The Compost: ūüźģ Have your steak and save the planet, too?

Welcome to The Compost, a weekly newsletter on key environmental news impacting Southern California. Subscribe now to get it in your inbox! In today’s edition…


Two weeks ago, I ended this newsletter with a tip that said Composters could help California conserve water by eating less beef. That’s because 56% of water in the Colorado River basin is used to grow crops just to feed livestock.

This week, I talked with ‚ÄúOrange County‚Äôs last cowboy‚ÄĚ about his mission to prove that raising cattle differently can help them¬†become part of the solution rather than just part of the problem.

It was one of three controversial tools to address climate change being discussed at the local or state level that I wrote about over the past week.  Here’s a rundown of each proposal.

Cows for the climate

  • How it works: Instead of¬†raising factory-farmed¬†cattle that require¬†lots of resources, cows are made to strategically graze on natural vegetation, with limited time in each area.
  • Supporters say: The system replicates the benefits that herds of¬†hoofed animals, such as buffalo and elk, once provided for soil and habitats. The¬†animals eat non-native plants, which tend to sprout first and increase wildfire danger. That clears the way for later-blooming native grasses and other vegetation to pop through as the animals move on. Meanwhile, the heavy animals churn the soil with their hooves, which prevents erosion. And they fertilize the soil with their urine and dung, which encourages healthy microbes to grow more plants and to sink more carbon.
  • Opponents say: Grass-fed cows still emit lots of planet-warming methane. Also, a number of studies have shown these sorts of holistic grazing programs aren‚Äôt particularly effective. So many environmental groups see such programs¬†as little more than the industry‚Äôs attempt¬†at self preservation, as calls to reduce beef consumption for the sake of the planet increase.
  • Where the idea¬†stands: Two¬†pilot grazing projects are underway in eastern Orange County now. The teams behind the projects are¬†sharing positive results, with goals to expand their¬†efforts and inspire similar projects in other areas.

Streamline CEQA

  • How it works:¬†Gov. Gavin Newsom is pitching a plan to streamline the 53-year-old California Environmental Quality Act. The law requires¬†decision-makers to evaluate the environmental impact of most proposed projects in the state,¬†disclose any significant potential effects to the public¬†and take steps to mitigate them as much as is feasible.
  • Supporters say: Some business groups and local governments say CEQA as it stands creates too many barriers for projects such as housing and infrastructure¬†to advance. Newsom‚Äôs plan would limit how long courts could¬†spend debating some projects, lessen required paperwork and carve out more exemptions to speed up clean energy projects.
  • Opponents say: Environmental groups say the law has blocked or forced changes for hundreds of projects that would have worsened air, water and soil pollution and caused other¬†problems that disproportionately affect the state‚Äôs most vulnerable residents. They argue that some of Newsom‚Äôs proposals would go too far in weakening the important law. And they‚Äôre particularly opposed to making the changes through the fast-tracked budget process, as is being considered now,¬†with more¬†opportunity for public input and debate¬†in the traditional legislative process.
  • Where the idea¬†stands:¬†Lawmakers have until June 15 to approve the budget and related trailer bills, for Newsom to sign by June 30. It will take effect July 1.

Divest from fossil fuels

  • How it works: Climate activists¬†want individuals, agencies and companies to stop¬†all investments in oil and gas companies, from pension funds to their choice in banks. Now¬†Senate Bill 252, which¬†would force California‚Äôs two largest public pension funds to stop investing in major fossil fuel companies, is making its way through the legislature, while tools to help individuals divest grow.
  • Supporters say: The goal is to limit the money that fossil fuel companies¬†have¬†to build new projects or push for favorable legislation. Supporters cite past divestment movements, including efforts targeting apartheid South Africa and tobacco companies. And along with¬†empowering¬†people to ensure their money isn‚Äôt being used to worsen climate change, they cite research that suggests returns will be higher in the long run without fossil fuel investments.
  • Opponents say: Solid research suggests past divestment movements have done little to impact the bottom line of targeted sectors. Some opponents also worry that divestment could increase risk for investors. Others say ‚Äúpolitics‚ÄĚ shouldn‚Äôt be considered at all when making investment decisions.
  • Where the idea¬†stands: After passing the Senate, SB 252¬†is likely headed to the¬†Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Committee, where¬†chair Tina McKinnor of Inglewood will decide whether¬†it can advance for a full¬†Assembly vote.

‚ÄĒ By¬†Brooke Staggs, environment reporter


⚡ ENERGIZE

Newsom has a plan: As California becomes increasingly reliant on clean energy, there’s concern about reliability during times, for example, when solar power isn’t available. So Gov. Gavin Newsom is pitching a plan for the state to buy massive amounts of offshore wind and geothermal energy to help keep the lights on. The Associated Press’ Adam Beam looked at how it would work and where the plan goes from here. …READ MORE…


ūüöܬ†TRANSPORT

Not so fast: Last week we told you that Metrolink and Pacific Surfliners service between south Orange County and San Diego had resumed, after crews finished work to clear tracks and stabilize a crumbling hillside. But our Erika Ritchie reports that good news was short lived, as new landslides under the Casa Romantica estate shut trains down again. …READ MORE…

Ferry woes: Owners of the century-old Balboa Island Ferry say they’re struggling to find solutions that let them comply with new state mandates to replace or modify older diesel engines that power the vessels. Erika Ritchie is back with a look at what options are on the table and a community effort to protect the ferry. …READ MORE…

Making an impact: We know there are more electric vehicles on California roads than ever before. So Pauline Bartolone with KQED asked a simple question: Is that change making a dent in California’s air pollution? Here’s what she found. …READ MORE…

VW Bus goes electric: Love it or hate it, the all-electric version of the classic VW bus is here. Reporter Laylan Connelly and photojournalist Paul Bersebach were at the recent North American launch of the ID.Buzz in Huntington Beach, with details and photos to prove it. ...READ MORE…

Transit funds needed: David Roberts did a deep dive on his Volts podcast about the ‚Äúfiscal cliff‚ÄĚ California‚Äôs transit system faces. With ridership down and no new money so far allocated in the state budget, some systems could be forced to stop running trains on weekends or make other cuts.¬†‚ĶLISTEN‚Ķ

Not so neutral?: I‚Äôve written a¬†few stories¬†about attempts to¬†make air travel¬†more climate friendly, including the controversy over¬†carbon offsets. Now Delta Airlines just got hit with a class action lawsuit from a Glendale resident over billing itself as the ‚Äúfirst carbon-neutral airline.‚ÄĚ The Associated Press reports that the suit stems from Delta claiming to balance¬†its emissions by¬†buying¬†carbon credits, which the suit states don‚Äôt¬†guarantee a real reduction in¬†emissions.¬†‚ĶREAD MORE‚Ķ


ūüõ°¬†PROTECT

Insurance not assured: After news that State Farm would no longer offer new home insurance policies in California due in part to heightened wildfire risk, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher and Grace Gedye looked at the long-building trend and what the state can and can’t do about the problem. …READ MORE…

  • Dig deeper: One problem, this¬†Bloomberg story reports, is that California doesn‚Äôt let¬†insurers use sophisticated computer models to consider the rapidly growing wildfire risks from climate change.

Hyperion update: The good news: A new flaring system at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant should get the facility closer to fixing issues that led to a catastrophic sewage spill there two years ago. The bad news, our Tyler Shaun Evains reports: It’ll take nearly a decade to install and cost at least $100 million. …READ MORE…


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ūüéȬ†CELEBRATE

Wolverine sightings: A wolverine has been spotted several times in the Eastern Sierra Mountains, CNN reports, marking just the second time in a century that the threatened creatures that resemble small bears have been seen in California. …READ MORE…

New institute coming: UC Irvine will develop a new Engineering+Environment Institute, along with two others focused on health and society, thanks to a new $50 million gift from philanthropists Susan and Henry Samueli. The environmental institute will specifically focus on how climate change is impacting our coastlines, Yusra Farzan reports. …READ MORE…

SoCal parks recognized: Irvine recently was ranked No. 4 in the nation for its green spaces by the national nonprofit Trust for Public Land, our Yusra Farzan reports. That’s up four spots from last year’s ranking. Other Southern California cities that made the list include Santa Clarita, Long Beach, Anaheim, Riverside, Los Angeles and Santa Ana. …READ MORE…

Fewer sewage spills: Zero would be best, but less news is good news when it comes to sewage spills. And a new report shows Orange County’s beaches, bays and harbors closed fewer times last year than in the past three decades due to sewage spills. Our Laylan Connelly reports there were 85 such spills in 2022, compared with an average of 184 spills annually over the past 30 years. …READ MORE…


[TAG4]
Descanso Gardens is celebrating the natural world this summer with a trio of new exhibitions that will include animal photos, paintings, sculptures and other artwork. (Photo courtesy Descanso Gardens)

ūüóļ¬†EXPLORE

Head to the Gardens: A trio of new exhibits at¬†Descanso Gardens, in La Ca√Īada Flintridge, offers guests an up-close-and-personal look at animals in their natural habitats through a series of photographs, paintings and sculptures. Our Richard Guzman has¬†the details on what you‚Äôll see, when to go, cost and more.¬†‚ĶREAD MORE‚Ķ


ūü홬†PITCH IN

Watch a movie:¬†For this week‚Äôs tip on how Southern Californians can help the environment‚Ķ¬†Want to do some good without leaving your couch? Our Laylan Connelly has the details on a¬†newly released short film called¬†‚ÄúRunning Out of Time: The Race to Save San Clemente‚Äôs Beaches,‚ÄĚ which puts a spotlight on the coastal town‚Äôs disappearing sand. You can stream it and get resources to help with the cause on¬†BringBackOurBeaches.com.


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