By Tommy Hough
Last week, Senator Kamala Harris introduced two public lands conservation bills into the U.S. Senate: the Northwest California Wilderness Recreation and Working Forests Act, and the San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act.
I'll get into the details of both bills in a follow-up post, but in both cases the Senate legislation is essentially duplicate versions of earlier House bills. That's fine – that's how these things work. This is a small speck of good news and a move Democratic policymakers across the country should begin to emulate.
Over the last several years, the GOP-dominated Congress, now aided and abetted by the most anti-environmental presidency in our nation's history, has presided over a wholesale reversal of America's conservation heritage, dating back to the era of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir (if not Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson).
The rollbacks have been big and small, with varying consequences, but they've been entirely to the benefit of oil, gas and mining outlets in the west – further cementing the hostility the GOP has towards conservation policy, and the lucrative sway fossil fuel extractors continue to hold over our nation, the democratic process, and our planet's health.
Two generations ago, Richard Nixon signed into law the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Clean Water Act and Endagered Species Act. Of course, no one's going to confuse Richard Nixon with an environmentalist, but these bills were sent to Nixon's desk by a Democratic Congress – and he signed them because they were good politics. In fact, they were bipartisan affairs. In 1970, the public wanted and demanded these policies after decades of environmental degradation.
In fact, the first administrator of the EPA was a long-time Republican and outstanding environmental steward named William Ruckelshaus, whose first order of business was to ban DDT. But today, instead of embracing our best and brightest, Republican lawmakers (enabled by destructive right-wing media) defy science and reality in the service of corporate masters and benefactors, and use media and money to "confuse" the issue.
So let us ensure there is no confusion on this point: The GOP has collaborated and worked in tandem with fossil fuel and resource extraction industries since the 1980s to enable the current rollback of long-standing, functional environmental policies, even as growing mountains of evidence demonstrate the damage the extraction and use of fossil fuels has on our planet.
Energy and fossil fuel industries have been actively pushing these rollbacks, even as they claim to embrace renewable options for the sake of good public relations. To be fair, Democrats dance with many of these same players too, but not to the extent of the GOP, and certainly not to the point where active, effective policy is being rolled back as it is now. The damage and fallout comes in a variety of forms.
In 2014, during Obama's second term, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) weakened by persistent budget cuts to their law enforcement arm – and exacerbated by a lack of political will in Washington and within their own agency – was humiliated by scofflaw Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who became the darling of nutjob conspiracy theorists and weapons fetishists when his refusal to pay decades-old grazing fees on land that belongs to all Americans prompted an armed standoff with federal agents.
This clumsy inability to bring Bundy to justice, or even appropriately serve him with papers, not only indirectly led to a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2014, but a domestic terrorism incident the following year as Bundy's family and followers carried out the armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve in Eastern Oregon on New Year's Day 2016. Aided by regional GOP lawmakers, the seizure was an attempt to ignite a sagebrush rebellion, and resulted in a monthlong seige and the death of one of the culprits, as well as environmental damage to the site.
Interestingly, the Malheur was one of the first National Wildlife Refuges established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, and remains one of the area's biggest employers – hardly the Big Government-style "land grab" Bundy's supporters claimed they were remedying.
By early 2017, things had gone from bad to horrible with the election of Donald Trump. I'd warned throughout Obama's second term that the only thing keeping us from the abyss of an already runaway GOP was the pen of Barack Obama. As the Trump administration took office, we found out how accurate that was. Curiously, Trump's megalomania and incompetence has prevented some of the darkest aspects of GOP environmental skullduggery from moving forward, but he is still tolerated by the GOP elite as a useful idiot who will sign whatever is put in front of him.
Despite some weak pledges to the contrary during the 2016 campaign, Trump wasted no time taking a wrecking ball to Obama-era environmental policies once he took office. His administration has undone requirements for more fuel-efficient vehicles, scrapped industry-negotiated regulations to reduce toxins from coal-fired power plants, enabled coal plants to dump mercury and other toxins into our rivers and waterways, and is even cheering the melting of the polar ice cap (the better to ship oil across the North Pole).
And despite Democrats' success in the midterm elections, over the last several weeks the Trump administration has enabled drilling access for the oil and gas industry on 9 million acres of threatened sage grouse habitat in the intermountain west, mining on 1.3 million acres of the Mojave Desert here in California, and perhaps most tragic of all, the violation of 1.5 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which had been protected for preservation since the Eisenhower administration in 1960 until Congress shamelessly subverted this last great American wilderness last year. Just this week, bulldozers will begin plowing through the National Butterfly Center in Texas in order to enable construction of Trump's absurd border wall.
Then there was the undoing of the EPA's mission under Scott Pruitt (and now Andrew Wheeler), in which the agency actually issued an official video praising the benefits of coal, while voices of "dissent," otherwise known as capable scientists, were expelled from the agency. Over the last two years, hundreds of government professionals with decades of experience applying evidence to policy have been driven from the ranks of the EPA in an orchestrated brain drain never seen in our nation's history. We used to recruit the best and the brightest. Now we just want you to follow orders.
At the Interior Department, the gutting of regulatory and management agencies followed a similar path, and continues with a promotion of science-defying ignorance. Even in the first week of the Trump administration, the president made his Saddam Hussein-style banana republic dictatorial tendencies clear as the National Park Service – the Interior Department's showcase agency – came under pressure to "verify" Trump's bizarre claim about the number of attendees who had been in the National Mall for his inaguration.
Undeterred from looking like the fool he is, Trump pushed Interior, now under the leadership of phony cowboy and nakedly corrupt Ryan Zinke, to move forward with the unprecedented undoing of the boundaries of 27 National Monuments – an assault on the very heart of American conservation and the idealized western value of untrammeled open space and room to roam.
The radicalized Interior Department has thus far settled on two National Monuments the GOP and fossil fuel interests have long despised: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, which was originally declared a monument by President Clinton in 1996, and Bears Ears National Monument, also in Utah, which was designated by President Obama during his final months in office.
Now, the Interior Department is enabling the sale and leasing of that land to fossil fuel extraction interests. This is public land that had been protected as part of the American heritage of National Monuments, and now stolen from a 112-year tradition of conservation. Consider for a moment the precedent that has now been set by an administration that has no connection to the outdoors, no connection to the west, and is only interested in what its oligarch funders instruct them to do.
The Russian model of doing business has been adopted by the executive branch of the United States and their elected minions in Congress. I've always said we'll be lucky if all Trump does is rob us blind, but as we've seen over the last two years, it's much worse than that. It's worse than we imagined.
So the midterm elections are over, but the work is not finished. In fact, the work hasn't even begun. We have much to do to simply return the scales to where they were before Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017. Taking the House of Representatives was a needed beachhead – but the forces of cronyism, Big Energy, Big Oil, and anti-environmentalism still have a firm grip on the Senate, the White House, and to a lesser but more permanent extent, the Supreme Court. Will some of that change in 2020? Not if we allow ourselves to be divided and diminished.
Our work is not finished. There are no laurels. There is only policy that must be introduced and nurtured until we have a human being in the White House again who is capable of thinking beyond himself, who respects process, values democratic order vs. self-aggrandizing chaos, cares about our institutions and the missions of our agencies, and puts capable people in place to lead successfully – not deliberately fail out of incompetence as a predetermined demonstration against "big government."
Our work is not finished until we have a legislative branch that answes to all Americans, not Russian oligarchs, Trump cronies, destructive right-wing media, or money disguised as "speech" under the Supreme Court's cataclysmic 2010 Citizens United ruling.
This is why the introduction of conservation policy – the very essence of legislative humility – into the current chamber of horrors beneath the Capitol dome is needed. Conservation and preservation on its face isn't designed for short-term gain, but longevity that exceeds the lives of those here today.
Conservation policy acknowledges limits on man's ambitions into the wild, that there are some places where mankind is "only a visitor," and that there are some reaches of our land which are not part of civilization, and will never be tamed. Our government not only has a role in ensuring that, but a proud heritage and tradition of doing so, from the National Park Service to the Wilderness Act to the Roadless Rule. Leaders can move the needle.
Senator Harris' two bills, however small they may appear, are brave and necessary. If conservation policy passes as defiance, so be it, but these bills do a great deal to ensure greater protection for our wild ecosystems, and enable more effective, holistic access for a citizenry increasingly in need of quiet, space, and solace – and an opportunity for young and old to re-connect with our vanishing natural world.
We need more from the incoming House of Representatives than investigations. We need more from our wise members of the Senate. We need more from the boots on the ground of Americans everywhere. We are not content with our remaining wildlands and habitat becoming the fenced-off domain of oil and gas exploitation, of mining, of violent and destructive "recreation," and of clearcuts reaching into the horizon.
We are Americans, and preserving our natural heritage is an extension of our patriotism – claim it. It will always be up to us to ensure our public lands are treated with care and dignity for the benefit of all, but at this moment, on our watch, they remain endangered unlike any other time in our nation's history. The preservation of our country's natural heritage and special places is the task before us.
San Gabriel Mountains Wilderness photo by Tommy Hough
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument photo by Bob Wick
Public lands graphic courtesy of The Wilderness Society
By Tommy Hough
We made time for the ballots to be counted, and it's clear the voters have spoken.
While we came up short, I'm proud of our effort, especially knowing we ran the very best, drama-free campaign possible.
I'm exceptionally proud of my team and the work we did in our District 6 communities of Clairemont, Mira Mesa, Kearny Mesa, Miramar, Sorrento Valley and Rancho Peñasquitos. You did an amazing job.
I can't begin to express how grateful I am to our volunteers. Those of you who helped, pitched in, made calls, walked, donated over and over, and wore this campaign as a badge of honor over the months know who you are.
You went the distance with me, and I will not forget it.
We had to overcome all the issues that come with a first-time candidacy, with little institutional support – not to mention running in a district many chose to believe was unwinnable from the outset. We were outspent by an 8 to 1 margin. When you factor in the additional resources my opponent had access to, that margin is even greater.
But I knew this was an opportunity to offer strong, dynamic, hands-on leadership for communities that are being left behind at City Hall.
Talking with our neighbors, listening to voters, and respecting the wisdom of our neighborhoods was the best way to represent the communities of District 6 and ensure they were heard.
I saw what it's like to live with gravel flying into my neighbors' yards from broken streets long overdue for repair, to know the gnawing insecurity that comes with an unstable paycheck and medical emergencies, and to understand what it means when children move away from home because they can't afford to live in the city of their birth.
I was also welcomed into my neighbors' homes to share backyard barbecues, eat fresh fruit from their trees, and talk about politics and policy over a local beer. In every case, my neighbors demonstrated generosity in time and attention, even when we disagreed.
I took the risk of running to offer a real choice to our District 6 residents, and to make a difference in the lives of the innumerable neighbors I connected with and the thousands of doors I knocked on this past year.
The result is clearly not what I would have preferred. But I wouldn't trade the time we've had together for anything.
Thank you for believing in me, my campaign, and our vision for San Diego.
Editor's Note: Sagebush is the dominant plant species in the Great Basin, especially in valley bottoms, plateaus and mountain foothills. Sagebrush provides habitat for a variety of animals in the region, most notably the sage grouse, which is declining as a species because of human activity like cattle grazing and gas drilling.
By George Wuerthner
Management with the Challis and Salmon Bureau of Land Management (BLM) districts in Central Idaho appear ready to destroy much of the sage grouse habitat in the nearby Lemhi, Pahsimeroi and Lost River valleys, ironically in the name of protecting sage grouse, in a destructive sagebrush "mowing" effort on 134,000 acres of public land in the Gem State.
As an ecologist, and someone who has studied both sagebrush and sage-grouse ecology, I find the proposal to crush over 130,000 acres of sagebrush in prime and associated sage grouse habitat almost criminal. I do not use that term lightly.
There is abundant scientific evidence that demonstrates sagebrush is critical to sage grouse survival. Currently, much of the area proposed for "treatment" doesn't even meet the BLM's minimum levels of sagebrush cover for sage grouse — thus destroying tens of thousands of acres of sagebrush can only lead to the continued decline of sage grouse in the area.
There is also abundant evidence that disturbance of sagebrush landscapes leads to an increase in cheatgrass. Cheatgrass is an invasive annual grass that is highly flammable. Since it can increase wildfire frequency in sagebrush landscapes, it is one of the significant threats to sagebrush ecosystems and sage grouse.
But cheatgrass does not suddenly appear from space or with aliens. Instead, the spread of cheatgrass is a direct consequence of disturbance that harms native grasses and landscapes. One recent study in Oregon that compared mowed and unmowed sagebrush sites concluded: "By the third year post-treatment annual forb and annual grass (cheatgrass) biomass production was more than nine and sevenfold higher in the mowed than reference treatment."
Another 2012 study found: "The preponderance of literature indicates that habitat management programs that emphasize treating (like mowing) Wyoming big sagebrush are not supported concerning positive responses by sage-grouse habitats or populations." The same study went on to conclude: "Most published information suggests that treatments to winter or breeding habitats of sage-grouse have a negative effect on the species."
And research published this year concludes that "grazing impacts resulted in reduced site resistance to B. tectorum, suggesting that grazing management that enhances plant and biocrust communities will also enhance site resistance" to cheatgrass. Translation: If you want healthy sagebrush ecosystems, remove the irritations like livestock grazing.
Beyond the fact that these treatments are likely to increase cheatgrass at the expense of sagebrush and sage grouse, the real threat to sage grouse in these valleys, and elsewhere across much of its range, is livestock production. Yet the BLM does not even consider the cumulative impacts of sagebrush destruction with the ongoing, adverse effects of domestic livestock production on these same lands.
If the BLM really wanted to improve things for sage grouse, it would be eliminating livestock grazing on OUR public lands.
For instance, much research has shown that the trampling of biological crusts enhances the spread of cheatgrass. Biological crust covers the soil in between perennial bunchgrasses and inhibits the seedling establishment of annual grasses like cheatgrass.
Cattle are also the primary agent that have destroyed riparian areas and wet meadows which are critical habitat to sage-grouse chicks. Livestock breaks down creekbanks which can lead to entrenchment of waterways and a lowering of water levels, which can then lead to a shrinkage of wet meadow habitat. Plus, by consuming streamside vegetation and reducing hiding cover, cattle expose sage grouse chicks to predators.
Fences constructed to control livestock constitute a significant source of mortality to sage grouse. Sage grouse are weak fliers and tend to fly close to the ground. In some studies, as much as 30 percent of sage-grouse populations are killed by collisions with fences.
Fences also act as "lookout posts" for avian predators like ravens.
In fact, why are their fences on public lands at all? Only one reason — to facilitate the exploitation of public resources for the benefit of private ranching interest.
The sage grouse requires habitat with a diverse plant community to provide shelter and food, especially a steady supply of insects to feed its young. Sage brush grouse also eat the leaves and flowers of soft, succulent forbs, as well as the insects that visit the plants. Unfortunately, livestock consumes many of the same forbs that sage grouse chicks require during the first couple of weeks of their lives, thus directly competing with sage grouse for an essential and critical food resource.
Water troughs designed to serve livestock also serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes that spread West Nile Virus, which in some areas is also a significant source of sage grouse mortality.
In short, the BLM appears to be capitulating to private interests at the expense of the public's interest in healthy sagebrush ecosystems and healthy sage-grouse populations.
This article originally appeared in The Wildlife News.
George Wuerthner has worked as a biologist, wilderness ranger, and range conservationist for the federal government. More recently he has served as a university instructor, photography instructor, consulting biologist, and wildlife policy analyst. He is the Oregon director of the Western Watersheds Project. George appeared on Tommy's Treehuggers International show in 2010.
By Tommy Hough
A final statement on the status of our campaign will be issued soon, but the most recent batch of election results are revealing:
These observations are telling. From the beginning, we knew this was a winnable race. We made it clear to those who would listen.
When my opponent and I taped a segment for NBC San Diego's Politically Speaking last month, he said I wasn't "connecting" with voters. How wrong he was.
And when Councilmember Cate's chief of staff felt I wasn't conceding fast enough for his liking after the election, he posted this unprofessional, unprovoked Tweet:
I'm not sure what kind of leader endorses mocking another person's debt, but I made the decision early on to build a machine to compete and win in District 6.
Regrettably, we've come up short. And that's why I need your help to reduce our campaign debt so I can honor my commitments. So many of you have already been so generous helping pay down our debt. Thank you.
If you haven't yet, can I count on you to make a contribution during your giving today?
Please consider a contribution to our debt relief effort. Every bit helps.
And if you or someone you know would like to make a significantly larger contribution to our debt relief effort, please contact our campaign consultant on how to do so.
Thank you for your support.
By Tommy Hough
On Sept. 24, 2018, while a candidate for San Diego City Council District 6, I filed an ethics complaint against my opponent, Councilmember Chris Cate, for late reporting of at least $7,500 in behested payments he received from San Diego Gas and Electric earlier in the year.
Shortly thereafter I received a letter dated Sept. 25, 2018, from the city's Ethics Commission acknowledging my complaint. The letter noted two things:
Despite two requests from myself and two letters sent to the Ethics Commission from our attorney, I have yet to receive any communication from the Ethics Commission on the status of the investigation. And since we have received no word from the Ethics Commission regarding our complaint, we can conclude Mr. Cate is, again, under investigation.
On Oct. 19, 2018, my opponent and I recorded a segment for NBC San Diego's Politically Speaking program, which aired that Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20 and Oct. 21.
Host Gene Cubbison opened by asking my opponent about the ethics charges, noting in his introduction that Mr. Cate had already "been fined twice for ethics violations."
My opponent said I was "speaking before having all the facts," and proceeded to lay out a scenario where the behested payment filings were made before he had received money from San Diego Gas and Electric – implying the filings were made for no reason and with no money to report.
You can see the exchange here. The discussion begins at :37 seconds in.
If there were additional facts to be considered at that time, Mr. Cate should've share them with the TV audience, or with the public ahead of the election. Obviously, he was never going to do that.
Furthermore, the Ethics Commission should've made the status of the ongoing Preliminary Review public ahead of the election, as outlined in their letter and clearly intended by the commission's own "within 90 days of a municipal election" provision – which is there to ensure voters know the outcome of the investigation before the election.
Unfortunately for voters, and the public, someone ran out the clock ahead of Election Day. But the public still has a right to know, and the Ethics Commission has an obligation to see an investigation through under the provisions outlined in their own letter.
You can contact the San Diego Ethics Commission by phone at (619) 533-3477, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
By Tommy Hough
The Cadiz Water Project is a decades-long scheme to drain an aquifer located beneath the Cadiz Valley in Mojave Trails National Monument, in order to pump water to coastal Southern California so Orange County residents can water their lawns.
Given the current subversion of our government, from the nihilism of the 115th Congress to the sheer ignorance and greed of the Trump Administration, it will come as no surprise that a former Cadiz Inc. lobbyist named David Bernhardt is now the second-in-command at the Interior Department behind Secretary Ryan Zinke, who himself has already carved out a record as the worst Interior chief in our nation's history in less than a year on the job.
Environmental organizations didn't take kindly to Bernhardt's appointment, in part because of his role at Interior a dozen years ago during the first term of George W. Bush. At that time, Bernhardt served as Interior's solicitor general under Secretary Gale Norton (another one of our worst Interior chiefs), and wrote a now-dismissed legal opinion that would've made it easier for the Interior Department to dismiss endangered species recommendations.
Along with loading federal agencies with idiot savant surrogates and destructive minions like Berhardt and Zinke, the Trump administration has done two specific things in order to facilitate the Cadiz Water Project.
One, in local conjunction with Congressman Paul Cook of Yucca Valley, they've recommended reducing the boundaries of dozens of long-standing National Monuments around the nation in order to create the precedent to change the boundaries of Mojave Trails National Monument in San Bernardino County in order to access the Cadiz Valley and get at the aquifer.
Two, the Trump Administration has re-written federal right-of-way railroad laws in order to facilitate the project so "red tape" that would otherwise slow the approval of the water pipeline across federal land – in part because water infrastructure doesn't "further a railroad purpose" – would no longer apply.
Fortunately, San Bernardino County is located in California, and the State Lands Commission gets a say because the pipeline would cross state education lands set aside in 1857 by the federal government in the interest of the-then new state of California.
The commission has already determined a lease to cross state lands will require additional environmental review, and that will likely trigger a public process. That's good, and it demonstrates how poorly the Interior Department's original environmental review was, because they didn't even have the right land agency and land ownership indicated in their materials.
The shame is legislation could've been passed to prevent this. AB 1000 would've stopped the Cadiz project, but unfortunately, even though it was signed off by Governor Brown and nearly every Democrat in the legislature, it was held up by none other than Sen. Kevin DeLeón, who has otherwise been a solid environmental champion. DeLeón allowed the bill to die in committee in September, before announcing his intent to challenge fellow Democrat and desert conservation champion Dianne Feinstein for her incumbent U.S. Senate seat.
According to Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times, "Cadiz donated $5,000 to a DeLeón campaign fund," in June. "Cadiz and [Cadiz Inc. founder Keith] Brackpool, a long-time friend of former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have together contributed nearly $85,000 to Villaraigosa's gubernatorial campaign."
From the environmentalists I've spoken with, state lawmakers can take the case of AB 1000 back up in January, and the Trump Administration still has the State Lands Commission to deal with. How voters opt to handle Sen. DeLeón's role in killing AB 1000, however, is another matter.
Photos by Chris Clarke (top) and David Lamfrom (bottom).
"On our trips to the Arctic Wildlife Range we saw clearly it was not a place for mass recreation. It takes a lot of territory to keep this living wilderness alive, for scientific observation and aesthetic inspiration. The Far North is a fragile place." – Arctic explorer Olaus Murie, 1963
By Tommy Hough
American conservation suffered a devastating blow Thursday, as the Senate voted to "raise revenue" by authorizing wholly unneeded and unnecessary oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeast Alaska, passed as part a sneaky provision included in the overall federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. There is no reason to expect Mr. Trump will not sign it when it reaches his desk.
Not since the decision to build Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite National Park has such a significant component of America's environmental identity been undone with such sudden, cowardly severity. We've lost the Arctic, and we lost it on our watch.
An amendment to pull Arctic drilling from the budget was offered by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, but the vote failed almost entirely on party lines 52-48, with the exception of Republican Susan Collins of Maine, who voted for the amendment, while Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted against it.
The largest National Wildlife Refuge in the country, there has been a long and lengthy campaign to preserve ANWR – one of America's last, great, intact, pristine wildernesses – and it's now going to be opened to drilling without even the kind of national discussion we're having on other issues, like guns, Puerto Rico, kneeling for the National Anthem at sports events, and the usual horrible things uttered by the president on a daily, even hourly basis.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was first set aside by President Eisenhower in 1960, and later expanded by President Carter in 1980 with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which designated eight million acres of the refuge, or just over one-third, as Wilderness – the gold standard of American conservation.
Interestingly, the refuge was preserved with the intention of only opening it up for drilling if the nation suddenly found itself in a severe oil shortage, as was the concern in 1980 when the nation was still on the heels of the 1979 Energy Crisis.
Of course, in 2017, we're in the midst of an oil glut. Oil is cheaper now that it used to be, in part because of natural gas and renewables, but oil companies have been desperate to pry the Arctic open for decades, despite the clear, present and criminally obvious danger such activity poses to the region's sensitive, Arctic environment.
Every Alaska politician going back to Ted Stevens has wanted to open ANWR to oil drilling, and while there was some concern that Lisa Murkowski would use the political capital she earned by voting against repeated Obamacare repeals to earn Democratic support for drilling, other than Joe Manchin the Democratic bloc held firm. They should be thanked and applauded for doing so. We need more of them in the Senate.
With today's Senate vote, conservationists have lost a decades-long fight in the blink of an eye, and we stand to lose an enormous area of habitat and fragile ecosystem that affects land and water, as well as native Alaskans. We cannot continue to have our long-standing, public land conservation icons and landmarks picked off one by one by a Congress devoid of pride or honor, and who will not have to live with the consequences of the rising sea levels and global warming which they themselves are enabling.
In the Senate, we are only a few votes away from consolidating our natural heritage and protecting it as it has been protected for decades – our Wilderness areas, our National Parks, our National Monuments – but that threshold seems very far away on days like this.
When we say call your senators or your congressmen, or when we say something is all-hands on deck or a full court press, we're not crying wolf. You may have friends or family in other states with other senators than those we can rely upon in California. Utilize those relations and networks to call their senators, Democrat and Republican alike. In the fight against a Republican party that, through their repeated actions, votes and rhetoric, abhors any notion of conservation of our natural heritage, we cannot be islands. We must be the change our environment so desperately needs, again and again.
If you'd like to learn more or see photos of ANWR as the spectacular wilderness it is – and what may soon pass into myth – check out photos of the region from conservation photographers like Florian Schulz and Amy Gulick, or the photo archives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Photos by Steve Chase / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
By Tommy Hough
Two years ago this body gave its support to the city of San Diego's landmark Climate Action Plan. In doing so, it gave Democratic lawmakers on city council the confidence to move forward with advocating for that plan, knowing the party's "rank and file" had their back.
Ultimately, the Climate Action Plan was passed on a unanimous vote by San Diego City Council. Democrats and Republicans, seeing the environmental writing on the wall of a warming planet, and perhaps seeing things through the political filter of necessity – but seeing the future nonetheless – understood this city must do its part to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in conjunction with the rest of the state, the rest of the nation, and the rest of the world.
This body created the opportunity for our elected officials to succeed, and move the ball down the field to a cleaner future. We are all components in making this happen – every person here. In 2015, we did that.
The city of San Diego's Climate Action Plan is a legally binding plan. It's ambitious, and it's not going away. Community Choice Energy, or Community Choice Aggregation, is a crucial component of that plan. The mayor must begin to meaningfully move forward on implementing it, and in a manner that is more substantive than simply painting bicycle lanes onto busy city streets and creating P.R. and press events.
Community Choice Energy provides consumer choice by expanding your energy purchasing and energy consumption options. It enables cities and counties to purchase cleaner power provided to consumers at a competitive or lower price. It is a partnership between the city San Diego, and the lone utility that serves this county: San Diego Gas and Electric.
Community Choice Energy – or CCEs for short – will provide you, your friends, and your families with choice. CCEs create competition between energy providers, some of whom may utilize one source of energy, some of whom may utilize multiple sources.
But you will get to determine who you want to buy from, and the idea is you may go with the greenest options available. Or not. It's up to you – it's your choice. But, over time, standard Community Choice Energy options based upon renewable sources have been demonstrated to beat the rates of competing utilities.
San Diegans pay the highest electricity rates of anyone in California. Part of the reason for that is we are currently subject to a power monopoly which doesn't allow other options. Without competition, there is no other market-based mechanism to provide a counterweight. Community Choice Energy enables local control and accountability for electricity rates, while reducing our region's carbon footprint by providing a greater mix of clean energy sources on our grid.
The city of San Diego is legally bound to get to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2035, and we can't get there without clean energy provided by a multitude of Community Choice Energy providers. Over time, local community choice programs may be able to purchase increasing amounts of solar, wind or geothermal power from local sources, thereby supporting local, union jobs and local economic development in a burgeoning green-collar economy.
There are already eight operational CCE programs covering 70 cities in the Golden State, some with several counties joining together under joint operating agreements. In each case, they're offering residents competitive if not lower rates, more clean energy, and exceeding state climate goals – with more scheduled to launch in 2018.
When this body gave its approval to the Climate Action Plain in 2015, we were in the vanguard in San Diego. But over the last two years, the rest of the state saw what we were doing, and picked up the ball. Now, we're getting lapped. We were first, but among large California cities we're now being passed by.
CCEs are going on-line in next year in Los Angeles County, Riverside County, the Coachella Valley, Alameda County and the city of San Jose. These areas represent a wide swath of the state's political spectrum, and no one is going to mistake Riverside County as a hotbed of progressivism. But all see the value for their residents and constituents, and the promise of cleaner air and more renewable energy on the grid.
The city of San Diego recently published a technical study that concludes the CCE program is not only feasible, but will:
The next step is for the City Council to vote to enable staff to move into the second phase of CCE evaluation in January.
We're on track, and we're pushing for this resolution so our city officials see the support for CCEs are as strong now as they were in 2015 when this body helped greenlight the city's Climate Action Plan. We need the implementation of CCEs to get underway now so that by 2035 we won't be reacting to a deadline, but instead, will be comfortably arriving at our destination with a portfolio of functional renewable energy options available to consumers.
We can do this. We have the opportunity to move this process along tonight.
Now, I want to make this next point perfectly clear – and our club says as much in the language of this resolution. This is not a resolution that is aimed at harming anyone. This is not an anti-this or anti-that resolution.
You and I all have friends, colleagues, and family members who work for SDGE. These are dedicated professionals who love and value this community, and with our union brothers and sisters work hard to keep the lights on. They are our neighbors and they have an extraordinary volume of institutional knowledge about this region's energy needs. They have been assets to this community, and we need them more than ever. We need that knowledge. We need that aptitude. That's part of the reason SDGE has had a seat at the table on Community Choice Energy since Day One.
For CCEs to be successful, we need to utilize SDGE's transmission lines and transmission network. We need their billing capabilities. These aren't asides or minor items or small asks. SDGE has an opportunity to play a significant role in making CCEs successful as our city meets our Climate Action Plans by 2035. And as is the case with other utilities in the state, SDGE will remain whole.
You and I have a chance to get this right – tonight. We have a chance to demonstrate leadership – tonight. We have a chance to do right by our families and our neighbors and people who believe competition is inherently American and essential for a fair marketplace. And that 100 percent renewable energy, powered by good-paying, union jobs is not only attainable – but is necessary if we are going to be planning a future beyond 2035 at all.
The tipping point is here. We're on it. We've arrived. We are at the very early stages of coming to grips with rising sea levels affecting our beach communities, and wildfires that kill people and destroy lives when they dash in from the county's interior. We are fighting a two-front war against climate change in this county that grows more intense each year. Let's show the state that we know where San Diego's energy and environmental priorities are by supporting the resolution before you.
The time is now. We're not going to sit on our hands as others would prefer we do. Delay is death. Our leaders need to hear us from Downtown to Sacramento to Washington. We're not going to wait. San Diego is not only doing its part, we're leading, we're paving the way, and with your help, support and your vote in favor of this resolution we will continue to be leaders in this state and this nation in arriving at a green, renewable future.
We can do it, and we're going do it tonight.
Photo courtesy of the city of San Diego
SDCDEA president Tommy Hough spoke at the Flip the 50th Empty Chair Town Hall event on Saturday, Aug . 26, at Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego.
By Tommy Hough
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Congress was often the butt of jokes, but Congress was also working in what many now refer to as the Golden Age of Congress. For 40 years, between 1954 and 1994, Congress ably and consistently utilized the power of government to make the lives of Americans better.
It wasn't perfect, but by and large, Congress functioned in a bipartisan manner to make the lives of Americans better, and from the 1960s on began to pass into law environmental policy that continues to serve us today: the Clean Water Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the EPA – now subverted under President Trump and Scott Pruitt beyond the comprehension of anyone but the most cynical right-wing operator.
I say "all Americans" because it makes no dissemination between rich and poor, between race or religion. Our environmental laws are not there to make life easier for corporations, they're there to ensure our corporations function in a manner that do not harm our nation's health, our citizens, our greater ecology, our air or our water. Damage to our environment is in part death by a thousand cuts, and in part like toothpaste – once it's out of the tube, it doesn't go back in.
This remains an ongoing struggle. There is ongoing give and take. Part of the reason the great legislation of the 1960s and 70s was passed was because engaged Americans and robust citizens' groups were demanding it. But after a while, people begin to assume it was always illegal to dump paint or industrial detergents into a river. People began to assume vast tracts of wilderness had always been held in a state of preservation. And since the radicalization of Congress by the Republican wave of 1994, Congressional Republicans have taken on a far more contrary approach to the environment and conservation – to the point, where, today – they despise it.
They reject clear and obvious empirical evidence in order to keep their worldview from being upended, and more important, to fit the desires of their donor class, which has little in common with those who actually vote for Republican candidates. That has only been aggravated by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 – because citizens were not empowered by that decision. Only the weathly.
Today's modern Republicans reject any consideration that doesn't fit in with the views of a narrow band of AM talk radio hosts and conspiracy-laden websites – and we are now seeing the impact and consequences of 30 years' worth of cumulative exposure to radical, right-wing ideology on the public's airwaves. Today, Republican lawmakers like Duncan Hunter Jr. simply respond to issues driven by a Republican noise machine.
Part of that ideology is an abdication of the conservation tenets of one of our nation's great environmentalists: Theodore Roosevelt – a Republican. This is a president who once ducked out of a cabinet meeting to go hiking with John Muir at Yosemite. And Roosevelt listened and learned at the feet of Muir – and in doing so helped begin the process of building modern American conservation, by way of passing the Antiquities Act in 1906 and embracing the cause of protecting our special places as National Parks and National Monuments.
And what makes the current Congress so unusual, so radical, is it's dogged willingness to ignore actual, pressing issues, like infrastructure and opioid addiction and the cancer of economic inequality and the integrity of our elections – and instead, use the power of government to make life more difficult for regular Americans.
Duncan Hunter Jr. has to answer for that, because he votes the GOP party line – a line that does not benefit his constituents, or the environment. Just last year, in 2016, Congressman Hunter:
I would encourage everyone to contact Congressman Hunter and his office and ask if he knows anything about any of the items listed here. If he did, he would be here today to justify his votes to you, his constituents.
Very soon, possibly under a more organized President Trump, or under a capable and effective President Mike Pence, Mr. Hunter will be able to vote on the radical legislation that we know is ready to go on Capitol Hill, but is stalled by the cruel, disorganized mania of King Donald.
Very soon, Mr. Hunter will have opportunities to blindly vote on legislation that undoes the entirety of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. He will vote on legislation to undo the 1964 Wilderness Act. He will vote to take away any kind of reasonable protections from the worst impulses of corporate America. When even oil companies are telling Trump to slow down on deregulation for the sake of appearances, is there any doubt that Duncan Hunter isn't willing to ape and endorse the extremist right in Congress, or the desires of President Trump or Mr. Pence?
We need to flip districts this election cycle. It must happen here, in the 50th.
You are the beginning of that.
Photos courtesy of James Elia (top) and Colin Parent (bottom)
By Tommy Hough
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, and for me, it's hard to believe we've arrived at this date. I remember the day Elvis died, and I remember the shock it sent through my neighborhood, popular culture and the music world, even among people who weren't into rock and roll.
Like a lot of events that have now receded into the cultural rearview mirror, it's difficult to overstate the mania and reaction to Elvis' death in 1977, or relate how iconic a figure he was in the mid-70s, when rock and roll had only been around for about 20 years.
In 1977, Elvis Presley hadn't become the punchline he is today. Earned or not, he was still considered by many to be the King of Rock and Roll, which people said without a hint of self-consciousness or irony. The crowds that formed outside Graceland were in utter despair following the announcement of Presley's death, so much so that one person was even run over by the funeral procession as it left the estate a few days later.
This was in part because when people thought of Elvis in 1977, they still thought of him as the young and dangerous pre-Army 1956 version of Elvis, shaking his hips and outraging parents and decent people from coast to coast. Popular culture didn't yet visualize him as the grotesque caricature he'd become since his 1968 "comeback" TV special, popping buttons off his barely-fitting satin jumpsuits. The last time most people had seen Elvis was in his Aloha from Hawaii TV special in 1973, when he was still in decent shape and voice.
But shortly after that well-received performance, the rot began to set in, both in Elvis' barbiturate-addled body and his mind. By mid-decade, to cover for his Quaalude-fog on-stage ramblings, his manager's record label actually became complicit in his addiction by releasing an album in 1974 called Having Fun With Elvis On-Stage, as though it were some kind of comedy album. They even listed Presley himself as "executive producer," perhaps to distance themselves from the project even as they callously counted the money made from it.
When Elvis' body finally gave out at the age of 42 on August 16, 1977, it wasn't a surprise to those closest to him, but it stunned the nation. Only afterwards were the depths of his addiction revealed, as were the role his handlers played as enablers, rolling Elvis over in his bed on a timed schedule like Howard Hughes to prevent bed sores, and feeding him a steady regimen of drugs as his hillbilly empire churned on around him.
With that in mind, Elvis remained a durable performer capable of holding an audience to the end, as seen in this CBS-TV special shot at a June 19, 1977, concert in Omaha, Nebraska, about two months before his death. Note how his appearance had taken on that of an old man, and cue to 41:59 for the bizarre shout-out to Elvis' long-time roadie Charlie Hodge, who would hang around on stage and give the King towels or act as a human mic stand.
San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of SDCDEA, Tommy Hough was recently a candidate for San Diego City Council.