Business / Economy

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Climate-friendly Cement? California Takes on a High-Carbon Industry

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2022 at 1:02 PM

Silos storing cement tower above the Martin Marietta Redding Cement Plant in Redding on June 7, 2022. - PHOTO BY MARTIN DO NASCIMENTO, CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
  • Silos storing cement tower above the Martin Marietta Redding Cement Plant in Redding on June 7, 2022.
Dust swirls in the air at a cement factory on the outskirts of Redding as mud-caked tires travel along a wide conveyor belt. The tires are carried up 90 feet into a smoldering-hot incinerator, where they’re used as fuel for firing a kiln. 

The massive, 2,700-degree kiln at the Martin Marietta, Inc. plant churns more than 2,500 metric tons of pulverized limestone and other materials daily to produce clinker, the jagged lumps of rock that are used to make cement.

The factory needs a constant and steady supply of fuel to sustain its 24-hour operations. Although the burning tires supply some fuel to fire up the kiln, about 80 percent still comes from fossil fuels, including high-polluting coal. 

As a high-carbon and energy-intensive product, manufacturing cement, the key ingredient in concrete, takes a heavy toll on the climate. The Redding factory emitted about 282,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2020 — equivalent to about 55,000 gas-powered cars.

Under pressure from state lawmakers, California’s cement industry is gradually taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint. But experts say the industry is one of the most difficult to decarbonize.

The state’s eight cement plants account for about 2 percent of California’s total greenhouse gas emissions, 8.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide, in 2017, according to a report from Global Efficiency Intelligence, an environmental research firm. Their emissions declined 20% between 2000 and 2015 because of improved energy efficiency and increased use of lower-carbon fuels.

“We are committing to get to zero by 2045,” said Tom Tietz, executive director of the California Nevada Cement Association, a trade group representing the industry. “We’re unique in how difficult that is and this is why we’re striving to collaborate with the state as much as we can to accomplish this.” 

Cement is difficult to tackle for two main reasons: Fossil fuels are still the main fuel source for kilns and cooking limestone naturally releases carbon dioxide.

Keith Krugh is photographed at the Martin Marietta Redding Cement Plant in Redding on June 7, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Keith Krugh, shown at the Martin Marietta cement plant in Redding, says the plant is trying an array of technologies to reduce greenhouse gases. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Keith Krugh, the Redding plant’s director of sustainability and product development, said making the switch to alternative energy sources such as tires, pistachio shells, wood chips and other waste products is just one way that the cement industry is cutting emissions.

The cement industry needs a variety of technologies to cut carbon, he said, some so costly that the industry is seeking state funding and incentives.

“This is what we must do,” Krugh said. “So what are all the different kinds of tools that we’ve got in the box to attack this problem? It’s not just a single thing. There are many different avenues that cement producers can use to get to that net-zero.”

An outsized carbon footprint

California is the second-largest cement producer in the U.S. after Texas, producing nearly 10 million metric tons of cement yearly, according to the Portland Cement Association. Large manufacturers in California include Lehigh Southwest and CalPortland. 

Cement’s outsized carbon footprint is a problem that industry leaders have been working to address as California strives to decarbonize its economy. State lawmakers are increasingly targeting the cement industry because of its large role in contributing to climate change, proposing legislation that could accelerate the pace of eliminating carbon. 

A first-of-its kind law passed last year is a prime example. Authored by state Sen. Josh Becker, a Democrat from San Mateo, the law requires the cement industry to offset its greenhouse gas emissions and reach net-zero carbon by 2045. The Air Resources Board must develop a metric to compare the environmental effects of different kinds of cement by July 2023.

Meeting those climate targets will require heavy investments, according to Guarav Sant, director of UCLA’s Institute for Carbon Management. The industry will need to switch to more environmentally-friendly fuels, increase energy-efficiency, invest in new carbon capture technologies and produce low-carbon cement blends, he said. 

“Decarbonization is hard and it’s also really expensive,” he said. “In short, you’re talking about a significant shift in how we approach these (industry) sectors and how these sectors operate. Fundamentally we need to think about technological innovations.” 

About 60 percent of the cement industry’s total carbon dioxide emissions in California are from heating limestone in the kiln; the other 40 percent is from fuel combustion and electricity use, according to the Global Efficiency Intelligence report.

Most of the fuels used in the cement manufacturing process, such as natural gas, coal and petroleum coke, emit planet-warming gases. Unlike other industries, the cement industry cannot rely on most renewable energy sources to power its operations due to the extremely high temperatures that are needed for production. That’s part of the reason why the industry is making the switch to alternative fuels that consist of recycled waste products.

The Redding factory, which produces 635,000 short tons of cement a year, uses a mix of coal, petroleum coke, tires and natural gas to fuel its operations. Fuel sources vary depending on availability and pricing, but on average, about half of its fuel comes from coal, 20 percent comes from petroleum coke, 20 percent from car and truck tires and the rest from natural gas. 

Keith Krugh holds a piece of petroleum coke, a fossil fuel that is used to super heat the kiln at the Martin Marietta Redding Cement Plant in Redding on June 7, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Keith Krugh holds a piece of petroleum coke, a fossil fuel that is used to super-heat the kiln at the Redding cement plant. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Petroleum coke is a fossil fuel that is used to super heat the kiln at the Martin Marietta Redding Cement Plant in Redding on June 7, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Petroleum coke is stored on the plant grounds. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Using tires for fuel eliminates only about 5 percent of the kiln’s emissions. Krugh said the factory, which will be sold to CalPortland effective July 1, is working to replace at least half its fossil fuels with climate-friendly alternatives within the next 10 years. 

About 13,000 tons of used tires a year are burned at the plant, which keeps about a million tires out of landfills. Burning tires reduces the company’s greenhouse gas emissions because they contain a large amount of biomass in the form of natural rubber that reduces the carbon dioxide intensity of the process, Krugh said. 

He said the fumes created from burning tires are captured in the kiln.

“When people think of burning a tire, they think of these tire piles that catch on fire and make a huge black horrible, contaminated cloud,” Krugh said while pointing to the plant’s 252 foot- tall smokestack. “In the cement kiln, the entire process is under time, temperature and oxygen control. You don’t see a black cloud coming out the top of the stack because all of the combustibles are completely burned due to the extremely high temperatures and process controls.” 

Tires, which are used as an alternative to traditional fossil fuels, are stacked in the back of trucks delivering them to the Martin Marietta Redding Cement Plant in Redding on June 7, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Tires, which are burned as an alternative to fossil fuels, are delivered to the plant in trucks. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Tires, which are used as an alternative to traditional fossil fuels, are transported via conveyor belt to the kiln at the Martin Marietta Redding Cement Plant in Redding on June 7, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Tires are transported by a conveyor belt to the kiln. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

However, documents provided by the Shasta County Air Quality Management District show that the factory, in addition to emitting greenhouse gases, is a substantial source of dust particles and smog-forming emissions. Residents filed five complaints that dust from the plant drifted onto their property last year, and the district issued a violation notice in December that has prompted the company to step up dust control. The plant also emits 62 toxic air contaminants that total more than two tons a year. 

Crushing and heating limestone is a major source of greenhouse gases at cement factories because of its high concentration of calcium carbonate, a compound needed to make cement. For every ton of cement that’s produced, about 0.8 tons of carbon dioxide is released through this process. These emissions are an unavoidable byproduct, which means that the industry needs to invest in technologies that capture the carbon so it doesn’t spew into the atmosphere. 

Some of these technologies aim to use carbon dioxide for cement production, while others involve capture and storage, where the carbon is injected deep underground into rock formations.

The practice is controversial due to its practicality and cost, but also because environmentalists say using carbon capture and storage for enhanced oil recovery will only prolong the lifespan of the fossil fuel industry. Many environmental justice groups, however, are not as opposed to the cement industry using carbon capture because of how difficult it is to decarbonize. 

“Decarbonization is hard and it’s also really expensive. You’re talking about a significant shift in…how these (industry) sectors operate.”

Guarav Sant, UCLA’s Institute for Carbon Management

Alex Jackson, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said public investments in these carbon-capture projects could help the state ensure strong worker protection measures and community health standards that may be more difficult to enforce if companies were solely driven by market forces. 

“There’s a good case to be made for leaving open the possibility of carbon capture for an industrial sector like cement that has these non-combustion emissions that are going to be difficult to avoid or eliminate entirely,” he said.

Jackson said the cement industry has resisted adapting to climate change for several reasons: Global market forces didn’t grant companies incentives, and for years there was a lack of political interest and available technology. 

“There’s lots of momentum and there’s lots of promising technologies taking fruit now,” he said. “But historically, we haven’t seen the same degree of progress.” 

UCLA’s Sant said carbon capture and storage is necessary to attain a net-zero future for the cement industry. But complications include the high cost and lack of infrastructure to capture, transport and store carbon dioxide, he said. 

“We need things like pipelines to be able to take carbon dioxide from sequestration sites,” he said. “Most cement plants are not sitting on top of geological reservoirs. This infrastructure doesn’t exist, which makes geological capture and storage extremely hard.” 

The exhaust stack (left) and silos storing cement tower above Martin Marietta’s Redding cement plant. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Vincent Wiraatmadja, a policy advocate at The Climate Center, a climate and energy policy nonprofit, said while carbon capture and storage for cement sounds promising, existing projects “do not have the most efficient technology.” 

Globally just 27 carbon capture and storage projects are operating so far and many experts vastly disagree on its effectiveness

“Many of the carbon capture and storage projects that exist in the world I would characterize as failures,” he said. 

Wiraatmadja said the cement industry is a unique sector where carbon capture and storage could make sense because it will not be used to extract oil from the ground. 

But he added,“We should be cautious about how this rolls out and not go down a slippery slope about carbon capture and storage being a silver bullet for every application. We should keep the scope narrow.”

Companies urge state funding

Cement companies say they will need public-private partnerships or state and federal funds to help them build carbon capture and sequestration facilities. 

Capturing and liquefying carbon dioxide is expected to cost between $45 and $100 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, Krugh said. Since a plant emits hundreds of thousands of tons, that cost alone would reach millions. Plus, the cost of just a pipeline to deliver carbon dioxide to a sequestration site could range between $70,000 and $200,000 for each inch-mile of pipeline (a calculation used to consider diameter and length), depending on whether it passes through open rangeland or a densely populated area. 

“To put this in perspective, such incremental operating expenses are in excess of the margin that most cement producers earn per ton of product sold,” Krugh said.  

A bill introduced in the Legislature could help fund and demonstrate the technology for companies that are hesitant about investing. SB 905, co-authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, would fund one to five pilot projects at cement plants by 2026 to capture carbon dioxide and store it geologically. The projects would have “unknown ongoing costs, up to the low millions of dollars annually,” according to the Senate’s analysis.

Skinner, a Democrat from Oakland, said cement is a critical building material so the state should invest public dollars in some of these projects to encourage the industry to keep operating in California. The industry is projected to grow by as much as 40% by 2040, according to the Global Efficiency Intelligence report. 

“If we don’t assist the cement industry in California to become less carbon intensive or emit less greenhouse gases, then, in fact, we’ll be driving the industry out of our state,” she said. “Then we’ll be dependent on cement from elsewhere and that cement will have far more carbon content.” 

Skinner is hopeful that the bill, which is pending in the Assembly’s appropriations committee, will gain enough support to make it to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. 

“If we don’t assist the cement industry in California to become less carbon intensive or emit less greenhouse gases, then we’ll be driving the industry out of our state.”

State sen. Nancy Skinner

Other bills aiming to decarbonize the industry haven’t been successful. 

At an Assembly committee hearing last week, Becker urged its members to support his bill, SB 778, which would have added concrete to the Buy Clean California Act. The law requires the state to use low-carbon building materials in public works projects. 

While the bill received support from the cement industry and environmental justice groups, it faced fierce opposition from the construction industry and failed to receive widespread support from the seven-member committee, with four members voting against it. 

Contractors and construction industry representatives said the legislation would have complicated the permitting process for construction, limited the types of cement they could use, increased construction costs and delayed projects.

Sen. Tom Lackey, a Republican from Palmdale, said he could not support the bill because of the constraints the construction industry is already facing with supply chain issues and high costs. He said local air quality management districts and the state’s cap and trade program already regulate emissions from cement kilns. 

“If the industry needs to go to another state to buy the product – that’s very problematic,” he said. “This bill will increase costs and slow construction.” 

Becker’s effort to include concrete in the Buy Clean California Act has been five years in the making. He said he’ll continue to push for it.

“The contractors, they’ve just been adamantly opposed,” he said. “We lost in the committee, but we’re going to keep working on this. We have to get there. The industry knows that and that’s why they’re working with us.”

Looking to the future

Some companies are trying new technologies to tackle cement’s toll on the environment.

The Redding facility is the first cement plant in the state to partner on a pilot project with Fortera, a Silicon Valley-based company that makes low-carbon cement. The project, which broke ground earlier this month, involves building a small operational plant next to the existing facility that would use carbon dioxide to make cement. This process converts carbon dioxide from a gas to a mineral, creating a solid carbonate that could improve the strength and durability of cement, according to Kas Farsad, Fortera’s vice president of corporate development.

The site where the Fortera project, a carbon emissions pilot project, is under construction at the Martin Marietta Redding Cement Plant in Redding on June 7, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
The Fortera project, a low-carbon cement pilot project, is under construction at the Redding plant. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

“What’s exciting about us is that we’re taking the emissions that would have been emitted by the kiln and remineralizing it,” Farsad said. “Trying to get ahead of the curve by reducing emissions and making a new (cement) material that is lower carbon has a more progressive outlook. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.” 

Farsad said the project, which is expected to be fully operational by January, could transform the industry. 

The plant also has been working on reducing cement’s carbon intensity by incorporating other substances into the mix, such as fly ash, which is a byproduct of burning coal, slag, which comes from iron production, or pumice, a type of volcanic ash. Adding these ingredients can replace between 15 percent to 30 percent of the clinker needed to make cement

Tietz of the California Nevada Cement Association said the industry faces steep hurdles in the coming years as it tries to decarbonize. 

“What really hits us is that there’s financial and regulatory barriers that we’ve identified that are going to be challenging for us to reach the state’s goals,” he said. “And that’s what we’re actively pursuing – resolving those barriers.” 

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Friday, June 10, 2022

Local Native Teens Win Big at Youth Business Competition

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2022 at 6:59 AM

Left to Right: Lisa Ames (mentor), Pam Ames (Yurok, mentor), Ryan Ames (Yurok, Hoopa High), Claire Paterson (Karuk, El Dorado High), Jordan Brown (Karuk, McKinleyville High), Emma Sundberg (Wiyot, McKinleyville High), Wakara Scott (Yurok, Two Feathers) - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Left to Right: Lisa Ames (mentor), Pam Ames (Yurok, mentor), Ryan Ames (Yurok, Hoopa High), Claire Paterson (Karuk, El Dorado High), Jordan Brown (Karuk, McKinleyville High), Emma Sundberg (Wiyot, McKinleyville High), Wakara Scott (Yurok, Two Feathers)
Local high school students won big at a youth business competition at the Reservation Economic Summit (RES) produced by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) last month in Las Vegas.

As part of a program through Two Feathers Native American Family Services, Emma Sundberg, a Wiyot junior from McKinleyville High School, Jordan Brown, a Karuk junior from McKinleyville High, Ryan Ames, a Yurok senior from Hoopa High and Claire Patterson, a Karuk sophomore from El Dorado High in Placerville, submitted a business proposal to the RES youth business competition. Their proposal was among the top 5 in the country selected to be presented to the RES’s Native Youth Business Plan Competition during the summit.

Their proposal sought to create “Home Away From Home,” a safe and welcoming cultural community center that will promote healthy physical and emotional lifestyles for Native American children and teens locally.

The team presented their proposal and won $5,000 for Two Feather’s Native American Services.

The group of teens is part of the Transition Age Youth (TAY) Action Team at Two Feathers in collaboration with the California Youth Empowerment Network (CAYEN) which looks to empower transition-age youth to be “leaders in community and behavioral health system transformations and to create positive change through the promotion of culturally appropriate supports, services and approaches that improve and maintain the behavioral health of California’s TAY.”

“The TAY team developed their business proposal idea all on their own,” says Two Feather project coordinator Keoki Burbank. “Two Feathers is proud of these students for their hard work to put together a comprehensive business plan and having a passion to improve our community for everyone.”

Yurok tribal member and CEO of Per-geesh Construction Pamela Ames and Vice President and Group Account Director at Science and Purpose Lisa Ames volunteered to mentor the teens through the entire process of developing their business proposal before the competition. Burbank says Ames would like to continue mentoring local Native youth for this business competition in the years to come. Two Feathers is currently considering how to expand the program to bring more Native business leaders as mentors.

“It was a really cool experience,” Burbank says. “The kids did really well. I was really excited and proud to see them presenting in front of people in high levels of business — to see CEOs of Native businesses come talk to them after their presentation, trying to find ways to support them was really cool. They’ve come a long way.”

See the teen's full Reservation Economic Summit presentation here
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Thursday, June 2, 2022

HWMA Temporarily Closing and Relocating Eureka Recycling Center

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2022 at 12:05 PM

Humboldt County residents won't be able to recycle their freon appliances, like refrigerators and air conditioning systems, or electronic waste at the Eureka Recycling Center for a little while as Humboldt Waste Management Authority is temporarily closing the center beginning Aug. 1

HWMA is relocating the Eureka Recycling Center to a different site and using the current one for a new organic waste tipping floor, similar to its Hawthorne Transfer Station garbage tipping floor, for sorting and bailing organic waste hopefully by January of 2023.
eureka_recycling_center_infograph.png

HWMA and cities throughout the county are preparing to offer organic waste collection services as mandated by California Senate Bill 1383, a bill signed in 2016 that's designed to reduce methane emissions found in landfills caused by organic waste like food scraps and green yard waste.

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Interior to Open Offshore Wind Comment Period Next Week

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2022 at 1:12 PM

Hywind floating turbine demo off the coast of Karmøy, Norway. - COURTESY OF STATOIL
  • Courtesy of Statoil
  • Hywind floating turbine demo off the coast of Karmøy, Norway.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced today that it will publish a Proposed Sale Notice next week, opening a 60-day public comment period on plans to open lease areas off the California coast — including one off Humboldt Bay — to bidding for the creation of offshore wind farms.

"The Biden-Harris administration is moving forward at the pace and scale required to help achieve the president's goals to make offshore wind energy a reality for the United States," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release announcing the move forward with what would be the first-even offshore wind lease sale on the United States' West Coast. "Today, we are taking another step toward unlocking the immense potential of offshore wind energy (off) our nation's west coast to help combat the effects of climate change while creating good-paying jobs."

The proposed notice of sale (PNS) is slated to post May 31 and will provide detailed information about the proposed lease areas, proposed provisions and conditions, and details of the auction. Today's press release notes potential stipulations that would give preference to bidders who pursue community benefit agreements with surrounding communities and ocean users (commercial fishing fleets are mentioned specifically), those who will commit to investing in training an offshore wind workforce and those who engage with tribes and underserved communities "in a manner that minimizes and mitigates their projects' adverse effects."

Comments received on the document during the 6o-day period will be considered before the bureau of Ocean Energy Management dices whether to publish a final sale notice, which would include a time and date for the sale and a list of companies qualified to participate.

Find the full Interior Department press release copied below and past Journal coverage of offshore wind here.

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Friday, May 20, 2022

The Great Culling: Which California Bills did Legislators Kill?

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2022 at 1:28 PM

The state Capitol building. - CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY
  • California State Assembly
  • The state Capitol building.
California lawmakers won’t be creating a state Election Day holiday this year. Nor will they be providing grants to local governments to convert public golf courses into affordable housing, or forcing health insurers to cover fertility treatments.

All of these proposals were victims of the seasonal culling of bills known as the suspense file. This stately and secretive process, led by the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees, serves as a final fiscal review before any legislation expected to have a significant cost to the state is sent to the full chamber for a vote.

In fast and furious hearings on Thursday that stretched for two hours, the committees ran through the fates of nearly 1,000 bills, offering no explanations for their decisions and, in many cases, no formal announcement at all that a measure was held.

The results had already been determined in private deliberations. The suspense file, among the most opaque practices at the Capitol, allows legislative leaders to not only shelve proposals that are too expensive, but to also more quietly dispatch those that are controversial or politically inconvenient, particularly in an election year.

About 220 bills were shelved. The bills that made it through — more than 700 of them — now face another looming deadline next week to pass out of their house of origin. If successful, they will move to the other chamber for further consideration.

Here are some of the notable measures that are not advancing this session:

Election Day holiday

Five times Assemblymember Evan Low, a Campbell Democrat, has tried to create a state holiday for the November election, closing schools and giving public employees paid time off to vote. And five times the bill has been held on the Assembly suspense file, including again this year.

Assembly Bill 1872 was slightly different from several of its predecessors in that it would have swapped out Presidents’ Day with an Election Day holiday in even-numbered years, rather than simply adding another day off, thereby lowering its cost. But with every California voter now being mailed a ballot in every election, the urgency for such a plan has diminished considerably.

A separate measure to create a state holiday for Juneteenth, Assembly Bill 1655 by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, advanced to the floor, however.

Affordable housing

If a powerful interest group swings hard enough at a bill, they just might kill it. That’s what happened when nearly 80 local, regional and national golf groups, as well as several organizations that favor local control over housing development, coalesced against Assemblymember Cristina Garcia’s Assembly Bill 1910

The measure targeted the state’s hundreds of municipal golf courses, many of which are operating at significant financial losses, as prime locations to help the state build its way out of its housing shortage. It would have offered grants to local governments to convert their golf courses into housing, at least a quarter of which would have to be affordable to low-income families. The result wasn’t too surprising: everyone wants affordable housing, until it threatens to come to their backyard — or local golf course.

— Manuela Tobias

Fertility treatment

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ push to require health insurers to cover fertility treatment, including costly in-vitro fertilization, fell short for the third time in four years.

Unlike 17 other states, California does not require health insurers to pay for fertility treatments. A round of in vitro and the accompanying medication can cost upwards of $20,000, deterring some people from having children and leaving others in exorbitant debt.

Photo via iStock
Photo via iStock

Assembly Bill 2029 by Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, was opposed by health insurance plans and other business groups, which noted the high price tag: an estimated $715 million that would be fronted by employers and health plan enrollees largely in the form of increased premiums. 

— Ana B. Ibarra

Salary transparency

Assembly Bill 2095 by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat, was a first-in-the-nation bill that would have required large companies to report a broad swath of data on their workforce, including how much they are paid and what benefits they receive. The state could have used that information to provide the public with easy-to-understand measurements of how companies treat their employees and to give top performers certain perks, like tax credits. 

But the bill faced ardent opposition from business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, which put the bill on its “job killer” list — the collection of measures it lobbies against most aggressively each year. The Chamber argued that the data would create unfair comparisons between companies or be taken out of context. 

Legislators did advance another workplace transparency proposal on the “job killer” list: Senate Bill 1162 by Sen. Monique Limón, a Santa Barbara Democrat, which would require companies to make some pay data public, including salary ranges in job posting, passed with a few amendments, including one that exempted companies with 15 or fewer workers.

— Grace Gedye

Community college professor pay

Part-time community college faculty are having a mixed moment in Sacramento. A pending $200 million health care fund they’ve championed has the support of the governor. But a bill to match the wages of part-time community faculty with full-time faculty for similar levels of work died on the suspense file.

Assembly Bill 1752 by Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat, would have increased community college costs by an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars annually. That the cost is so high speaks to the enormous wage gap between part-time faculty — who are typically paid only for the hours they teach, but not for other related work like lesson planning and grading — and their full-time salaried peers. 

A majority of community college faculty are part-time, earning on average $20,000 per year. Labor unions backed this bill while the organization representing community college executives opposed it, arguing that they were already struggling to meet staffing obligations in an era of declining student enrollment.

— Mikhail Zinshteyn

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Sunday, May 1, 2022

Geopolitics Undermine Energy Authority’s Solar Project

Posted By on Sun, May 1, 2022 at 9:04 AM

When projecting its path to decarbonization by 2030, Redwood Coast Energy Authority's plans depended heavily on Sandrini Solar, a project now derailed by geopolitical forces. - RCEA
  • RCEA
  • When projecting its path to decarbonization by 2030, Redwood Coast Energy Authority's plans depended heavily on Sandrini Solar, a project now derailed by geopolitical forces.
When local politics nixed Terra-Gen’s wind farm energy project near Rio Dell in 2019, regional electricity aggregator Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) turned to a solar project hundreds of miles away to meet its renewable energy goals. Now, world politics have botched up that second choice, according to Jaclyn Harr, client specialist manager with an outside energy procurement consultant, The Energy Authority. If RCEA loses this solar project, it would set the electricity provider back 50 percent of what it projected for its renewable energy supplies toward its goal of full decarbonization by 2030.

Harr told the RCEA board April 28 that a federal Commerce Department investigation into potentially illegal Chinese solar panel imports, as well as supply chain issues, nullified its contract for the Sandrini Sol 1 plant. RCEA had a deal to buy 100 MW for 15 years from the renewable energy development for more than $100 million. The contract is no longer valid because the project is delayed for more than six months. There are no allegations that Sandrini’s developers are involved in illicit imports. Instead, its delay and resultant contract delay appear to be victims of political forces. Sandrini, near Bakersfield, was supposed to begin supplying energy to PG&E’s transmission grid this year. While the Sandrini solar farm still might proceed, Harr told the board that its power wouldn’t be connected until late next year.

While Humboldt may be an island, electricity-wise, it’s not isolated from world economics. Both Chinese solar exports and global demand for Russian natural gas have effects behind the Redwood Curtain.

The U.S. Department of Commerce imposed extra taxes on Chinese solar panels eight years ago to prevent the dumping of too many cheap panels into the domestic market, fearing it would undermine U.S. solar panel production. But domestic solar manufacturers insist the Chinese panels are still getting though via other South Asian countries to circumvent the tariffs. The department kicked off an investigation April 25 into potential solar panel sales through these new, allegedly illicit, routes. The U.S. manufacturers want the Commerce Department to determine whether another round of tariffs — up to 240 percent, according to the solar industry — are warranted to prevent illegal imports.

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Monday, April 25, 2022

On This Day: 30th Anniversary of the Cape Mendocino Earthquake

Posted By on Mon, Apr 25, 2022 at 12:21 PM

Editor's note: Thirty years ago today, a magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck near the coast of Petrolia, shaking the ground with the strongest accelerations ever before measured in California, the first of three strong temblors that would rock the region over 24-hours.

To mark the date, the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group today announced a new web page to remember the event, which includes a video, "
A virtual tour of the Mendocino triple junction.”

Meanwhile, here's a look back at a 2017 Journal piece from the quake's silver anniversay along with the stories readers shared about their memories of those days back in 1992.

Two Days that Shook Humboldt

Twenty-five years have passed since that warm spring morning on April 25, 1992, when the Cascadia subduction zone delivered a far-reaching message — a magnitude-7.2 earthquake that shook the ground with a force never before recorded in California.

At 11:06 a.m. the streets appeared to pitch and roll as windows shattered, houses were knocked off foundations and a 15-mile-long section of coastline near Petrolia was thrust several feet in the air, leaving tidepool creatures trapped above the ocean's reach.

The same movement caused a corresponding drop in the Eel River Valley floor.

But Mother Nature was not done yet. The next morning came with two powerful aftershocks — a 6.5 and 6.6 — amid a series of smaller ones. Those who experienced it say it almost seemed like the earth would never stop shaking.

Although the quakes left rattled nerves, more than $60 million in damage and nearly 100 injuries, only a small corner of the Cascadia subduction zone broke loose that day.

Had the rupture continued farther along the 600-mile mega thrust fault that runs from Cape Mendocino to Vancouver Island, the result could have been a magnitude-8 or even a magnitude-9, according to Humboldt State University geology professor Lori Dengler, who was in her McKinleyville home when the first quake struck.

"It was certainly more than a wake-up call ... but no matter how you look at that, we were incredibly lucky," she says. "I think it's our duty to put the good graces of Mother Nature to work and to be prepared when the bigger one comes."

While the potential of the Cascadia subduction zone was only known to a small group of geologists and seismologists before 1992, dire warnings about the fault's capabilities have since garnered coverage in major publications, including the New York Times and The Atlantic.

One of the main changes that came about after the Cape Mendocino quake was a general awakening to the near-shore tsunami danger lurking off the West Coast. A small one hit soon after the shaking stopped in 1992, washing away the established belief that the threat would come from far away with hours of warning time.

That realization laid the groundwork for the creation of the National Tsunami Mitigation Hazard Program and the modern mapping, hazard modeling, warning and education systems now in place.

"Mother Nature was actually being very kind to us," Dengler says. "We got an earthquake that did some damage but didn't kill anybody. It raised awareness and we are so much better prepared now than in '92."

The powerful temblors not only transformed the world's understanding of what the clash of tectonic plates off our coast is capable of unleashing but also left an indelible mark on our landscape and those who rode out the seismic waves.

Here are some of their stories.

Wedding Day Jitters

I was standing outside waiting for the bride and groom to arrive for their beautiful outdoor wedding ceremony, when the Earth began to shake. With no doorway or table to hide under, I stood there trying to keep my balance. As I looked up, the bride came running and screaming out of the old Victorian house she was getting ready in — in her bra and petticoat! Not a memory I will ever forget, even though I was only 10 at the time.

— Sarah Weltsch

Change of Plans

The 1989 Loma Prieta quake still fresh in our minds, I still lived in Martinez (Contra Costa County), while my daughter was then a student at HSU, living off-campus in a second story apartment on Erie Street in Eureka. I had driven up on Friday for what was supposed to be a fun women's weekend of R&R. We were just getting ready to go out the door for the day when the first (7.2) quake hit. Being third and fourth generation California natives, it took us only a Nano-second to figure out what was happening. And we did exactly what you are not supposed to do: flew outside and down the stairs, and I mean flew — neither of us even remember doing it. We'd been speaking face-to-face/eye-to-eye when it hit, and the next thing we knew we were in the parking lot.

I remember being confused by what seemed to be the surprisingly long time it took for any information to come over the radio, as this was obviously not just another average run-of-the-mill California temblor to which we're all accustomed.

But here was our takeaway: Not only did that weekend's experience cure both of us of ever again sleeping naked, but we both also slept in our eyeglasses for about two years!

— Catherine Barnes

'I Could See the Ground Rolling'

Eleven a.m. on Saturday, April 25, I was alone and driving to Eureka. Just before the Slough Bridge it felt like I was getting a flat tire. I pulled to the right and soon learned my tires were fine, it was the ground that had a problem. My little Honda Accord hatchback started to violently rock back and forth so badly that I seriously thought it was going to tip over. I could see the ground rolling like the ocean waves, a truly surreal phenomenon, and it felt like it would never stop! Eventually, the shaking calmed a bit, so I quickly, but cautiously, drove over the bridge. It was so bad that I fully expected it all (the bridge, my car, me) to crash into the water. I pulled into the Montgomery Ward's parking lot where others had also stopped and gotten out of their cars. I looked over at an older woman and said, "That was a big one, wasn't it!?!" She laughed and said, "Yeah, honey, I'd say it was!"

At this point, the light poles were still swaying back and forth. The windows were rattling so hard that I could see the glass moving in waves and feared they'd all snap and shatter (they didn't). I had no way of contacting anyone, cell phones existed only in the movies and were a couple of decades away from becoming the norm, so I had to drive back to McKinleyville with no idea of how much danger I might be in. There was no way to know how big the quake was, no way to talk to friends or family, and no way to know how the buildings and people in my life fared through what I knew was the worst earthquake in my lifetime. As I drove, I kept looking for any sign of a tsunami on the bay and, at each building I passed, checking for rubble. It was probably the most scared I've ever been in my life. I didn't like earthquakes before but this (and the two that followed later that night) gave me a very (un)healthy phobia that I have to this day. Ugh! It was five weeks before my wedding and I remember being hypervigilant as I kneeled at the altar in St. Bernard's, looking at the walls and ceiling, absolutely terrified that we'd have another one, and praying to God we wouldn't.

— Cathy Tobin

‘Like Elephants Dancing on the Roof’

I was 8 years old, in the big tan Presbyterian Church on 11th in Arcata, mom was at a Scottish dance group that practiced in the main room there. I remember hearing rumbling and creaking — like elephants dancing around on the roof when the earthquake started. My brother and I had been playing in the Sunday school room and we ducked under the table there, until mom called us out. We ran out and noticed the big chandeliers swaying overhead, and then went outside to join all of the Scottish dancers in the parking lot behind the church. There we experienced some strong aftershocks that were really disorienting. Really memorable quake!

— Allison Curtis

'I'll Never Forget It'

I was riding my bike home from Marshall Elementary and car alarms started going off and it felt like I was riding on waves. I fell off my bike and flagged a stranger to drive me home because I was too scared to ride my bike home. Those were the good 'ole days when you could get in a stranger's car. I was only 10 then, too! I'll never forget it.

— Nick Jones

'I Have Always Been so Grateful'

On the evening of Friday, April 24, 1992, I had just given birth to my beautiful baby girl. My second child in less than a year.

On Saturday the 25th, I was on the operating table at General Hospital preparing to have a pregnancy-related procedure. When the quake struck, the anesthesia was just starting to take effect, but I remember seeing the big overhead light swing back and forth. The anesthesiologist flung himself over me to block any possible falling debris (I don't remember any falling) and the doctor was in the doorway, holding on tight. Needless to say my procedure was postponed.

Meanwhile, my almost 16-hour-old newborn was at the nurses' station. She had been in my room before I went into surgery and hadn't made it back to the nursery yet. The nurse working next to my baby picked her up out of the bassinet and put her under the nurses' counter with her. They were both fine. I have always been so grateful to that nurse.

We (my daughter and I) were still in the hospital when the aftershocks came. We were fine. But I would find out later that my 10 ½-month-old son was at home with his dad and traumatized. His dad had panicked, picked him up out of his crib and hunkered down under the kitchen table with him. Through the kitchen window my son watched a transformer from the nearby power pole explode. Needless to say, he was terrified.

It took a long time for my son to be able to sleep through the night again and to be away from me for any length of time. We are all fine now. And I want to, belatedly, thank the wonderful nurses and staff at General Hospital for taking such good care of me and my baby girl that weekend in 1992.

— Heidi Erickson

Hitting the Wall

I remember jumping out of my bed and running for the door but hitting the wall because the door moved (LOL).

— Nikki Mahouski

Giving the Table a Turn

I was six years old. I remember when the first one struck I ran to the doorway, like most of my family, because it's what the earthquake drills taught us. My mom had a collection of different colored antique bottles on the window sills in the living room and I remember seeing them topple off. I remember in a successive one that I decided to duck under the kitchen table instead because the drills were like "in a doorway or under a table!" (Back then at least) and I felt like I should give the table a turn since I'd already used the doorway. That's how my 6-year-old self handled it; I don't think I was terribly concerned.

— Mariah Bowline

'We Could Not Believe the Damage'

On the morning of April 25, 1992, I drove from Fortuna to Ferndale to visit my friend Jerry Lesandro, who was the curator of the Ferndale Museum at that time. I was surprised to see so many people in town as I did not realize there was a parade that day. I went into the museum and sat down to talk to Jerry while he was getting ready for a most likely busy day. I remember two women volunteers standing near him as we talked. Just after 11 a.m. Jerry and I looked at each other and smiled saying, "Oh, I feel a little tremor."

Just then the building started shaking like crazy. I stood up and made my way to the doorway to hold on. I could not believe how difficult it was to walk. Jerry and the two women fell down as tiles and light fixtures fell from the ceiling. I thought to myself, "This is it!" The sound of falling items and of the building creaking was so loud! It seemed like it was never going to stop. After the shaking came to a halt, Jerry rounded everyone together and asked us all to leave. He locked the museum up and we ran outside. I was shocked to see a house off of its foundation across the street. I followed Jerry as we ran through Main Street. It was chaos.

I saw my friend Kathy holding her head as blood ran down her face. She was unfortunately in front of a store window when it broke and fell on her. I remember seeing Stan Dixon doing his best to calm everyone down and asking home owners if they had any damage. I went with Jerry to his and Larry Martin's Victorian home on Berding Street to assess any damage. When Jerry opened the door he started cussing a blue streak. The hall was littered with broken antique items, pictures were tilting nearly off the walls and furniture had been knocked over. A heavy dresser upstairs had traveled across the room and had then tipped over.

I helped Jerry straighten up a few items and then decided to head home to check on my house, my cat and on my parents. Traffic was slow and bumper to bumper. I pulled over at Tom and Maura Eastman's home, a cute red Mansard near Ferndale High School. It had fallen straight down about 3 to 5 feet off of its foundation. It was so weird to see the front steps leading to an area above the door! Maura was out front so I asked if she was OK. She cried and I hugged her. She was lucky to not have been injured.

I left and remember being on the bridge at Fernbridge having to stop due to a backup of vehicles. I felt an aftershock and heard a young man yelling from his truck for traffic to speed up so that he could get off the bridge. I had to admit, that was a scary place to be at that time. My parents were fine and their home had no damage. I drove to my rental and was surprised to see that not much had fallen.

Late in the afternoon, my partner Chris had come home from work and we decided to go to Ferndale to see if we could help Jerry and Larry. We drove to Rio Dell and took the back road into Ferndale from Blue Slide Road as we heard that no one was to enter Ferndale via Fernbridge. An officer stopped us and asked if we lived in Ferndale and we lied and said that we lived on Berding Street. (We wanted to help our friends).

The town was a mess. We could not believe the damage that we saw. Several hours later while back home, we were awakened by the first big aftershock (which I say was another earthquake due to its magnitude) in the middle of the night. This time, items were falling off shelves and the walls. My cat was terrified. I felt helpless listening to things breaking. Again, I thought the shaking would never stop. After the second aftershock I gave up trying to pick things up and Chris and I spent the rest of the night on our deck, too upset to stay in the house. We watched the sunrise and hoped that the worst was over. I cannot believe that it has been 25 years!

— Lyn Iversen

1992 Earthquake Story

I moved to Ferndale in 1989 after purchasing an older historic home. Over the next three years I had heard and read about how seismically active the area was and had become accustomed to what I called “bumps in the night” when the house would kind of shudder and the suspended lights would sway slightly back and forth.

On the morning of April 25, 1992, I took my son downtown to participate in a parade as part of the first (and last) Wild West Days. My son was on a small pony which, like many of the other horses in the parade, seemed somewhat “spooked” and I had to hold the reins tight in my hands to keep the pony in line. As the parade came to an end I hurried back to my house to pick up my cat that had an 11 a.m. appointment at the Ferndale Veterinary on the outskirts of town. I loaded my son and the cat in the car and headed down Main Street a little late for my appointment. Just past the intersection with Main and Herbert Street, my car suddenly started lurching from one side to the other. At first I thought I had a flat tire. As the lurching continued I thought maybe I had two flat tires as the movement was very strong. About that time I noticed the power lines and trees swinging violently, which was strange as there was little to no wind. As the seconds passed I finally realized this was an “EARTHQUAKE!” No sooner had I realized what was going on than it all stopped.

Several cars continued down Main Street so I decided to continue on to my vet appointment. After parking the car I grabbed my cat and walked into the front office where I encountered a real mess as a fish aquarium had crashed to the floor resulting in broken glass, water and flopping fish everywhere. I looked at the startled staff and quickly announced, “I would come back at a later time.”

As I returned to my car and started driving back down Main Street toward my house I was shocked by the view of several houses which had been shaken from their foundations. One house which had previously been elevated with stairs to the front door had dropped to the point where the stairs now led to the second story. As I turned off Main Street I continued to encounter houses where the front porch or side buildings had separated from the main house. Finally, I turned onto my street where my house came into view. As my house has horizontal siding the first view revealed that everything was still horizontal. I also have a front porch with concrete stairs to the front door so I was relieved that the porch was still connected to my house. I did not see any obvious exterior damage. I removed the cat and my son from the car and walked into my house where I encountered another mess.

The TV had nosed-dived onto the floor. Potted plants had tipped over spreading dirt everywhere. In the kitchen, plates, cups and glasses were strewn across the floor. As most of my kitchenware was plastic there was not a lot of broken anything. Pictures hanging on the walls were askew but remained hanging so no damage there. A quick look at the walls and ceilings revealed some small cracks in the sheet rock over doorways but no other damage was apparent. The refrigerator and electric range remained in their original location and the water heater, enclosed in a small side-space, appeared stable. The most damage to the interior was in my laundry room where several cans of paint stored on shelves had flown across the room spilling paint across the floor and the washer and dryer. I did my best to clean up this mess but much of the paint stains remained for further clean-up at a late time.

My son and I spent most of the rest of the day cleaning up the spilled dirt, picking up the plates and things that had left the cupboards during the violence and hanging out in the yard feeling a bit more safe outside than inside. By late afternoon I had heard about the collapse of the Valley Grocery, which was the only unreinforced masonry building on Main Street, but only one person was injured and there were no fatalities that anyone was aware of. By the end of the day, we settled into our evening routine. Being without power we had to resort to a Coleman lantern and gas stove to cook dinner. After reading both my son and myself to sleep we settled in for the night.

Suddenly around 1:30 a.m. in the early morning of the 26th, our house started to shake violently as if being grabbed and shaking by a giant. Once again I could hear the dishes crashing to the floor, and the TV doing its nose-dive. The plants and cans of paint remained on the floor so no more damage there. Amazingly, my son did not even wake up. I grabbed a flashlight I had kept next to my bed and quickly looked through the house to see if there was any damage that would suggest the house was in danger of collapsing or otherwise be hazardous. Assuring myself that it was safer to stay indoors and not finding any reason to leave the house I climbed back in bed.

I must have counted thousands of sheep before finally falling back to sleep. Then the giant returned around 4:30 a.m. and once again started shaking the house. By then, I was convinced that California had split off from the North American continent and was now an island. After the second morning quake I was unable to get back to sleep. I fired up the Coleman stove and made some coffee. I was sitting outside on my front porch drinking my coffee and eating a banana when the volunteer fire department drove by giving me some assurance and sense of security that someone was responding to all the wreckage and frayed nerves. The next day I checked with friends and neighbors to see if they suffered any damage to their homes. Some had minor damage while others had homes that survived the first quake but leaped off their foundations during the second or third quake.

Having suffered limited damage, I concluded that having concrete front steps, a remodel that included new posts, bracketed into concrete piers that themselves were placed in concrete and were cross-braced, plus a slab for an extension of what we called the “sun room” as well as back wooden stairs also on piers in concrete meant that whatever direction the house tried to move during the ground shaking it ran into concrete. I also realized that if you are living in an area subject to strong earthquakes, occupying a house made of wood is advisable as a wood structure can “rock and roll’ with the shaking and under most circumstances will not collapse. Not wanting to rest on my laurels, I spent the next year installing new concrete piers in concrete and bolting the piers to posts that are then crossed braced to each other. It took me 12 months to install 19 new posts and piers. It has been awhile since a major earthquake. There have been a few that we definitely felt here in Ferndale and resulted in damage in Eureka and elsewhere, but nothing of the magnitude we felt on those fateful days in April 1992. I have my fingers crossed that if (when) we have another large quake the improvements to the house foundations will put us in much better shape to survive the next “Big One!”

— Michael Sweeney


From the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group:

The Redwood Coast Tsunami Work announces “A virtual tour of the Mendocino triple junction” to mark the 30th anniversary of the Cape Mendocino earthquake sequence.

The April 25, 1992 M7.2 earthquake was the most damaging earthquake to strike California’s North Coast in historical times. Causing at least $60 million in property losses and over 400 injuries, it led to the only federal disaster declaration ever issued after an earthquake in Humboldt County. The earthquake, located near the coast just north of Petrolia, was in the Mendocino triple junction region, a complex zone where three fault systems and three tectonic plates meet. It is the only triple junction on land in the conterminous United States.

The earthquake produced measurable coastal uplift along a 15-mile-long stretch of coastline and a modest tsunami that was recorded on seven tide gauges along the California and Southern Oregon coast and in Hawaii. It was followed in the next 18 hours by magnitude 6.5 and 6.6 aftershocks.

To remember the events of 1992, the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group has launched a new web page (https://rctwg.humboldt.edu/capemendo92 ). The page includes remembrances of what happened and what has changed in both earthquake and tsunami planning since then. Featured is a new video field trip of the complex Mendocino triple junction area to better understand the complex geology of the Cape Mendocino area where the earthquake occurred and the role it plays in regional earthquake hazards.

The video was produced by Thomas Dunklin, an alum of the Cal Poly Humboldt Geology Department who lives in the Petrolia area and accompanied many of the research teams who worked in the Cape Mendocino area after the earthquake.

The 13-minute video features spectacular drone footage of the remote and rugged triple junction and includes animations of the plate interactions and earthquake activity in the region.

The video project was supported by CalOES with funding from FEMA through NEHERP and donations to RCTWG from the public. Feedback appreciated (lori.dengler@humboldt.edu).



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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A Silicon Valley Lawmaker Wants to Protect Workers from Employer Spying

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2022 at 9:01 AM

Workers today are subject to more monitoring and tracking on the job — often without their knowledge — than ever before, advocates say. 

Various productivity applications, often on workers’ smartphones or other devices, track and predict delivery drivers’ and warehouse workers’ every move, collecting data on their location, speed, and accuracy in finishing orders, according to a study by UC Berkeley’s Labor Center. 

Meanwhile some employers install software on remote workers’ computers to log their keystrokes, monitor their internet activity, or take screenshots at any moment – even turning on webcams to monitor them. If workers refuse to be tracked they are risking their jobs, advocates say. 

Assemblymember Ash Kalra proposed a bill Monday that he said would ensure workers gain some protection from off-duty employer surveillance and retaliation. 

The Workplace Technology Accountability Act, or AB 1651, would create a set of privacy standards for employer workplace monitoring tools. 

The bill will be heard Wednesday in the Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment. 

It would require employers to give workers advance notice and explain how, when and why monitoring technology is being used on the job. It would prohibit employers from monitoring workers off duty or on their personal devices, and it would allow workers to view and correct data about them.

It also would ban the use of facial recognition technology, and it would stop employers from using algorithms to decide when and if an employee is to be disciplined or fired. 

Kalra, a Democrat representing San Jose, said low-income workers of color often bear the brunt of workplace surveillance. Nationally, four out of 10 frontline workers are people of color, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington D.C.

“Here in California with the Black and Latino workforce …  they’re the ones that are being asked to take on the burden of keeping our economy moving,” Kalra said. 

“And yet they also, at the same time, are being asked more and more to be under surveillance and to be under the control in many ways (by) technologies that are designed to squeeze out every single ounce of productivity from them, without giving them the empowerment to have much say in their work environment.”

At the national level, exemptions in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 gave employers the right to spy on workers’ written and verbal communications.

In recent years the market for workplace surveillance technology has exploded, especially during the pandemic.

Coworker.org, a tech worker advocacy nonprofit, released a report last year on the rise of workplace surveillance tech. It found nearly a third of the more than 550 new workplace tech products and companies it cataloged were created in the last two years. 

Similarly a 2021 UC Berkeley Labor Center report showed workers across various industries – including retail, hospitality, construction and healthcare  –  were subject to increased surveillance with little oversight from the government. 

“It’s really kind of the wild west out there, and employers are pretty free to do whatever they want with predictably negative effects on workers,” said Mitch Steiger, a legislative advocate for the California Labor Federation.

He said monitoring has become routine in workplaces and unfair use of algorithms and productivity tracking increasingly are tied to disciplinary actions, often leading to physical injuries for workers. 

Last month, the state of Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries fined Amazon $60,000, noting that there was a “direct connection” between workers’ joint and muscle disorders and the company’s use of employee monitoring and discipline systems.

Work included hours of repetitive lifting and twisting at a fulfillment center in Kent, Wash. The department said Amazon’s productivity tracking technology forced workers to overextend themselves to meet quotas with little time to recover without penalty. 

An Amazon spokesperson said the company disagrees with the findings and plans to appeal the citation. 

Kalra and other advocates say his bill is not anti-tech. Rather it’s an attempt to restore workers’ rights to privacy — at work and outside their jobs. 

“It’s really kind of the wild west out there, and employers are pretty free to do whatever they want with predictably negative effects on workers.”

Mitch Steiger, legislative advocate for the California Labor Federation

Steve Smith, communications director at the California Labor Federation, said currently “workers have absolutely no ability to fight back, to even raise concerns about the invasion of privacy this creates. Low wage workers are front and center here in terms of who we’re trying to protect with this bill.”  

The number of workers being surveilled in California remains unknown, because there is no requirement that employers report this information. 

“The fact that we’re not able to identify how common these technologies are, or how they’re impacting workers is actually a very telling symptom of the problem,” said Annette Bernhardt, director of the Technology and Work Program at UC Berkeley’s Labor Center.

“These systems are literally a black box to both workers and policy makers, and also to researchers.”

AB 1651 would force employers and vendors to be transparent about these systems by requiring them to conduct “impact assessments”  about any algorithmic or worker tracking systems prior to use  and submit those reports to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency for review. 

In addition, the state’s Labor Commissioner would create an advisory committee by next March to recommend  the best — and least harmful — uses of data-driven tech in the workplace. 

Workers would be able to file claims with the agency and bring a civil action against employers that violate the bill’s standards.  

Kalra’s bill is supported by unions, but he says he expects some pushback from conservatives in the legislature, business lobby groups and from vendors of workplace productivity and surveillance products. 

The California Chamber of Commerce has been in touch with the California Labor Federation about the bill but has yet to see the final proposal, said Ronak Daylami, a privacy policy advocate for the business group. 

“However, as the pandemic has adapted how we all work, new technologies have developed to help both employees and employers operate in a more flexible and efficient way,” she wrote in an email. “We want to ensure that we do not stifle this innovation as our economy continues its recovery.” 

If the bill were successful, it would be one of the far reaching pieces of worker surveillance legislation in the country, supporters said. 

Next month, New York will join Connecticut and Delaware in merely requiring employers to disclose electronic monitoring to their workers. The New York law will apply to workers hired on or after May 7. None of the laws enacted in those states give workers the right to review and correct data created about them. 

Kalra’s bill is part of a number of efforts across the state to boost protections for workers and curb the use of facial recognition technology, which studies show disproportionately discriminates against women and people of color. 

“There is no question in my mind that these technologies are rapidly becoming the backbone of how employers are organizing work and production,” said Bernhardt. “So we need to ask ourselves whether these technologies will be used to benefit workers and help them thrive in their jobs or whether they will be used to intensify work loads and rob workers of their autonomy and dignity?” 

Last year Newsom signed AB 701 into law. The measure, which had Kalra’s support, now requires warehouse employers to disclose productivity quotas and work speed data to workers, and it bars any quota that penalizes workers for taking breaks or using the bathroom.  

This article is part of the California Divide project, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

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Friday, April 15, 2022

Long Lines as Hambro Recycling Opens in Arcata

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2022 at 3:29 PM

After a lengthy permitting process, Hambro Recycling finally opened in Arcata on April 1. Humboldt County now has a CRV buy-back center two years after the Eureka Recycling Center’s CRV services were discontinued for safety amid an overload of residents wanting their CRV deposits back.

"The process (of opening Hambro Recycling in Arcata) was long and hard," Randy Scott, general manager and vice president of Hambro Recycling, told the Journal. "It was more than we thought it would be and that's kind of led to those premature press releases because we really thought this is going to go pretty fast. ... We know that the city of Arcata and the Coastal Commission were just doing what they needed to do. We appreciate their partnership in this. The important thing now is that we're past that now and open."

Residents wanting their 5 to 10 cent deposits from purchasing plastic and glass bottled drinks had needed to travel almost two hours north to Crescent City or had to forfeit their deposits and throw their CRV recyclers in their curbside bin. But now that the Arcata location is open, they'll be able to recycle closer to home.

And it seems like many Humboldt County residents decided to keep their CRV recyclables until a local buyback center opened.

"It's very evident that people are bringing a backlog of (CRV) recycling. It's been over two years since there was a buyback [in Humboldt]," Scott said. "We're seeing a lot of inventory of CRV. We're seeing new faces every day, so more and more people are getting an opportunity to recycle. We have no idea when we'll be caught up, so to speak."

The CRV recycling center is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but in a Facebook post on Wednesday, showing the massive lines of cars waiting to unload their CRV recyling, Hambro Recycling said it would close the gates around 3 to 4 p.m. to allow staff to serve the recyclers in line.

“As the high volume starts to subside, we will leave the gate open longer. Thank you again for your cooperation as we work through a two-year backlog of CRV recyclables. Hambro Recycling Staff is here to help you with your CRV recycling,” the post states. Scott said that closing the gates by 3:30 p.m. is a temporary adjustment. 

"When we get past this tsunami of recycling that will go away," he said.

Scott's initial fear about opening Hambro Arcata was plugging up  South G Street in the same way Broadway was hit back in September 2020 when Eureka Recycling Center reopened its CRV buyback service for a brief time but so far that hasn't been the case.

During yesterday’s Humboldt Waste Management Authority’s board meeting, staff presented two options for once again resuming CRV services at the Eureka Recycling Center.

One option was to restart CRV services at the Eureka Recycling Center but discontinue accepting source-separated materials like cardboard, separated plastic and electronic waste — which would limit the number of places where Humboldt County residents could take those recyclables. The second option was to establish a separate CRV location but Eric Keller-Heckman, HWMA director of operations, said there are very few locations in the county big enough for processing CRV materials.

In the end, each option would take months and be costly. For years, CRV recycling hasn’t been favorable on the North Coast due to high transportation and processing costs and low commodity values.

Ultimately, the board decided not to pursue either because they wanted to “wait and see” how Hambro Recycling Arcata was doing and asked staff to invite Hambro to its next meeting in May.

Scott said their CEO David Slagle is in communication with HWMA.

People looking to finally recycle their CRV containers can head to Hambro Recycling at 420 South G St. in Arcata. It's open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but will be limiting entry by 3:30 p.m. 
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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Clean-car Rules: California Unveils Proposed Measure to Ban New Gasoline-fueled Cars

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2022 at 1:57 PM

Electric cars at Niello BMV dealership in Sacramento on September 12, 2019. - PHOTO BY ANNE WERNIKOFF FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • Electric cars at Niello BMV dealership in Sacramento on September 12, 2019.
California’s clean-air regulators this week unveiled a far-reaching proposal requiring a ramp-up in sales of zero-emission cars, culminating in a ban on new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. 

The rules to force Californians to end their dependence on conventional cars are a critical component to California’s goals to tackle climate change and poor air quality.

If adopted by the California Air Resources Board this summer, the regulations would be the first in the world and could pave the way for nationwide standards. At least 15 other states pledged to follow California’s lead on car standards on previous clean-car rules, and the federal government usually follows.

Carrying out Gov. Gavin Newsom 2020 executive order ordering the board to end the sale of gas-powered cars in California by 2035, the new proposal sets in motion the public regulatory process. Public comments will be collected for 45 days, then a hearing will be held on June 9 and the board is expected to vote in August.

Automakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the draft rules. But many major manufacturers, including General Motors, have already announced goals to ramp up clean-car models on a similar timeframe.

“This is a hugely important inflection point. This rule finally, definitively puts us on the path to 100 percent zero-emission vehicles,” said Daniel Sperling, a member of the Air Resources Board and founding director of the University of California, Davis Institute of Transportation Studies.

Vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel fuel are the state’s biggest sources of planet-warming greenhouse gases, smog and dangerous particles. Under the rule proposed today, about 384 million fewer metric tons of greenhouse gases will be emitted between 2026 and 2040, according to air board staff — more than the total amount that the state emitted in 2019 across its economy. 

“This is a hugely important inflection point. This rule finally, definitively puts us on the path to 100 percent zero-emission vehicles.”

Daniel Sperling, air resources board member and UC Davis

Under the new proposed mandate, 35 percent of new cars, SUVs and small pickups sold in the state will need to be zero-emission starting in 2026, increasing to 68 percent in 2030 and 100 percent in 2035. Of those, 20 percent can be plug-in hybrids. 

The rule does not apply to sales of pre-owned cars, and it wouldn’t do anything to force the millions of existing gasoline-powered cars off roads. Only about 2 percent of cars on California’s roads were zero emissions in 2020.

California has already enacted standards that will require roughly 8 percent of new cars sold in the state to be zero emission in 2025, according to air board staff. That goal already has been exceeded: About 12  percent of California’s 2021 new vehicle sales were clean cars, according to state data. But the pace would have to triple in just five years to reach the new target.

One of the biggest roadblocks could be the lack of charging stations for electric cars. Nearly 1.2 million chargers will be needed for the 8 million zero-emission vehicles expected in California by 2030, according to a state report. Right now, there are only about 70,000 with another 123,000 on the way, falling far short. 

Another obstacle is the cost of the vehicles. “The cost to manufacturers will be high per vehicle in the early years, but significantly decrease over time by 2035,” the air board’s staff report says.

The economic benefits of the mandate are expected to exceed the costs: The costs could run $289 billion over the lifetime of the rule while the economic benefits could reach at least $338 billion — a net benefit of $48 billion, according to air board staff.

Electric cars now cost more to purchase, but price drops plus savings on gas and maintenance would add up, saving consumers an estimated $3,200 over 10 years for a 2026 car and $7,500 for a 2035 car, the air board calculated. 

In an effort to address consumer reluctance, manufacturers would be required to meet minimum performance, durability and warranty requirements for zero-emission vehicles. Cars must be able to drive at least 150 miles on a single charge, up from the current 50-mile mandate, and batteries will need to last longer and carry a manufacturer’s warranty.

The goal is to ensure that new and used zero-emission vehicles “can serve as full replacement vehicles for conventional vehicles in every household in California,” the air board says.

Electric cars now cost more, but price drops plus savings on gas and maintenance would save consumers an estimated $3,200 for a 2026 car and $7,500 for a 2035 car.

Environmental advocates had raised concerns about previous drafts, saying they ramped up too slowly, allowing millions of cars powered by fossil fuels to remain on the roads since the average car is driven for 12 years. 

Starting at a sales requirement of 35 percent is “a marked improvement,” said Don Anair, research and deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean transportation program. Still, he said, “It’s kind of the bare minimum. So we really see that as a floor, not a ceiling, to get started.”  

Car manufacturers may meet a small portion of the sales targets through 2031 with credits aimed at helping low-income residents who are disproportionately harmed by pollution. For instance, they could earn credits for selling less-expensive new zero-emission cars costing less than $20,000 or ensure that vehicles are offered up for resale in the state. 

Last year Newsom approved a $3.9 zero-emission vehicle budget that included about $1.2 billion to bolster rebates and other clean-car incentives, particularly for low-income and disadvantaged communities. Another $300 million will go toward building charging and fueling infrastructure. This year, Newsom proposed another $10 billion zero-emission funding package in his January budget blueprint.

The state auditor has warned the Air Resources Board, however, that it “has generally not determined the effects its incentive programs have on consumers’ behavior and thus, has overstated (greenhouse gas) emissions reductions its incentive programs achieve.”

While battery-powered cars emit no pollutants, the generation of the power that runs them does. However, air-quality regulators say emissions from electricity generation are far lower than from vehicles. Much of California’s electricity comes from natural gas, solar, wind and hydropower. 

Other nations are on similar paths toward phasing out fossil fuel-powered vehicles, but no state or nation has adopted a rule that bans them. However, the European Union is considering a large package of climate change laws that would, in effect, prohibit fossil fuel cars by requiring a 100 percent cut in all carbon dioxide emissions by 2035.

California’s proposal comes as gas prices soar to more than $5 per gallon in the state. Critics say the Newsom administration is sending mixed messages about gasoline-powered cars by proposing rebates for car owners.

The zero-emission vehicle proposal will require approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for implementation. Since the 1960s, the state has led the country in cleaning up the exhaust that creates California’s choking smog. The federal Clean Air Act gave California authority to set its own tailpipe emissions standards.

The Trump administration acted to eliminate that authority but President Joe Biden’s EPA overturned the decision in March. Newsom called it “a major victory for the environment, our economy, and the health of families across the country” and said the state “looks forward to partnering with the Biden Administration to make a zero-emission future a reality for all Americans.”

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