February 25, 2021
State Auditor Says California Air Regulator Overstated Emission Reductions – KQED
The California Air Resources Board overstated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from its electric vehicle incentive program and other initiatives, according to State Auditor Elaine Howle, and the state is in danger of failing to meet its 2030 goal of reducing greenhouse gases to 40% below 1990 levels.
Once ‘Low Cost’ Bullet Train Plan Will Now Cost $800M Extra – Los Angeles Times / Governing
California awarded the contract for a 65-mile segment of the bullet train route to a company that promised $300M in savings. Now, the cost-saving designs have been changed and the project will run $800M over budget.
Texas blackouts spotlight why Washington must go big on infrastructure – In the Public Interest
All the recent energy and water problems across Texas—including where I live in Austin—are just the latest sign that America’s infrastructure is at its breaking point. That’s why this week’s reintroduction of federal legislation to invest in clean, safe, and affordable drinking water is such great news.
Top Bottlenecks Less Congested Last Year, but Infrastructure Needs Persist – Transport Topics
Trucks moved more swiftly last year through sections of road that historically are congested, as the coronavirus pandemic kept vehicles off highways for easier movement of freight, the American Transportation Research Institute reports. However, researchers expect traffic will return to notoriously clogged conditions along the nation’s 10 slowest commercial corridors – including I-10/I-15 in San Bernardino – as pandemic restrictions lift and more vehicles return to the highways.
February 22, 2021
‘Like a bomb went off.’ How a perfect storm sent Big Sur’s Highway 1 crumbling into the sea – The San Luis Obispo Tribune
In Big Sur, mother nature is hard at work healing from the Dolan Fire. In many places, it’s a peaceful transition. Fresh, green growth covers fire-blackened hillsides, hiding the remains of the massive blaze that scorched the region and shut down one of the world’s most scenic routes last summer. But in other areas — such as Rat Creek, just north of the community of Lucia — the burn scar fought back.
Up in smoke: Burns in San Joaquin Valley vineyards, orchards may finally end – CalMatters
California’s air board will vote this week on stopping burns that spew plumes of smoke that can trigger asthma attacks. The move is long in coming — it was supposed to end a decade ago under state law.
Caltrans issues RFP for data management – ITS International
California is looking for a new “primary information system” to help manage highway data with a view to making state roads safer.
Texas Storms, California Heat Waves and ‘Vulnerable’ Utilities – The New York Times (tiered subscription)
Power failures have cast a spotlight on whether energy companies and regulators are doing enough to prepare for climate change and natural disasters.
February 18, 2021
California state worker retirements jumped 15% in year of pay cuts, coronavirus – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
State employee retirements increased 15% last year in California amid pay cuts and changes to working conditions brought on by the coronavirus, according to California Public Employees’ Retirement System data. While state workers headed for the exits, retirements among local government employees — who generally avoided pay cuts and even received scheduled raises last year — decreased 7% compared to 2019, according to preliminary figures from CalPERS.
“No one likes to take a pay cut, so it’s understandable that some employees would choose to retire rather than accept less money for their work,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of the Professional Engineers in California Government. Retirements were up 25% among the approximately 11,000 employees PECG represents, Toppin said. “They’re losing a huge asset,” he said. “The state needs engineers and related professionals to deliver infrastructure projects. And when folks retire, that’s not accessible to them.”
State employees’ pensions are calculated based primarily on their highest pay in state service combined with their age and years of service. Those earning the highest pay of their careers as they approach retirement stand to increase their pensions by continuing to work and increase their pay. Without a raise on the horizon, there’s less incentive to stay. Working during the coronavirus added another variable to retirement decisions last year, particularly since retirement-age people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than younger people.
Auto Industry, Former Government Officials Warn of Disruption if Supreme Court Skips VW Case – Bloomberg Law
The U.S. Supreme Court should consider and reverse a “bombshell” appellate decision against Volkswagen Group of America Inc. “that threatens fundamentally to alter the regulatory environment faced by global automakers,” international auto industry associations told the court. Four former officials with the Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board, and the Department of Justice also urged the court to take the case. At issue is a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, allowing lawsuits by two counties against VW over post-sale software updates allegedly connected to diesel-emissions cheating. By taking away the environmental agencies’ exclusive authority, the former government officials said in their court filing, “the Ninth Circuit’s decision hampers, if not eliminates, EPA, CARB, and DOJ’s ability to remedy violations of emissions standards through settlements with vehicle manufacturers.”
Why do Big Sur Highway 1 cliffs slip, causing closures? Mudslide triggers memories – The San Luis Obispo Tribune
When part of the pavement near Rat Creek, 30 miles north of the line between Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties, gave way Jan. 28 under the onslaught of about a dozen inches of rain in one day, I wasn’t surprised. For those of us who’ve lived for longer than a year or so anywhere around here, that closure of the scenic highway is another of those “here we go again” moments. The heavy rain that caused the Rat Creek closure, and most of the others, turned the coastal Franciscan mélange soil matrix into extraordinarily slippery mud.
As the mud yields to the force of gravity, it slides, often carrying boulders, trees, even structures down steep hillsides, cliffs and bluffs. The geological movement often blankets the highway with many tons of goo. And sometimes, the roadway’s now soggy foundation slides out from underneath the pavement. At Rat Creek, the onslaught created a deep chasm through the pavement — one that will take expert engineering, hard work and time to repair.
EXPLAINER: Why the power grid failed in Texas and beyond – Associated Press
The power outages tormenting Texas in uncharacteristically Arctic temperatures are exposing weaknesses in an electricity system designed when the weather’s seasonal shifts were more consistent and predictable — conditions that most experts believe no longer exist. Beyond Texas, utilities from Minnesota to Mississippi have imposed rolling blackouts to ease the strain on electrical grids buckling under high demand during the past few freezing days. And power outages have become a rite of summer and autumn in California, partly to reduce the chances of deadly wildfires. But the fact more than 3 million bone-chilled Texans have lost their electricity in a state that takes pride in its energy independence underscores the gravity of a problem that is occurring in the U.S. with increasing frequency.
February 16, 2021
State fines Kaiser $499K for COVID-19 worker safety violations – CalMatters
California officials gave a nod to Kaiser Permanente’s reputation for efficiency when they recently selected it to help speed vaccine rollout. But a review of worker safety citations shows Kaiser has had its own pandemic troubles, failing to adequately protect its employees early on. Kaiser Permanente has on multiple occasions failed to provide hospital employees the gear or training needed to protect them from COVID-19, according to 12 citations issued by California’s enforcer of workplace safety laws, Cal/OSHA.
Response team investigates wildfire damage to buried drinking water infrastructure – Civil Engineering Source
In early 2019, a response team composed of experts in various engineering disciplines across the country investigated the damage done to the Paradise Irrigation District’s drinking water infrastructure by the devastating Camp Fire. Normally, regulatory compliance for safe drinking water is enforced at the point of entry to the distribution system (in other words, at the treatment plant), but wildfire contamination originates in and travels through the distribution system. The Camp Fire researchers had many questions to answer to facilitate recovery: the type of contamination, its origin, and its movements as well as how it was detected. Here are their surprising findings.
Proposal replaces vehicle lane with permanent bike lane on Bay Bridge – KCBS Radio
The Bay Bridge, like most of regional bridges and highways, has been operating with far fewer motorists during the coronavirus pandemic. Given lighter vehicle load on Bay Area roads, there’s a plan to turn one lane of the bridge from San Francisco to Oakland over to bicyclists. The idea, explained Ben Kaufman with Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, could take just one year and $10 million.
Biden administration talks infrastructure — but not a price tag – Politico
President Joe Biden met in the Oval Office Thursday morning with senators and others who will be key to moving his climate and infrastructure goals through Congress, but after the meeting officials made clear that they still are figuring out just how big to go with any eventual legislative package, illustrating the challenges ahead. Biden campaigned on a $2 trillion package that married infrastructure investments with sweeping climate change goals and other items such as broadband deployment. But now that policymakers are beginning talks on how to turn that into reality, they are confronted with the same set of obstacles that have dogged prior attempts, chief among them how to pay for everything they want to do.
February 11, 2021
California’s aging dams face new perils, 50 years after Sylmar quake crisis – Los Angeles Times / Yahoo! News
It was 50 years ago this week the San Fernando, or Sylmar, quake struck before dawn and nearly collapsed the Lower Van Norman Dam in Granada Hills. While earthquakes still loom as the greatest threat to California’s massive collection of dams, a new hazard has emerged: “whiplashing shifts” in extreme weather due to climate change. “The biggest issue facing dam safety in California is aging infrastructure and lack of money to fund repairs and retrofits of dams,” said Sharon K. Tapia, who leads the Division of Safety of Dams at the California Department of Water Resources. “Many older dams were built using construction methods considered outdated by today’s standards.”
California bullet train project will seek $4.1 billion to complete Central Valley construction – Los Angeles Times / KTLA
The California bullet train authority will seek a $4.1-billion appropriation to complete construction in the Central Valley, as costs and schedules continue to grow. The massive appropriation, which would come out of a 2008 bond fund that voters approved, would provide enough money to complete Gov. Gavin Newsom’s starter system from Merced to Bakersfield, the authority said in newly released documents. The 171-mile rail link would not connect to Los Angeles for more than a decade and not until tens of billions of dollars can be obtained for tunneling through mountains.
CARB Steers Clean Miles Standard Toward Formal Rulemaking – Lexology
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is developing the Clean Miles Standard and Incentive Program (Clean Miles Standard), a first-of-its kind regulation designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ride-sharing vehicles and increase the use of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs).
February 8, 2021
EPA Races to Draft Interim Vehicle Standards for CO2 – Scientific American
President Biden’s EPA is expected to draft interim auto emissions standards based on an agreement last year between California and five car companies, according to sources following the matter. EPA is poised to unveil the interim standards and notify the auto industry by April 1. The development, which was first reported by The New York Times, signals that California is influencing the Biden administration’s climate and clean transportation policy in the near term.
California pushes back high-speed rail construction deadline again – Associated Press / KTVU
California is again pushing back the deadline and raising the cost for its high-speed rail project, this time asking the Biden administration for a one-year extension on completing construction on a section of track in the Central Valley. Brian Kelly, the project’s chief executive officer, detailed delays and cost changes to the project in a letter released Friday alongside the project’s updated business plan. He’ll discuss it Tuesday at a meeting of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors.
Ford says U.S. Justice Department, California end probe into emissions issue – Reuters
Ford Motor Co confirmed on Friday the U.S. Justice Department and California Air Resources Board have closed a lengthy investigation into the No. 2 U.S. automaker’s emissions certification process without taking any action. Ford said in a securities filing that reviews by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment and Climate Change Canada remain open.
Near Coasts, Rising Seas Could Also Push Up Long-Buried Toxic Contamination – National Public Radio
For many Bay Area residents who live near the water’s edge, little-publicized research indicates groundwater rising beneath their feet could start to manifest in 10-15 years, particularly in low-lying communities like Oakland. And that could resurface toxic substances that have lingered for years underground.
February 4, 2021
Automakers withdraw from litigation over California vehicle emissions standard – The Hill
A group representing several automakers including Toyota, Hyundai, and Fiat Chrysler is exiting a legal fight over whether California can set its own vehicle emissions standards, the group said Tuesday. The move comes just one day after the Biden administration requested a pause in the litigation, in which the automakers had intervened to support the federal government’s move to block California from setting tighter standards. The administration had identified the Trump administration’s move as one it would seek to review and potentially reverse.
When Hwy 1 collapses by Big Sur, Caltrans engineers face unique challenges – KRON TV
The last time a colossal landslide happened on Highway 1 south of Big Sur, the famously-scenic stretch of highway snaking along the Pacific Ocean was closed for more than a year. Following last week’s powerful January storm, Big Sur is again cut off on the south side, this time at Rat Creek. A big question for Big Sur is, how will Caltrans engineers repair Highway 1 before the summer tourism season arrives?
DWR secures additional $300M for Oroville Dam Spillway repairs – KRCR TV
The California Department of Water Resources has secured $308 million in funding to pay for completed reconstruction and repair work on the Oroville Dam’s spillways. The funds released by FEMA are in addition to the $260 million that the agency provided for repairs on the lower portion of the dam’s main spillway. Repair work on the damaged emergency and main spillways has been ongoing for nearly four years following February 2017’s spillway crisis.
‘Major, major problem.’ California failing to track workplace COVID infections, deaths – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A year after the first COVID-19 case hit California, the state agency in charge of policing warehouses, offices, factories, and other workplaces is woefully understaffed and significantly undercounting the number of employees who have fallen seriously ill or died as a result of the coronavirus. California employers reported only 1,600 serious worker illnesses or deaths to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, from the start of the pandemic through mid-December, according to data obtained by The Sacramento Bee through a Public Records Act request. While state inspectors have responded to thousands of complaints and levied fines against some workplaces that failed to report serious cases, a long-existing staffing shortage has hindered that process. There were 107 job openings posted for the department as of Friday.
February 1, 2021
A huge piece of California’s Highway 1 near Big Sur collapsed into the ocean – CNN
A huge piece of California’s Highway 1 was washed out last week by a winter storm that brought heavy rain and snow. California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) officials said in a statement Friday a debris flow from the hillside above the roadway “overwhelmed drainage infrastructure, flowed across the highway, and eroded the road resulting in the complete loss of a segment of Highway 1” at Rat Creek, about 15 miles south of Big Sur, a mountainous stretch of the state’s central coast. (Includes video of the slide zone.)
State releases new information on water contamination after North Complex Fire – CBS News 10 (Medford, Ore.)
The California State Water Board released new information about water contamination testing after the North Complex fire devastated parts of Butte County and Plumas County during the summer of 2020. Testing of surface waters throughout the burn scar has revealed contaminant levels are elevated, but lower than anticipated. The State Water Board said the good news is they are not impacting drinking water treatment facilities or the quality of drinking water they deliver to their customers.
Despite Rainfall, State Still Aiming for 55 Gallon Per Person Water Conservation Target – gvwire.com
Fresh off a week filled with rain and snow due to an atmospheric river, water conservation may not be top of mind for everyday Californians. While the recent precipitation may make the 2011-2017 California drought seem like a distant memory, a couple of laws passed by the legislature at that time are set to rain down policy on water agencies throughout the state.