School Lead Contamination Remains a Concern in California

Drinking fountainAfter reports of problems with lead contamination of water at schools around California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed abill in October of 2017 meant to address the problem.

The measure by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, mandates that every school test one to five water outlets for the presence of lead. If any of the tests shows over 15 parts of lead per billion, the parents or guardians of students must be notified. Young people exposed to lead can suffer permanent problems – sometimes extreme – with cognitive development and behavior.

Given the attention paid to the national scandal over dangerous water in Flint, Michigan, the state law came as a relief to concerned parents, school officials and health agencies. But a comprehensive new analysis by the EdSource website suggests this relief may be premature.

The key issue is whether the 15 parts per billion standard, which is recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is strict enough to protect students’ health. The American Academy of Pediatrics considers that standard to be so weak that it puts young people at risk. The academy calls for a maximum of 1 parts per billion.

Pediatricians say federal standard is risky

“We know there is no safe lead level,” Dr. Jennifer Lowry, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health, told EdSource. “Schools ought to work to remove that source of lead for these kids.”

Experts were also sharply critical of the California law because it didn’t require all sources of water to be tested at every school. While sometimes lead contamination is system-wide – as seen in large parts of Flint in recent years – a single corroded pipe, faucet or other plumbing fixture can be responsible for lead contamination.

Gonzalez Fletcher told EdSource she supports strengthening the law and said the 15-parts-per-billion standard was agreed on to gain enough support so her bill would pass. The California School Boards Association worried that a tougher standard could be financially onerous for school districts.

The CSBA’s concerns may seem dubious, given that schools have enjoyed large increases in funding in recent years, thanks to a strong economy and Proposition 98 – a 1988 state law mandating that public education get roughly 40 percent of state revenue. But every school district is likely to face at least one and more likely two fiscal crises in coming years.

School districts face fiscal double-whammy

The first is the immense cost of the 2014 California State Teachers’ Retirement System bailout. The great majority of the cost – 70 percent – is borne by districts, which face a phased-in increase of CalSTRS contributions, going from 8.25 percent of pay in 2013-14 to 19.1 percent in 2020-21. In many districts, increased state funding due to healthy revenue gains has been largely used for these new pension bills. By 2020-21, when the final increase takes effect, most school districts are likely to have compensation costs eating up 90 percent or more of their general operating budgets.

The second crisis is not an absolute certainty, just highly likely. That crisis is a recession that sends state revenue plunging. Because California is so reliant on the income taxes paid by the very wealthy, the Great Recession a decade ago prompted a 20 percent drop in revenue and a corresponding reduction in state funding for public education.

That is why in recent years that Gov. Brown worked so hard to get the Legislature to strongly increase state fiscal reserves. By summer 2019, the state could have $13.5 billion in hand, according to an analysis earlier this year. But given that Brown has warned that a recession could wipe out $55 billion in revenue over a three-year span, these “rainy day” funds won’t go that far in helping schools.

Against this backdrop, the next governor, state lawmakers and education officials face a difficult calculus next year: how tight a standard for lead in schools are they willing to set with such a gloomy budget picture.

In the last testing results made available by the state, 150 schools – or 4 percent of those surveyed – had one or more more water outlets with lead levels over 15 parts per billion. Just under 25 percent of schools had lead levels over 5 parts per billion – hinting at how costly it would be if the state went to a tougher standard.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Ways in Which a Trump Victory Could Benefit California

donald-trump-2On Jan. 20, when Donald Trump takes his hand off the Bible and picks up the phone, he could cause a near-seismic upheaval in California just by changing some federal rules and implementing new policies.

Let me break the news to you gently: it might work out well.

The federal government continuously writes stacks of regulations that cause consumers to pay more for everything than they otherwise would. But because of the length of time between the writing and the paying, it can be hard to recognize the cause and effect.

For example, your bill from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is higher because of federal regulations interpreted by California regulators to prohibit the use of ocean water for cooling power generation plants on the coast. We’re paying billions of dollars to convert three coastal generating plants, a project that began in 2011 and is scheduled to continue for decades. If the new administration modified those regulations, Los Angeles residents could save a small fortune.

If you’ve noticed that food is a lot more expensive, consider that because of federal regulations, the water supply was cut off to California’s breadbasket, the once-prosperous agricultural goldmine of the Central Valley.

Members of Congress from the area have introduced legislation over and over again to adjust federal law to override those regulations. Most recently, the Western Water and American Food Security Act was attached to the bill that funds the Interior Department. But President Obama has threatened a veto, arguing that the regulations are necessary to protect species like the Delta smelt.

The regulations could easily be changed if the new administration chooses to make abundant food production a policy priority over the protection of the smelt.

Other federal regulations have led to arguably impossible targets for further reducing fine particles, like dust and soot, in the air. To meet these goals, state regulators have repeatedly tightened the requirements for new diesel engines, raising the cost of trucking and the price of everything that’s moved by truck. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has even enforced California’s rules on out-of-state trucking firms when state regulators lacked jurisdiction.

Similarly, federal regulations have caused the South Coast Air Quality Management District to write up a new list of proposed tax increases to raise up to $14 billion. The bureaucrats need the money for policies and plans that are required in order to avoid federal sanctions for missing air-quality targets. But under a new administration, there’s an opportunity to take the bureaucracy off auto-pilot and look carefully at what we’re doing to ourselves. Some regulations may no longer be reasonable or necessary, and the cost may not be justified.

Federal rules that discourage the use of coal have made electricity more expensive, raising the cost of living for everyone. The next president’s policies could lower your utility bills.

Policy changes from the new administration will save taxpayers money in other ways, too.

A 2011 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office said California paid $1.1 billion in 2009 to incarcerate criminals who were in the country illegally. The cost to Los Angeles County that year was $139 million.

President-elect Trump was criticized by California’s legislative leaders for his plan to immediately deport up to 3 million criminals who are in the country illegally. Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon wrote in a joint letter, “We will lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our Constitution.”

But what is the argument for not deporting convicted criminals who are in the country illegally? How does that shred the social fabric or the Constitution?

Maybe California politicians should start working now on how they’re going to explain to voters that they rejected federal funds that could have been used for education, transportation and health care because they wanted to protect criminals who are in the United States without legal authorization.

It’s long past time for California’s leaders to give some thought to the damage caused by policies that have gone unquestioned because their cost didn’t become clear until years later.

From housing to energy to transportation to health care to law enforcement to education, federal policies and regulations have consequences that are sometimes both unintended and disastrous. A new administration is an opportunity to take a fresh look at everything.

It might just work out well, even for California.

And here’s the punchline: By 2018, the state’s Democratic politicians will be taking credit for it.

Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Southern California News Group. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

This piece was originally published by the L.A. Daily News

Report: EPA Regulations To Raise Power Costs 37 Percent By 2020

Electricity prices are already increasing at record levels and Environmental Protection Agency rules will only force power prices up even higher as the agency finalizes a slew of regulations aimed at the power sector.

A report by Energy Ventures Analysis found that the EPA underestimates how much its power plant regulatory regime will raise electricity and natural gas prices by imposing new regulations on power plants, most recently being the agency’s rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.

These new rules to tackle global warming, combined with other rules to reduce more traditional air pollutants, will dramatically increase Americans’ utility bills by 2020, according to EVA’s report which was sponsored by the coal company Peabody Energy.

“Annual power and gas costs for residential, commercial and industrial customers in America would be $284 billion higher ($173 billion in real terms) in 2020 compared to 2012—a 60% (37%) increase,” the EVA report found.

The EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from existing power plants aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA says its plan will result in “approximately 46 to 49 GW of additional coal-fired generation” being “removed from operation by 2020.”

On top of this the “decrease in coal-fired power will also cause natural gas prices to rise up to 11.5 percent as an additional 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is used to make up for the lack of coal power in 2020,” EPA said. “Average retail electricity prices are projected to increase in the contiguous U.S. by 5.9% to 6.5% in 2020.”

The Energy Information Administration estimates that 50 gigawatts of coal-fired power are slated to shutdown by 2020, mainly because of an EPA rule targeting mercury emissions. This means that the Clean Power Plan could nearly double the amount of coal-fired capacity being retired by 2020.

Retiring coal-fired generators and using more natural gas-fired power and green energy comes at a cost, however, as new energy infrastructure must be built to accommodate the shift and gas prices rise as demand increases.

“The cost of electricity and natural gas will be impacted in large part due to an almost 135% increase in the wholesale price of natural gas (100% in real dollars), from $2.82/mmbtu in 2012 to approximately $6.60/mmbtu ($5.63) in 2020,” EVa reports. “These increases are due to baseline market and policy impacts between 2012 and 2020 as well as significantly increased pressure on gas prices resulting from recent EPA regulations on the power sector and the proposed [Clean Power Plan].”

U.S. industry would be hit the hardest, seeing their electricity and gas costs soar 64 percent by 2020 over 2012 costs. EVA notes that skyrocketing “operational costs in the industrial sector are of particular concern for energy intensive industries in the U.S. such as aluminum, steel and chemicals manufacturing, which require low energy prices to compete.”

“Industrial power consumers would be expected to pass energy cost increases on to their customers, affecting the costs of goods purchased by American consumers over and above increased monthly utility bills,” EVA reports.

“The EPA’s collection of regulations will force American families, businesses and manufacturers to shoulder the burden it stands to create,” said Chad Kolton, spokesman for the Partnership for a Better Energy Future — which opposes the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

“Today’s report from EVA is consistent with what industry has been saying for months — the EPA’s regulatory agenda will do significant damage to the American economy,” Kolton said.

Environmental groups, however, have said the Clean Power Plan — and pretty much all major EPA rules in the last six years — are necessary to protecting public health and the environment. Activists have spent a large amount of energy, in particular, protecting the Clean Power Plan which they see as the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate agenda.

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently published a report saying the Clean Power Plan will actually save Americans money while fighting global warming. NRDC argues, in contrast to EVA, that EPA’s plan overestimates the compliance costs of cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

“It’s clear that EPA has ample room to significantly strengthen the Clean Power Plan, making deeper cuts to dangerous carbon pollution from power plants at a reasonable cost,” said Starla Yeh, the report’s co-author and NRDC policy analyst.

“It can do so relying more on energy efficiency and clean energy—such as wind and solar energy—which can help slash America’s biggest source of heat-trapping pollution.,” Yeh said.

NRDC’s report argues that EPA overestimated the cost of increasing energy efficiency in the power sector by double what current projections are and overestimated the cost of green energy use by 50 percent.

Taking these factors into account, NRDC argues the Clean Power Plan will save Americans between $6.4 billion and $9.4 billion from energy efficiency by 2030 — well above EPA projected savings of up to $8.8 billion by that year.

“In 2030, energy efficiency savings could total 140 terawatt-hours more than what EPA projected,”NRDC reports. “Renewable generation could be 171 terawatt-hours higher than EPA’s projections.  Collectively, that’s equivalent to the electricity used by 29 million homes in one year—roughly the population of the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas together.”

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.