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slide17.jpgGovernor Arnold Schwarzenegger's top air pollution regulator yesterday denounced the federal government's proposal to demand higher fuel efficiency in new cars because a 24-word passage written into the Bush administration's 417-page plan would block California's aggressive efforts to enact its own emissions standards. "The reality of what is now being proposed by the federal government is that there is an effort under way once again to prevent any state, and particularly California, from exercising our sovereign right to control emissions of air pollutants into the environment." said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board. Nichols and the advocates at first cheered the proposal - until they came across page 378, which says that states cannot set their own standards.

The latest attempt by the federal government to pre-empt California from enforcing its own laws to combat global warming was seen as another slap at the Schwarzenegger administration, which is dueling with the Bush administration over the state's authority to regulate tailpipe emissions. The proposed regulation, which resulted from a federal energy bill signed by President Bush in December, promises to curtail carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks and reduce America's reliance on foreign oil. California sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January after it rejected the state's 2005 request for a rule waiver to enact its own tailpipe emissions standards. Nineteen other states had agreed to adopt California's standards if had the EPA approved the waiver. Many of those states joined California in its lawsuit. If the proposed rule announced this week goes into effect, Nichols said, the state would file another lawsuit.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008 00:53

Bizarre Plot To Shut Down Power Grid

slide24.jpgAn extensive FBI investigation has resulted in the sentencing of a Sacramento area man to five years probation for his bizarre attempt to shut down California’s power grid. United States Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced today that Lonnie Denison, 33, was sentenced today by a United States District Judge to six months home confinement and five years’ probation for damaging an energy facility run by California Independent Systems Operator Corporation, or CAL-ISO, a not-for-profit public benefit corporation charged with operating the majority of California’s high voltage wholesale power grid.

Denison was a contract computer technician at CAL-ISO on the date of the incident, April 15, 2007. His plan for destruction was said to have been extensive and elaborate. According to Assistant United States Attorney Kyle Reardon, who prosecuted the case, the government argued for six months in prison. However, the court concurred with the recommendation of the United States Probation Office that Denison should be sentenced to home confinement instead of imprisonment. Judge Burrell noted the positive steps taken by the defendant since his arrest in April 2007, including maintaining his sobriety and seeking mental health treatment and counseling.

Monday, 14 April 2008 01:30

Central Valley Smog Concerns

slide10.jpgThe amount of smog and particle pollution in Central Valley air could be playing havoc with the health of Californians, particularly children, according to the American Lung Association. In 2005, ALA released findings from air quality monitoring stations across the state. The organization found that in 32 of 58 counties, residents were being exposed to air pollution at levels considered unhealthy. Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama and Tuolumne counties were some of the places with the unhealthiest air.

The ALA report may point to one reason why respiratory specialist Dr. George Bensch of Stockton is seeing more patients with lung damage and asthma. "The pollution counts undoubtedly are adding to allergies," Bensch said. "We think allergies are increasing in children probably 7 percent here." The American Lung Association estimates that 4.2 million Californians live with lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency launched a set of multibillion-dollar smog restrictions it called "the most stringent standards ever." The new, primary eight-hour standard is .075 parts ozone per million and the new secondary standard is set at a form and level identical to the primary standard. The previous primary and secondary eight-hour standards were set at .08 ppm. However, because ozone is measured out to three decimal places, the standard effectively became .084 ppm, according to the EPA.

Friday, 11 April 2008 01:48

The I-5 Inconvenience

slide9.jpgIt has to get worse before it gets better. In less than two months, thousands of people who use a popular stretch of I-5 will experience a major inconvenience. That's when a resurfacing project begins, closing down sections of the freeway for weeks at a time. In Rocklin, some major roadway construction will cause problems for several weeks. Caltrans is closing the Westbound Interstate 80 on and off ramps beginning today until April 14th. Then on the 15th, the entire interchange and overpass will be closed for another 10 days. Amador residents who commute or have any reason to travel to Sacramento are advised to avoid the area whenever possible. "We bid the I-5 project for 27 million dollars for 114 days.

Currently we're discussing a compressed schedule which will limit the traffic interfering work to 40 days, 24 hours a day seven days a week," says Caltrans Manager Ken Solak. That was the good news for last Monday's packed house at the Sacramento library galleria. The I-5 construction project through downtown Sacramento will now take only 40 days instead of four months. The bad news: expect delays, and look for traffic signals at ramps to determine if they're open or closed. Based on Caltrans maps, construction on I-5 will be done from R Street to Richards Boulevard. Caltrans says 190,000 drivers use this route every day. Businesses downtown and in Old Sacramento will remain open. Caltrans will release a list of alternate routes on their project website in the coming days. The project kicks off May 30th at eight at night. If you don't have alternate plans in place for that Monday, June 2nd, you're in for a long wait.

Monday, 07 April 2008 00:53

Wolverine May Not Be Native

slide22.jpgPreliminary results from DNA analysis of wolverine scat samples collected on the Tahoe National Forest do not match those of historic California wolverine populations, according to U.S. Forest Service scientists. Geneticists with the agency’s Rocky Mountain Research Station recently began analyzing samples, when wildlife biologists with the Tahoe National Forest and California Department of Fish and Game began sending hair and scat samples they collected from wolverine detection sites on the national forest to a lab in Montana.

The interagency effort began in March after an Oregon State University graduate student working on a cooperative project with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station photographed a wolverine, an animal whose presence has not been confirmed in California since the 1920s. DNA analysis is critical to scientists working to determine if the animal first photographed on February 28 and in later detection work is a wolverine that dispersed from outside of California, escaped from captivity or is part of a historic remnant population. Key findings from the preliminary analysis indicate the animal in the photographs is a male wolverine that is not a descendent of the last known Southern Sierra Nevada population, said Bill Zielinski, a Forest Service scientist with the Pacific Southwest Research Station and an expert at detecting wolverine, marten and fisher. It also does not genetically match populations in Washington, he said.

Wednesday, 02 April 2008 01:46

El Dorado Forest’s Motorized Expansion

slide20.jpgYesterday in Placerville, Forest Supervisor Ramiro Villalvazo signed his decision designating a total of 1,847 miles of roads and trails open for motorized public use in the El dorado National Forest. The decision follows two and one half years of environmental analysis and public involvement. The long anticipated decision also creates a seasonal closure of dirt roads from January 1 to March 31 and allows visitors to safely park their vehicles one car length off a designated route. Villalvazo’s decision is expected to assist in the environmental protection of meadows, watersheds, wildlife habitats, and other sensitive areas, and provides quiet recreation opportunities. “I am pleased to say that we have a new starting point for travel management within the Eldorado National Forest,” said Villalvazo. Villalvazo says his final decision met the standards and guidelines found in the Forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan, minimized impacts to meadows, and reduced impacts to stream courses and riparian habitat. For more information on this decision, visit the El Dorado National Forest website on your screen.
Monday, 31 March 2008 01:20

Restaurant’s Feeling The Pinch

slide16.jpgTwo for one deals and shorter hours…These are some of the strategies being used by restaurant owners to lure in more customers and cut back on expenses. California Restaurant Association President Jot Condie says he’s hearing from his members that business is slowing down. Even if that is the case, some local restaurant owners remain optimistic. According to Martha Perez, owner of Jose’s Restaurant, her business is up 20% after a being down almost 30% for 3 months. “I will have been running this business 25 years in July. If this weren’t an established business, the (current economy) would have killed me.” She credits the longevity of Jose’s Restaurant to good management and business ethics. “Prices have gone up. I’ve had to cut employee hours, but I don’t believe in firing someone unless it’s absolutely necessary. That’s not ethical.” Condie says sales are down for some restaurants anywhere from three to seven percent—which he says is significant as profit margins are already low.  “You know at the end of the day, just people aren’t feeling good about the economy and usually eating out at restaurants is one of the first things to go,” says Condie. Since the start of this year, and likely for some time to come, restaurant owners around the state will be feeling the pinch.
Tuesday, 18 March 2008 08:52

Sacramento County’s Housing Decline

slide19.jpgThe capital-area housing market continued its steady decline in February, but Sacramento County showed the first dramatic slowdown in its long slide since the late summer of 2005. DataQuick, a La Jolla-based Information Systems company, reported that median sales prices rose slightly from January to February in five counties: Amador, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties. It's only one month's data, and it came from a winter month that's considered unreliable for trend spotting. But February sales of new and existing homes in Sacramento County -- the largest sector of the region's real estate market -- were just 7.7 percent fewer than in February 2007.That's the first single-digit decline in year-over-year home sales in the local area since August 2005.

slide21.jpgMeanwhile, the 1,015 existing homes that closed escrow in February in Sacramento and surrounding counties was almost the same as February 2007. That, too, was the first time in at least two years that year-over-year sales of existing homes didn't fall by double-digit percentages. Only home builders saw a continued steep decline in escrow closings in February. Builders, who are fighting for market share against the increasing dominance of banks selling their foreclosed homes, reported 32.2 percent fewer closings in Sacramento County than the same time last year. The La Jolla firm said 2,061 new and existing homes changed hands during the month in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento counties.

Monday, 17 March 2008 01:49

Mining Claims In The West

slide22.pngPropelled by soaring prices for gold, copper, uranium and other metals, new mining claims on federal land are surging near heavily populated areas in the West, according to an analysis of federal records. More than 1,000 claims have been staked in the Sierra foothills and almost 500 in metropolitan Sacramento, including historic mining areas that have become high-tech employment centers. In California, active mining claims have increased by almost 20%. Millions of Californians in 293 cities or towns are within five miles of the current crop of mining claims.

With close to 100 former mining camps and a geographic location in the heart of California’s legendary “Mother Lode”, Amador County once claimed to be the leading mining county in the State. The county's mines produced over 160 million dollars in gold between the early 1850's and 1960’s. Although rusting metal gallus frames along the roadsides may be the only reminder of Amador’s heyday, new mining claims are sprouting up. The US Mining Database reports 79 new claims between Plymouth, Sutter Creek and Ione.

slide24.png Mining claims on Western federal land are governed by a law passed in 1872 and signed by President Grant. But since then, the frontier has given way to suburbs, resorts and retirement communities, and the law provides little recourse for local, state or tribal governments if they object to the encroachment of an industry that could bring open pits, acid drainage, and pollution of water and air close to their borders. "The growing West is on a collision course with a global land rush for minerals," said Dusty Horwitt, senior public lands analyst for the Environmental Group. The National Mining Assn. estimates that fewer than 5% of claims are actually developed into mining operations. The issue is expected to be "part of the larger debate" about reform of the mining law, Wicker said. The House passed a revised mining law in November that expands federal agencies' authority to reject claims, and the committee has been holding hearings for a Senate version likely to be introduced this spring.

slide42The California Democratic Senate Leader, Don Perata, yesterday blasted Republicans in the state senate, calling their handling of the stalled state budget "fiscal terrorism." With the budget now 25 days overdue, Senate Republicans Wednesday released a new set of proposed spending reductions, including calling for cuts to welfare programs and the elimination of 6,000 vacant state worker positions. "We need to reign in spending and I think the people of California understand that," said Senate GOP leader Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin. But Democrats blasted the proposed cuts, quickly adjourning the morning's Senate session after just 10 minutes. “Let's face it, a handful of right wing Republicans are holding up the state budget," said Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland. "As far as I'm concerned, they're going to continue to hold up the state budget because I'm not going to capitulate to this kind of terrorism," Perata said. Perata said he adjourned the Senate until Thursday morning, to give Democrats more time to study the GOP plan. The state Assembly passed a $145 billion spending plan last week with bi-partisan support, but Senate Democrats have been unable to get the two Republican votes needed to pass it in the upper house.