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Posts Tagged ‘regulation’

Home Is Where The Good Quotes Are

I heard two great lines at the recent No Place Like Home conference at the Disney Grand Californian.

The first was from British philosopher Samuel Johnson: “The end of all striving is to be happy at home.” Amen. Laer Pearce & Associates has been involved in the regulatory approvals of 400,000 homes, and we hope they are bring much happiness to their owners.

Lakewood as it came to market

The second came from the dinner keynote speaker, Kevin Starr, former California State Historian and author of a fantastic multi-volume  history of our state. He asked, “Will there be there new Lakewoods in California’s future, or only new Carmels?” Lakewood, of course, is the massive suburban housing tract that meant a new beginning for thousands of post-World War II Angelenos.

Starr’s question is sad, indeed. California is supposed to be the place you go to realize your dreams, but the ever-increasing price of admission is turning too many away.  One study of the added costs regulations impose on housing found that out of 250 cities studied, the 20 with the highest regulatory burden are all in California.

That’s ridiculous, and it’s what we at Laer Pearce & Associates have dedicated our careers to fighting. California has a chronic supply/demand disparity caused only in part by a large population and an appealing climate and mystique.  More, it’s regulations. litigation and and legislative and judicial foolishness that make California a place that has priced out the up-and-comers. Home costs in California have risen so much, and regulations have become so snobbish and excluding that it is hard indeed to imagine a new Lakewood.

That’s too bad and it doesn’t bode well for our state’s future. Neither does the fact that thanks to the Coastal Commission, it’s just as hard to imagine a new Carmel.

Crazifornia: Three Crappy Regulatory Battles

Here’s Laer’s latest column on California’s crazy regulatory environment, which is cross-posted at CalWatchdog.

For a lot of very good reasons, California’s environmental regulators have earned a reputation for being, well, crappy to the rest of us. Three ongoing California regulatory battles over poop reinforce their already well-deserved reputation.

The first battle is between the California Coastal Commission and the city of Morro Bay over the city’s proposed new wastewater treatment plant. The city, called by some the Gibraltar of the Pacific because the massive Morro Rock dominates its harbor, made the terrible mistake of wanting to do the right thing. It, along with the Cayucos Community Services District, wants to replace an aging wastewater treatment plant with a new facility that will clean wastewater to higher levels and produce recycled water.

Less pollution going into the ocean and less fresh water used to water yards seem like good ideas … except to the California Coastal Commission. The Commission’s executive director, Charles Lester, has decided coastal towns should move their unsightly infrastructure away from the coast, to inland locations. There’s one little problem with this idea: It defies gravity.

Sewage treatment plants are located at the low point of local geography – the coast in California – because it’s much cheaper to let the sewage flow by gravity to the plant than it is to pump it uphill to an inland plant. In Morro Bay, the Commission’s staff, on its own, found a site about one mile from the coast it decreed to be the superior location for wastewater treatment. It is recommending the Commission force the city to build the plant there.

If the eco-bureaucrats prevail, they will turn the three-year project into a ten-year one and raise its cost from $60 million to $90 million. They will also saddle Morro Bay’s 10,000 residents with higher bills, since it takes a lot of money – and burns a lot of carbon fuel – to pump sewage uphill. This fact seems to be lost on the Commission’s staff, which claims it wants to move infrastructure off the coast not for aesthetic reasons, but because of sea level rise caused by global warming … which in turn is caused, we’re told, by burning a lot of carbon fuel.

The matter was on the Commission’s October agenda, but staff pulled it when the city pointed out major inaccuracies and flawed assumptions in the staff’s report.

Cormorant Poop

Then there’s the battle over cormorant, pelican and sea gull poop that’s piling up on the rocks in the tony San Diego coastal enclave of La Jolla.  Scenic, rocky La Jolla Cove has become an open cesspool, resident Ed Witt told the Union Tribune, adding, “You couldn’t operate a zoo like this.” The problem started when much of La Jolla’s rocky shore was put off limits to humans, encouraging birds to flock to the rocks, relieving themselves with impressive regularity.

So why not just wash off the poop? That would be fine, regulators at the Coastal Commission and San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board say, but only if the city submits a plan describing every detail of how they’ll do it – what methods and materials they’ll use, how they’ll protect the ocean and how they’ll ensure pooping pelicans and cruddy cormorants aren’t bothered.

If the clean-up plan poses any perceived threat to birds or marine life, then the California Department of Fish & Game, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service stand poised to join the battle.

It’s not even possible to create a timeline for reaching a solution to this monumental problem, since the Regional Water Quality Control Board has deemed it a low priority. Residents and business owners, who fear the smell will drive away tourists, disagree.

Home Invasion

San Diego’s Regional Water Quality Control Board – which I fought unsuccessfully when it decreed that rainwater becomes toxic the moment it hits the ground – is the cause of the third poop battle as well.

Because it succeeded in defining fallen rain as toxic, the Board now exerts its authority beyond the prior limits of its purview, the gutter, and reaches into people’s yards. This change is reflected in proposed new regulations that  would subject homeowners to six years in prison and fines of $100,000 a day if they repeatedly let dog poop sit un-picked up in their own backyards.  Similar punishments would be meted out to those who repeatedly allow their sprinklers to hit the pavement and those who wash their car in their driveway.

The Board’s goal is to cut the amount of bacteria in runoff that reaches the ocean. That reminded me of a study conducted some years ago – in Morro Bay, interestingly enough. Scientists collected samples of ocean water and isolated the DNA from fecal coliform found in it to trace its source. They found it to be overwhelmingly not pet or human in origin, but the DNA of coyotes, rabbits, deer, seals, sea birds and fish.

What will California’s regulators come up with next? Diapers for dolphins?

 

The Election – Gee-Whizzer Edition

Say “gee-whizzer,” and most old-line journalists and PR folks will know what you’re talking about. It’s a way of presenting facts, particularly numbers, in a way that gets readers’ attention – so much so they say “Gee Whiz!” – and that helps them to retain the information.

Today it would probably be called  “something meme-able” or “something viral-able.” We prefer gee-whizzer.

ENS Resources, a DC lobbying firm, issued a 2012 election results update this morning with so many gee-whizzers we wonder when their staff slept. Here’s the set-up:  At all levels of government, candidates and SuperPACs spent $6 billion on the November election, and for just the presidential race, they spent $2 billion.  How much is $2 billion? Ah, that’s a question that invites gee-whizzers, and according to ENS, it’s enough to buy:

  • Approximately 3.5 million shares of Apple stock
  • 40 private islands
  • Six Airbus A380 jets
  • An Ohio Class submarine (Definitely what we’d buy!)
  • The college debt of 153,846 students graduating from public universities
  • Or, if given to UNICEF, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and equipment, nutritional supplements, mosquito nets, water and sanitation tools and educational supplies for billions of people in impoverished nations.

As for the election itself, it was anything but a gee-whizzer for California businesses. At this writing, with many absentee ballots still to be counted, it appears the Democrats will hold super-majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. That means tax increases can be passed over Republican objections, and businesses are a popular target of California tax increases.

Nationally, Democrats will have trouble finding a mandate, but in California they’ll have no such trouble. They picked up seats and they largely got their way with ballot propositions. That means no signals were sent by the electorate to cut back on anti-business policies and regulations.

For more on California’s sad state, read Crazifornia, by our founder and president, Laer Pearce. Called “the most insightful book on California’s perilous condition – ever,” it provides insights on how California got the way it is, how bad exactly it’s become, and what the prospects are for redirecting the state.

Crazifornia is an Amazon #1 best-seller (21st Century history) and is receiving mostly 5-star (highest rating) reviews on Amazon.

You can purchase a copy on Amazon or read about more about the book at Crazifornia.com.

 

Crazifornia: Regulating the rockets’ red glare

The following article by Laer appears on today’s Daily Caller website:

It should come as no surprise that the leftist legislators and authoritarian bureaucrats who run California are vehemently opposed to fireworks shows. After all, the shows are always fun and usually patriotic.

And against them they are. The California Coastal Commission has led the charge with a multi-year assault on the Sea World theme park in San Diego, which blasts fireworks over Mission Bay every night. That effort shipwrecked on the rocks of Sea World’s considerable political clout and even more considerable legal budget, so the Commission looked for a more vulnerable, less wealthy target.

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Water Weekly 3: Truncated – The Weekly Two

What were the three biggest California water stories of the past seven days?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here every week, or you can follow LPAWater on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Weekly 3 via email here.  This week:

“Results-Based Science” Update

We’ve written before about Judge Wanger’s shellacking of two federal scientists who he thought were more interested in achieving pre-determined results than pursuing good science.  The issue is not going away, as Republicans seeking to dial back federal regulation have pounced on the case as an emerging cause célèbre, and the feds are standing by their science … and scientists. Wow! Could this become an HBO miniseries?

“100% behind them” – read about it here

“Investigate ‘em!” – read about it here

BTW, a Supreme Court appeal was filed on Delta smelt

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Wholesale Species Listings Wholly Rotten

We never thought we’d write one of those sophomoric “What do X and Y have in common” leads, but never say never. Here we go:

Nevares Spring naucorid bug

What do the Amargosa tryonia, American wolverine, ashy storm petrel, Big Bar hesperian, black-footed albatross, Brand’s phacelia, California golden trout, canary duskysnail, Casey’s June beetle, cinnamon juga, disjunct pebblesnail, flat-top pebblesnail, globular pebblesnail, goose creek milk-vetch, knobby rams-horn, Lost Creek pebblesnail, Mardon skipper butterfly, Mohave ground squirrel, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, Mono Basin sage grouse, Nevares Spring naucorid bug, nugget pebblesnail, Orcutt’s hazardia, Oregon spotted frog, Pacific fisher, potem pebblesnail, Ramshaw Meadow sand-verbena, Red Mountain buckwheat, Red Mountain stonecrop, San Bernardino flying squirrel, San Fernando Valley spineflower, Shasta chaparral, Shasta hesperian, Shasta sideband, Shasta Springs pebblesnail, Sierra Nevada mountain yellow-legged frog, Siskiyou mariposa lily, Siskiyou sideband, Soldier Meadows cinquefoil, Sprague’s pipit, Tahoe yellow cress, Tehachapi slender salamander, Tehamana chaparral, umbilicate pebblesnail, Vandenberg monkeyflower, Webber’s ivesia, western fanshell, western gull-billed tern, western yellow-billed cuckoo, Wintu sideband, Xantus’s murrelet and Yosemite toad have in common?

Answer: They’re all from California – and they were all just pushed forward towards endangered species listings following smoke-filled-room negotiations between America’s premier environmental litigation mill, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (We’ll leave you to imagine what kind of smoke filled that room … maybe it was Vandenberg monkeyflower smoke … maybe not.)

We are familiar with the Red Mountain buckwheat, San Fernando Valley spineflower and the Tehachapi slender salamander through our regulatory communications work. We are also familiar with the Endangered Species Act and how it’s supposed to work. This isn’t it.

The species are among 757 species pushed forward towards listings as a result of an “historic” settlement of one of the Center’s nearly countless lawsuits.  (Why do the big environmental organizations always say everything they do is historic? Are they seeking eternal purpose?) They call it historic; we call it mind-numbing and a travesty.

The Endangered Species Act has a process to be followed for petitioning for a species to be listed, and for the review of those petitions. The members of Congress who approved the Act never imagined such wholesale actions as this, brought about by legal strong-arming instead of scientific analysis.

The Service is supposed to make the decision whether or not to move a species forward towards the listing process based on scientific findings presented in the listing petition, not litigation. Affected parties are supposed to weigh in on the petitions as interested parties – but were they in the smoke-filled rooms? No.

The CBD has become very adept at forcing these sorts of actions, which remind us of the mass weddings the Rev. Moon puts on – sure the numbers are impressive, but how deep is the knowledge all those brides and grooms really have of each other? How deep was the knowledge the Service’s negotiators had of the 757 listing petitions before them? How could they be at all familiar with the immediacy of the threat to 26 birds, 31 mammals, 67 fish, 22 reptiles, 33 amphibians, 197 plants and 381 of those cute and cuddly invertebrates spread across all 50 states?

Clearly, the listing petitions didn’t get the attention they deserved, and the public didn’t get the process it is entitled to under our Constitution.

Do we think the Endangered Species Act to ever be implemented through a rational, science-based, fair process? No. We’ve been called upon because of our regulatory communications and public affairs expertise to promote several ESA reform efforts over the years and we know what it’s like to bang our heads repeatedly into a Sacred Cow.  Still, it would be nice if the most egregious excesses in its implementation, like today’s example, would go extinct.

Excuse Me, Is Your Mission Creeping?

Federal wetland regulators suffered a bad decade in the 2000s with the Rapanos and SWANCC decisions temporarily halting EPA and Corps of Engineers mission creep into the regulation of land no one but a regulator could consider to be “Waters of the US” or wetlands.

But like those nasty spirits in Poltergeist, they’re baaa-aack.

EPA released today a draft guidance it hopes will clarify which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act in light of these decisions and which are not.  To our reading, it seems the agency is a bit forgetful of the power the Judicial Branch has over the Executive Branch. For example, borrowing from a summary provided by the Association of California Water Agencies, the guidance would deem the following as protected waters:

  • Traditional navigable waters [check]
  • Interstate waters [check]
  • Wetlands adjacent to either traditional navigable waters or interstate waters [watch out!]
  • Non-navigable tributaries to traditional navigable waters that are relatively permanent, meaning they contain water at least seasonally [watch out!]
  • Wetlands that directly abut relatively permanent waters [watch out!]

How long is a season? When do waters become relatively impermanent? How adjacent is adjacent? For an administration that doesn’t like loopholes when they apply to corporations, these seem like loopholes of a drive-a-truck-through-it scale.

There’s another bunch of possibilities too, like if a “significant nexus” [how significant?] is found, then “wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional tributaries to traditional navigable waters” would be under federal jurisdiction, as well as that good ol’ regulatory Pandora’s box, “other waters.”

We were glad to see swimming pools specifically excluded.  More significantly, “erosional features (rills and gullies) … that are not tributaries or wetlands” are excluded. This is significant in the arid West, where these features, no matter how ephemeral, have been subject to regulation as if they were little Mississippi Rivers and Okefenokee Swamps.

On the plus side, the Obama administration has just ensured unemployment insurance claims from attorneys with Clean Water Act expertise will dry up like a Utah rill in August.

The guidance is now undergoing a 60-day comment period.

PR Meltdown Update: Progress, but More Evidence of Doom

“I still have no idea what the numbers they are giving about radiation levels mean. It’s all so confusing. And I wonder if they aren’t playing down the dangers to keep us from panicking. I don’t know who to trust,” said [Tsugumi] Hasegawa, crammed with 1,400 people into a gymnasium on the outskirts of the city of Fukushima, 80 miles (50 miles) away from the plant.

Click on image to see Futuba to the northeast of the Fukushima plant, which is marked with an "A."

AP reported that quote this morning, evidencing just how horrible the PR crisis meltdown in the Japan nuclear crisis is. Before the quake, tsunami and radiation evacuation, Hasegawa lived in the town of Futuba, described by AP as “in the shadow of the nuclear plant,” yet the 29-year-0ld mother has not been provided – or does not remember – the information she needs to process the news she is receiving.

Three entities are at fault for this. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) appears to have not undertaken the community outreach and education it should have, given its responsibility as a corporate citizen to the people near its many nuclear plants.  The second is the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which either didn’t require community education or didn’t enforce the regulations. The third is the media, which apparently is not putting sufficient perspective and explanation into their reports.

In many cases, Hasegawa herself may have been the cause of the communication breakdown.  She may have been the target of meaningful communications, but like so many do, failed to tune in.  This is highly unlikely because Japanese schools, community structures and emergency drill techniques are all top-notch, and further, the quote indicates this has been an institutional failure, not an individual one. It is from Kazuma Yokota, a government nuclear safety official, who was commenting on the failure to quickly respond to the emergency by distributing potassium iodine, which protects from radioactive iodine, to the surrounding communities:

“We should have made this decision and announced it sooner. It is true that we had not foreseen a disaster of these proportions. We had not practiced or trained for something this bad. We must admit that we were not fully prepared.”

And why not? The standard excuse is that no one conceived of a situation this awful, but after Chernobyl, nuclear plant operators should have planned for a serious meltdown and radiation release scenario, whether they thought it would happen at their plant or not.  Has your  neighborhood nuclear reactor operator performed any better?

The AP article also has two other quotes worth noting as we evaluate the crisis communications program the Japanese are struggling, largely unsuccessfully, to implement.  The first is from Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama:

“We consider that now we have come to a situation where we are very close to getting the situation under control.”

The second is from another government official, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano:

“Even if certain things go smoothly, there would be twists and turns.  At the moment, we are not so optimistic that there will be a breakthrough.”

At this point in the crisis, systems should be in place to ensure that a deputy secretary and a chief secretary of the same government are on the same page, but they’re not.  Edano, who said the second quote, may not be as reassuring, but at this point, being believable is much more important than being reassuring, so his message will be more effective than Fukuyama’s.

PR Meltdown: Bad Reputations Hamper Nuke Response

My experience in Japan – 12 years of it – colors my reaction to the triple tragedy that is unfolding in the country I love and called home for so long.  The earthquake itself was much stronger than any I felt while there, and I went through ones strong enough to empty theaters and drop plaster from ceilings.  I know the area most impacted and have met its industrious and warm people.  It’s disconcerting to think that I once stayed in a pretty family inn in a seaside fishing village that probably now has been washed out to sea.

But it is the third crisis, the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor, that has the most potential for tragedy – and also represents by far the largest public relations melt down of all Japan has gone through.  (Note: I use “Dai-Ichi” instead of “daiichi” throughout because it means “No. 1,” and is two words.)

The Japan I knew when growing up was one where the government and the people were in close harmony, and business was mostly trusted.  Certainly, there were opposition parties and big-time political battles and scandals, but the 38-year successful run of the Liberal Democratic Party (which is conservative, despite its name), from 1955 through 1993, indicates a basic trust between the people and government. As for business, there were scandals including particularly damaging environmental ones, but all in all, the Japanese liked the economic miracle brought on by a business community that was in sync and supported by government.

How badly that’s broken down is evident in the wake of Fukushima.

Neither Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which owns the plant, or the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which regulates it, has been able to win the trust of the people or the media following the accident.  There are lessons in what they’re going through that public relations professionals and government agencies can learn from.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win

Most obviously, Fukushima Dai-Ichi reminds us there are some crises that simply are not going to be handled well.  These are the cases where spokespeople are powerless to provide timely and accurate updates because no one has it.  In this case, no one really knows what’s going on in the plant because of the complex chemistry of nuclear reactions gone awry, just as no one knows what’s going to happen next because there are so many variables in play, from the success or failure of current initiatives to the way the wind will blow.

Tepco execs perform the mandatory apology bow

The cardinal rule of crisis communications is to not say anything until  you’re sure you have accurate information in-hand.  How can any public information officer hope to do this with any level of frequency and consistency in a situation like a nuclear plant meltdown as challenging as this one?  So, as far as the spokespeople go, we should all cut them some slack and hope their professional lives get better soon.

Radioactive Reputations

But even if they could get accurate information in a timely manner, it’s likely the spokespeople for this disaster would still be having a terrible time gaining credibility because both Tepco and NISA went into the crisis with their reputations seriously compromised. The performance of other Japanese nuclear plant operators also added to their problems.  Here’s a run-down of recent scandals:

  • In 2007, an earthquake caused heavy damage to Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.  The company said there had been no release of radiation, but later admitted there was a release, including radioactive water spilling into the Sea of Japan.
  • Tepco has ordered in 2006 to review all its safety records after it was revealed that the company  had been falsifying records of the temperature of plant coolants since at least 1985.
  • In 2002, a number of senior Tepco executive resigned in disgrace after NISA disclosed (far too late in many people’s estimation) that the company had covered up at least 29 cases of cracks and other damage to reactors.  Two Fukushima reactors were included in the scandal.  In 2003, the implications of this case impacted everyone on Japan’s power grid as Tepco was forced to shut down all of its reactors for safety inspections.
  • In 1999, Japan Atomic Power was criticized when it took 14 hours to shut down the Tsurugura plant in northern Japan after a cooling water leak.  Later it was learned the level of radiation in this accident was several times higher than originally announced.
  • In 1995, there were allegations of cover-up, falsification of reports, and editing of videotapes following a fire at the Monju reactor in central Japan. [Source for bullets here and here.]

Incidents like these weaken not only the credibility of Japan’s nuclear plant operators, but also the regulators at NISA who are supposed to be keeping a watchful eye over the industry.  Because of them, Japan’s nuclear industry and its regulators are going to suffer a long-term, highly damaging meltdown of the public’s trust in them.  The result is likely to be very painful and perhaps even fatal for nuclear power in Japan.  If there’s a way to buy stock in Chinese coal mining, you might want to consider doing so now because Japan may be looking for an alternative to nuclear power soon.

Tired But True

It’s a lesson that’s been around for as long as the spoken word:  There is a heavy cost associated with trying to cover things up.  It has never been more true than now – after all, it took me less than a minute to find the documentation cited above, so how does anyone think they can successfully pull the wool over the public’s eyes?  Even American presidents, the most powerful and protected people on the planet, have learned this hard lesson over and over again, from Grant with the Teapot Dome scandal to Clinton with the blue dress.

For any controversial industry (and really, what industry isn’t controversial at some level?), the decision to cover up is particularly foolish. The Japanese nuclear plant operators should have realized they would not succeed, and should have understood that one day – today – the consequences of their deceit would be very bad indeed. The regulators, if not complicit in the cover-up, should have realized that their oversight systems weren’t working and should have improved them.

Their only option now is the truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole truth, 24/7, even if it means career suicide.  They need to do something comparable to what British Petroleum did when it live-streamed the video images of crude gushing from the broken pipe at Deep Horizon.  The public demands and deserves real-time radiation readings and status reports.  Longer term, the companies need to open all the other plants to similar levels of scrutiny and act quickly, decisively and publicly if there’s any doubt that something might be amiss.

An industry with a good reputation could have weathered this crisis because the people and the press would have a great deal of forgiveness, given the unprecedented severity of the earthquake and tsunami.  Tepco won’t get any forgiveness, however, because it hasn’t t earned it – and your company or organization won’t either if you’re playing Tepco’s game.

The Land Big Three: Nothing but the truth so help me CARB

What were the three biggest late-breaking California water stories?  Well, the news-heads and policy wonks here at Laer Pearce & Associates have compiled them for you here.  You’ll find the Big Three here, or you can follow LPALand on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news and analysis. You can also sign up to receive the Big 3 via email here.  This edition:

CARB Sets a Standard It Can’t Meet

The California Air Resources Board apparently didn’t read the First Amendment before it decided to propose a regulation prohibiting false statements made to its board or staff.  Now we don’t condone lying, but if enacted, the new policy would have CARB deciding what’s true and what’s not.  Scofflaws could face various “penalties” to be named later…by CARB.  And as we’ve seen with CARB’s recent use of phony data and resumes to push its agenda, any dissenting opinion may be fair game for this new carbon-clouded truth Gestapo.

CARB’s public notice on the proposed regulation

Read Laer’s Cal Watchdog op-ed on the policy

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