, with turbines as tall as the Eiffel Tower. Construction on “Pier Wind” could start as soon as 2027, Donna Littlejohn reports. …READ MORE…

Background: Here’s a story I did last fall on the potential, the challenges for Southern California and the growing push for offshore wind.

More money could mean pricier power: Will California’s proposal to create income-based tiers for electric bills “be the fairest and best way to help people adopt clean electric vehicles and heating, or an unjust and unworkable scheme that could discourage rooftop solar and energy efficiency?” Canary Media’s Jeff St. John dug in on both sides of the controversial, first-in-the-nation proposal. …READ MORE…

TRANSPORT

EV jobs take off: Given California’s massive push to electrify transportation, LAist’s Erin Stone looked at how the change already is transforming California’s job market. She’s got a smart look at how new community college training programs are popping up, how car-industry veterans are making the switch, how women are jumping at the chance and more.  …READ MORE…

Get a roundup of the best climate and environment news delivered to your inbox each week by signing up for The Compost.

 REGULATE

Not so slick: When a pipeline burst off the coast of Huntington Beach in fall 2021, a federal regulator says Amplify Energy ignored 83 alarms indicating the offshore pipeline had leaked and failed to notify authorities or shut down the pipeline until 17 hours later. The company just got slapped with a proposed $3.4 million fine. …READ MORE…

Reaction: Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley called the fine a “drop in the bucket,” noting Amplify just reported “a net income of $352.8 million in the first quarter of 2023.” Foley said the fine should be “at least 10 times that amount.”

 PROTECT

Citrus disease on the rise: “Fortunately, it’s not spreading as fast as we thought it might when it first appeared, but it’s still spreading, which is a negative.” Sarah Hofmann looked at the good news and the bad news when it comes to citrus greening disease in Southern California, along with what residents can do to help. …READ MORE…

All isn’t well with these wells: The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the state of California over more than a dozen new oil and gas wells regulators approved for Long Beach late last year. Kristy Hutchings reports that the nonprofit group is arguing regulators didn’t do a full assesSment of the impact the new wells will have on the environment and public health. …READ MORE…

Tracking the traffickers: The New Yorkers’s Tad Friend has a fascinating story about how a Los Angeles-based conservation N.G.O. infiltrates wildlife-trafficking rings to bring them down. These transnational smuggling networks, by some estimates, bring in more than a hundred billion dollars a year selling everything from rhino horns to shark fins to Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterflies. …READ MORE…

Fueling our fires: A new study makes the case that more than a third of forest fires in the West since 1986 can be “linked to carbon pollution from 88 of the world’s largest oil, gas, and coal companies.” Grist has the tale on what that might mean for trying to hold those fossil fuel companies liable for disasters in court. …READ MORE…

 CELEBRATE

Whale lovers unite!: The first blue whale of the season has been spotted off Southern California, a bit earlier than in recent years. Erika Ritchie has the tale (pun intended) on what researchers say about local populations, risks and some good news for whales this season. …READ MORE…

Long Beach teen has a dream: Hamid Torabzadeh of Long Beach is featured in the latest episode of Grist’s Temperature Check podcast, discussing how growing with air pollution from the nearby ports led to him studying to be a “new type of doctor” focused on climate health. …LISTEN HERE…

Tooting our own horn: Winners of the California Journalism Awards are being rolled out on Twitter, and our reporters took home several top-three finishes for climate and environment-related work in 2022. Here’s a roundup of recognition so far.

For their three-part series on sand erosion on Southern California beaches, Laylan Connelly and Tony Saavedra took second place for coverage of the environment in the largest circulation category.
For his story on how hazardous materials dumped off the Palos Verdes Peninsula went directly into the ocean, Michael Hixon took second place for environmental coverage category in the second-largest circulation category.
For my story on how cows are leaving Southern California and why that’s not good for climate change, I took home third place for agriculture reporting in the largest circulation category.

Hikers stop along the Robert Ward Nature Preserve’s newly opened two-mile trail in Fullerton’s West Coyote Hills onSaturday, May 13, 2023. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

 EXPLORE

Trail opens in former oil field: Over the weekend, Fullerton celebrated the opening of the first two miles of new trails planned through the 72-acre Robert Ward Nature Preserve, in a former oil field on the eastern edge of the 510-acre West Coyote Hills. Heather McRea and Mindy Schauer wrote about how community groups and local politicians teamed up to preserve the area as surrounding land is turned into a housing development. The new trail features wide dirt paths with interpretive signs and benches along the way. The trail starts near the intersection of North Euclid Street and West Laguna Road in Fullerton.

 PITCH IN

Consider cloth napkins: For this week’s tip on how Southern Californians can help the environment… Do you use paper napkins or paper towels with each meal? Switching to reusable cloth napkins is a simple way to lower your carbon footprint, both on the front end, to produce single-use products, and on the backend, to keep those materials out of landfills. To up the sustainability factor, consider making your own napkins from material on hand or seaching for eco-friendly options, using them multiple times unless things get really messy and then hanging them to dry.

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