Thursday, January 04, 2007

Excermental Gains

For some reason, I keep coming back to Los Angeles as being a source of environmental problems. In the past, I had limited this to consideration of LA's determination to continue growth at any cost and the inevitable thirst for water that this creates. LA has a long and dubious history of draining other regions dry in an effort to slake that thirst.

Now, rather than creating a problem with it's imports, Los Angeles is being challenged over it's exports, 26 times a day, 26 tons of sewage treatment plant sludge trucked to the Central Valley to go on fields to raise hay that is exported to Japan.

The title of this post is stolen from a Matt Jenkins article in High Country News. (subscription required). LA gets a purified water and the farmers of Kern County get ????. That is the problem. It is everyting that goes down the drain somewhere.

The problems are a regulatory mess. Once again you have the question of whether local jurisdictions (Kern County) can regulate what is imported to go on their land, or do less restrictive state and local regulations take precedent.

On Nov. 20, U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess ordered Kern County to lift its ban, saying it conflicts with the waste management act. He has forwarded the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to send it to the California Supreme Court.

Regardless of what happens in court, the situation’s not going away. A Kern County victory will probably just divert the sludge to farms elsewhere, such as Arizona, at an increased cost to taxpayers. After all, whether one county wants it or not, sludge happens.

The environmental implications involved in this legal discussion are everywhere. In 2006, the Democratic controlled California State Legislature was working on a bill that would have stopped local jurisdictions from attempting to control the use of GMO's in local agriculture. Earlier in 2006, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would have overridden state measure like California's Proposition 65 that enforced strict labeling laws on food products.

Greens need look no further to find an issue that meshes well with the ten key values. The Kern County voters solidly supported a ban on importing sludge by a margin of 85% - 15%. It was that ban which the Federal Judge overturned.

5 comments:

Patrick Meighan said...

So what, exactly, is the solution? Not a leading question, I'm just genuinely curious. L.A. county does have a polulation of 10M(ish), which is almost a third of the whole state. All those folks are gonna poo. So what do we do with it?

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Wes said...

Patrick, the wise-ass in me says that you could fill up Chavez Ravine. But then, that is not a solution either. In fact, there are no single perfect solutions for populations of this size.

Ecological problems deal with open, dissipative systems. As such, everything you do has implication for all that it touches. I would surmise that any "solution" to these problems would involve further processing of the sludge to remove additional contaminants. It would also involve finding some degree of local use for the waste product and avoiding the transportation costs. It definitely requires that this be considered an ecological problem rather than just a legal jurisdiction squabble.

Lisa said...

My friend Scott Miller (not a Green Party person, but a friend from my past LA Macintosh Group days) has several intensive blogs on what to do with it, and other stuff:

http://bioconversion.blogspot.com/

http://biooutput.blogspot.com/

http://biostock.blogspot.com/

Patrick Meighan said...

If the Greens are to organize around this issue, it'd be great if the solution, in addition to being ecologically sound, were also politically useful to the GP. "Stop exporting L.A.'s sludge!" isn't very helpful for GP organizing (except, maybe, for Greens in Kern County).

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Wes said...

Lisa, thank you for the links. I have not tried to make myself an expert on biomass issues, but those on the Eco-Action Committee (GPUS) who have said that the information was very accurate, if not complete... some sources, uses left out, e.g. butanol fermentation.