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The Conoco Phillips refinery in Rodeo, Calif. (Getty Images)

A free-market auction has established a price for pollution in California: for each metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted, businesses, utilities and industries that bought allowances last week will pay just $10.09.

The results of the first auction, announced on Monday, came as both a relief and a bit of a disappointment, although state officials put the best face of it. In a statement, Mary D. Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said, the auction was “a success and an important milestone for California as a leader in the global clean-tech market.” She added, “By putting a price on carbon, we can break our unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels.”

Among traders and regulators, there was relief that all of the 23.1 million allowances covering 2013 emissions that were up for auction were sold. The number of bids exceeded the total allowances by about 3 to 1. Polluters do not have to submit the allowances to cover their emissions until November 2014.

“Given the lack of short-term requirements to purchase anything, I would say market participants that we spoke to were surprised that the full volume cleared and that it was three times oversubscribed,” said Lenny Hochschild, the managing director of global carbon markets for the advisory and brokerage firm Evolution Markets.

And Thad Huetteman, the president of Power and Energy Analytic Resources, said: “It closed close to the minimum, but clearly there was demand for the allowances. Since we defeated that expectation — that the market would be undersubscribed — that caused a sigh of relief.”

But some analysts had expected a higher final price — at least between $11 and $12, not a bare nine cents above the $10 floor.

Mr. Hochschild suggested that the outstanding legal challenges to the cap and trade program, one of which was filed by the Chamber of Commerce on the eve of the Nov. 14 auction, made investors skittish about the program’s long-term viability and thus depressed the price.

While proponents of the new market feel that it will become more robust once financial firms actively take part, the overwhelming majority — 97 percent — of the allowances sold in California’s first auction went to what the air regulators refer to as “compliance entities” — the companies that must account for their greenhouse gas emissions.

Most of the nearly $300 million in auction proceeds is likely go back to investor-owned utilities in the state like Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric Company, to be directed back to their customers. On Friday, the California Public Utilities Commission announced a proposed division of these spoils: 85 percent to households, which would receive a “climate dividend” of $30 on their bills twice a year; 10 percent to small businesses; and 5 percent to help industries whose out-of-state competitors do not have to pay for the pollution they generate.

On the other side of the country, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a coalition of Northeastern states that has imposed a cap and trade system on the electric utility sector, has so far had 17 auctions of emissions permits. The administrator for that program recently told Point Carbon that the system has lowered electricity bills overall in the Northeast by $1.3 billion since 2009.

In the first eight RGGI (pronounced reggie) auctions, the subscription of current permits sold out. But that has only happened once more in the ensuing nine auctions held since the fall of 2010. The clearing price for an allowance after the most recent auction was $1.93.


All 23.1 million allowances in California’s first cap and trade auction found buyers. (California Air Resources Board)

Author: Felicity Barringer
Source: The New York Times
Original: http://goo.gl/cx9sk


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In this Nov. 14, 2012 photo, Mexican immigrant Maria Lucero stands in front of the home she rented which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy in the Midland Beach section of Staten Island, New York. After the storm, Lucero and her family moved in with friends, but Lucero says it is a temporary situation and will feel more at peace when they have their own home again. Superstorm Sandy has plunged many immigrants living illegally in the United States into darkness, and even deeper into the shadows. Tho

NEW YORK — Superstorm Sandy plunged some immigrants living illegally in the U.S. into darkness and even deeper into the shadows.

Some of those who need help to get temporary housing and food are afraid to come forward because they risk deportation. And many have returned to damaged, powerless, moldy homes because they have no other place to stay.

“My son has asthma and now he is worse. The house has this smell of humidity and sea water,” Mexican immigrant Miguel Alarcon Morales said while holding his 2-year-old son, Josias. “It is not safe to live there. I am starting to feel sick, too.”

Advocates are stepping up their efforts to get help to immigrants in hard-hit areas, in some cases going to door to door.

“If you are here illegally and you are at your home and see the National Guard and people in military uniform, going up and down, sure, you are going to be afraid,” said Gonzalo Mercado, executive director of El Centro del Inmigrante, a nonprofit that helps day laborers and their families in Staten Island.

“To not be informed means to be afraid. That is why we are here, to inform immigrants of resources available to them,” Mercado added.

The New York City area is home to more than 2.3 million Hispanics, according to census numbers, and some places hardest hit by the storm are known as landing spots for Mexican immigrants. Nonprofits that work in the area calculate at least 20,000 Mexicans in hard-hit Staten Island.

Officials from the Mexican government have visited shelters in New York and New Jersey looking for immigrants to help, informing them on how to obtain food stamps, financial assistance from FEMA or the Mexican government.

More than 735 people have signed up to receive economic help from the government of President Felipe Calderon, but there is only $180,000 so far to distribute, said the Mexican consul in New York, Carlos Sada. As of this week, 66 checks had been written to victims of the hurricane, totaling $110,000.

More than three weeks after Superstorm Sandy, the five members of the Morales family still live at their rental home in Staten Island, where floodwaters reached the second floor. Although the home has power now, there is no heat. The family uses only an electric heater.

Because Morales’ children were born in the United States, he can apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency help, but he has been hesitant to do so.

“When one has no legal documents, that person will always think that there can be repercussions,” said Morales, who lost his job at an ice cream store in New Jersey that closed after the storm. He now works part-time at a bakery.

Asked whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement had conducted immigration enforcement in the area in the aftermath of the storm, Luis Martinez, ICE’s spokesman in New York, said the agency has been conducting “limited street enforcement operations.” ICE director John Morton and deputy director Daniel Ragsdale visited New York and New Jersey at the beginning of the month “to survey efforts.”

The agency will be “resuming normal enforcement activity, with continued emphasis on at-large criminal aliens, in the near future,” an ICE statement to The Associated Press said.

Emilio Hector Gloria Fuentes, a 49-year-old immigrant from Morelos, said he is staying with some relatives in the home of a priest because they can’t return to the basement where they lived in Staten Island.

Fuentes, who works in a pizzeria, is not eligible for FEMA help because of his immigration status.

“I had my savings, in cash, in that basement. I lost them all,” he said. “A disaster like this is much worse for an undocumented person than for a United States citizen or someone with some money.”

As Maria Lucero dealt with construction workers ripping down the walls of her living room, she lamented that her landlord said it will be at least a month before her family can return to their Staten Island home. Her family is fortunate to be able to stay with friends, Lucero said, but “I’m not comfortable without having my home.”

Because they get paid in cash, immigrant workers lost money for the days they did not work after the storm. Without access to credit, their main hope now is to join reconstruction efforts as day laborers.

Mexican day laborer Eberto Silva didn’t have to look far for such a job – his landlord hired him at $14 an hour to do cleaning and demolition work at an apartment complex in Coney Island.

“There is going to be more work for immigrants like me now,” he said. “We may see that in the next few weeks.”

Groups that are part of the National Day Labor Organizing Network have also brought day laborers to do volunteer cleanup activities on weekends. El Centro del Inmigrante is trying to become a hiring center for day laborers, making sure that they work in safe and secure conditions.

“A center like that is urgently needed,” Mercado said. “We feel that now, after Sandy, this is the right moment to do it.”

Author: Claudia Torrens
Source: Huff Post Green
Original: http://goo.gl/jdaPD


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Jessica Sanchez, left, and her sister Marabel, who is blind, live in East Orosi, Calif., where water quality is so poor that they drink bottled water. In the stroller is Jessica’s son Jordan. (Diana Marcum, Los Angeles Times / November 22, 2012)

A Central Valley family shuns tap water except for bathing and gardening. They live in one of the many areas where the supply is contaminated by nitrates, arsenic or bacteria from agricultural runoff.

EAST OROSI, Calif. — This was to be the first year Jessica Sanchez was in charge of Thanksgiving dinner.

She began preparations Wednesday, crossing through her family’s small kitchen to a bottled water dispenser in the living room and filling a pan to wash the turkey.

She couldn’t use the tap water because East Orosi is one of many Central Valley farm communities where the supply is tainted — by nitrates, arsenic or bacteria traced to decades of agricultural runoff.

Jessica’s mother, Bertha Diaz, makes about $7.50 an hour picking grapefruit and lemons in the winter, grapes and blackberries in the summer. The cost of the tap water they use for bathing and gardening, plus the bottled water for drinking and cooking, is about 30% of her income.

On Wednesday, Diaz left for work at 4:30 am. Later in the morning, as she picked lemons, she called 19-year-old Jessica to tell her to be sure to finish washing the turkey with a vinegar rinse.

Jessica said her mother has a certain way of doing everything: folding laundry, holding a baby, washing a turkey. Sometimes the two squabble.

“We’re way too much alike. My grandmother says we are on exactly the same plane, so we hit heads,” Jessica said as she applied the vinegar.

The Sanchez family didn’t always live in East Orosi.

Before Jessica’s baby brother Mannie died, home had been in Orosi proper. In the town of 8,000, the water warnings come and go, depending on the level of chemicals from contaminated groundwater making it into wells.

Jessica’s family lived there in a little house. They could see their neighbor’s swimming pool through a hole in the fence. One day, when Mannie was 1 1/2 , he sneaked next door. Six-year-old Jessica found him floating dead in the pool.

The family moved. Three years later, sister Marabel went blind at the age of 13, a complication of diabetes. Multiple studies have linked poor drinking water to the disease.

In the 1970s, Tulare County released a report identifying 15 “non-viable” communities, East Orosi among them, where it would be a waste of money to concentrate water and sewer resources. The reasoning was that the communities were made up of farmworkers, and mechanical harvesters would be replacing them soon.

By the time Jessica was in sixth grade, her mother had started holding community water meetings at their house.

One night Jessica’s father, a Mexican farmworker, got a call from the lawyer working on his immigration papers, asking for a meeting.

“The next thing we got [was] a call saying he had been deported,” Jessica said.

Last year, when she called her father in Michoacan, Mexico, to tell him she was pregnant, she broke down and asked him to forgive her for failing him.

“You’re not the first girl this has happened to,” she remembers him saying. “You have your family. You’re not alone. You are one of the lucky ones.”

She named her son Jordan. She wanted a “J” name. She didn’t think until later that she had named him after sacred waters.

This Thanksgiving Day, Jessica woke to find her mother at home. The packinghouses were closed, so there was no picking.

Diaz said she was sad about losing out on the paycheck, but happy for some “rest” as she bustled around the kitchen making pork tamales — always walking over to the dispenser for water.

She sang a Mexican children’s song about stirring chocolate. Jordan, now 7 months, clasped his hands and seemed to move them to the melody. Diaz and her four children laughed.

Jessica’s idea for the 13-pound Butterball turkey was to heat up sugar until it was syrupy, then add the package of turkey seasoning and glaze.

But her mother got up first and ground spices in her molcajete and rubbed them on the turkey. The modest home, decorated with pictures of flowers and Jesus, filled with a sweet, spicy smell.

Jessica ground California chilies for the tamale sauce. As she worked, she talked about the Community Water Center, a coalition organization pushing for regional solutions.

From ages 12 to 17, the center was her second home. She overcame shyness and became one of its outspoken advocates.

Then she disappeared. She met a tall boy from Hanford, who she said got angry when she went to water meetings. After they broke up, she found out she was pregnant.

It wasn’t until after Jordan was born that Jessica told Susana De Anda, her mentor and the water center’s co-founder, why she had stopped volunteering.

“She told me: ‘Life put you through a lot and it didn’t stop you before. It won’t stop you now,'” said Jessica, who dyes her hair the color of red wine and punctuates stories with expressive eyes.

Jessica returned to organizing neighbors and speaking at presentations. Last month she celebrated when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Human Rights to Water Bill, stating that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water.”

It was Jessica who pushed for a Thanksgiving dinner.

“We won’t go around the table and say things out loud or anything. But inside, in my own little world, I can say thank you that I’m alive. I’m still breathing. And for the gift of my son and the way my family loves him,” Jessica said.

“I can say thank you for the food, and give a prayer for water.”

Author: Diana Marcum
Source: Los Angeles Times
Original: http://goo.gl/yHwxX


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Gore pede a Obama que evite o abismo fiscal e o abismo climático ao mesmo tempo (FOTO: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

O ex-vice-Presidente norte-americano, Al Gore, sugere que Barack Obama aproveite as negociações orçamentais das próximas semanas para instituir uma taxa de carbono nos Estados Unidos.

Gore, que nos últimos anos se tornou numa espécie de ex-libris da luta contra as alterações climáticas, afirma que Obama deve aproveitar o momento da sua reeleição para acções firmes nesta área.

“Ele tem um mandato. Tem a oportunidade e tem a habilidade inerente para proporcionar a liderança necessária. Espero de facto que o faça, e peço-lhe isto respeitosamente”, disse Al Gore, numa entrevista ao jornal britânico The Guardian.

Uma das propostas do ex-vice-presidente, laureado com o Nobel da Paz em 2007 pelo seu trabalho de divulgação sobre os riscos das alterações climáticas, é a de que Obama avance com uma taxa de carbono. Esta ideia, segundo Gore, deveria ser discutida agora, juntamente com as propostas para se evitar o chamado “abismo fiscal” – a subida de impostos e os cortes nas despesas públicas que acontecerão automaticamente em Janeiro, a não ser que democratas e republicanos cheguem a um acordo nas próximas semanas para evitar este cenário.

“Será com certeza difícil, mas podemos evitar o abismo fiscal e o abismo climático ao mesmo tempo. Uma das maneiras seria com uma taxa de carbono”, afirmou Al Gore ao The Guardian.

Barack Obama mencionou a questão das alterações climáticas no seu discurso de vitória, dizendo que quer que as crianças norte-americanas vivam num país que “não esteja ameaçado pela ameaça destruidora de um planeta a aquecer”. Ambientalistas têm reagido com um optimismo moderado ao que o Presidente reeleito pode de facto fazer nesta área, uma vez que continuará a enfrentar um Congresso hostil – com maioria republicana na Câmara dos Representantes e uma maioria democrata escassa no Senado.

Fonte: Público
Original: http://goo.gl/KxGGY


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A prototype of an electric motorcycle, which has a gyro stabilization system. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

SAN FRANCISCO — Zipping around on a motorcycle can be fun, but being in a downpour or an accident on one is not. Driving a car is safer and more comfortable, but traffic and parking can be annoying.

What if you got rid of the bad parts of both?

You might end up with something like the C-1, an electric motorcycle that looks as if it came out of the movie “Tron.” For protection, the bike is encased in a metal shell, and it is controlled like a car, with a steering wheel and foot pedals. Two big gyroscopes under the floor are designed to keep it from tipping over, even when a car hits it from the side. The C-1’s top speed is 120 miles an hour, and it can travel 200 miles on a full charge.

A small start-up called Lit Motors is developing the C-1 in a three-story warehouse here. Its 33-year-old chief executive, Daniel Kim, was tinkering with a biodiesel sport utility vehicle eight years ago when a 500-pound chassis nearly crushed him. The experience got him thinking about cutting out the bulk.

“Most people drive alone,” Mr. Kim said in an interview. “Why not cut the car in half? I was really into bicycles at that time and I thought, Why can’t we have the efficiency of a bicycle and motorcycle but all the amenities of a car?”

Fully electric vehicles have long been a dream among environmentalists and technologists, but companies have found it hard to deliver affordable and practical vehicles to the mass market. One of the biggest names in this field is Tesla Motors, which makes expensive sports cars and has had trouble increasing manufacturing.

But Lit Motors, which has just 10 people on staff, thinks it can bring the benefits of an electric vehicle even to those who aren’t rich. Mr. Kim says his motorcycle will be money-saving, safe to drive and simple to build.

The main culprit in the high price of electric vehicles is the battery, said Dan Sperling, a professor of civil engineering and environmental science and policy at the University of California, Davis and director of its Institute of Transportation Studies. Unlike computer chips and digital storage, which have improved rapidly while dropping in price, battery technology has made slow progress, he said, so vehicle batteries are still bulky and pricey.

The other challenge, Dr. Sperling said, is that most people are not ready to embrace electric vehicles yet. Consumers could be nervous about the reliability and maintenance of such an expensive purchase — buggy software, for example, could lead to more serious consequences than it would on something like a smartphone. That’s why many auto companies have stuck to making hybrid vehicles, which use both gas and electricity and are more affordable, easier to produce and more familiar to drivers.

“It’s not like when you buy an iPhone and you throw it out or don’t use it as much when it gets old,” Dr. Sperling said. “Unlike an iPhone or Windows system, it can’t crash — it has to perform with high reliability all the time.”

Mr. Kim, who dropped out of Reed College and the University of California, Berkeley and later studied industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design, has plans to overcome those obstacles. The motorcycle is lighter than a car so its batteries can be smaller and cheaper. And to improve reliability, the system is equipped with more components than it actually needs, Mr. Kim said.

The C-1’s secret weapons are the gyroscopes that allow it to balance itself, similar to the approach used in the Segway scooter. In a video, the company shows the bike remaining upright as a car yanks it from the side. Only one gyroscope is needed to maintain balance, but there are always two running; each gyroscope has redundant computer chips, controllers and sensors, so if any one of those fails, there are extras to back it up.

The bike is made up of 2,200 parts, or one-tenth the number in the average car, which should make it easier to mass-produce, Mr. Kim said. He plans to start manufacturing the motorcycle in the United States.

There are two main target markets for the vehicle, said Ryan James, chief marketing officer for Lit Motors: motorcyclists between 45 and 60 years old who are concerned about safety but don’t want to give up their two-wheeler and younger commuters who live in urban or suburban areas where driving a car can be a bother or feel wasteful.

Still, Mr. Kim’s start-up, which is on a hiring spree, faces some tough hurdles. So far it has raised just $720,000 from early investors and another $80,000 from family and friends. It will have to get people to buy a vehicle they haven’t had a chance to drive or even see in real life — and spend some serious money on it. Each motorcycle will cost $24,000 for the first production run of 1,000 in 2014, Mr. Kim said, and he hopes to bring the price down to $14,000 by around 2016, putting it in the range of a nice Ducati motorcycle or an entry-level car like a Honda Fit.

The company is already taking early orders and down payments on its Web site. About 250 people have signed up.

Mr. Kim said the company plans to team up with car dealerships in California, San Francisco and Los Angeles, in addition to selling the bikes online. And next summer, Mr. James will be driving an early version of the electric motorcycle to college campuses and conventions to show it to people and let them test-drive it. The company is also working on smartphone apps so C-1 owners can be part of their own social network.

Mr. Kim has his doubters. Kevin See, an analyst with Lux Research, which studies electric vehicles and alternative energy, said the motorcycle might appeal only to a small niche, and the initial price tag would be much higher than most people were willing to pay for a two-wheel vehicle. There are also plenty of more affordable vehicles on the market that perform well and already have a trusted brand, he said.

“It’s very tough to roll out a vehicle of any kind with such a significant price premium versus an incumbent,” he said. Mr. See said the C-1 reminded him of Aptera Motors, a start-up that tried to sell a futuristic car but went out of business in December. (Steve Fambro, a founder of Aptera, is listed as one of Lit’s technical advisers.)

Dr. Sperling of the University of California said the biggest challenge for Mr. Kim would be finding buyers for the vehicle and then finding the means to deliver it.

“He’s got some clever ideas, and it really comes down to questions that all these companies face, and that is can they find a market for the product, and can they actually do the manufacturing in an efficient and effective way?” Dr. Sperling said.

Still, he said he was optimistic about the company’s chances.

“There are people who want to do something to save the world, make a contribution to it, do something both in terms of energy and climate,” he said. “If it’s cool and good for the world, you’ve got a winner.”

Author: Brian X. Chen
Source: The New York Times
Original: http://goo.gl/tjwNV


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The effects of the Midwest drought on prices for corn, meat and poultry are showing up on restaurant menus. Small eateries are being hit hardest.


Dan Horton, left, Anthony White and Richard Navarro have lunch in August at Smokin’ Jonny’s BBQ in Gardena. Owner Jon Sekiguchi says he’s selling beef ribs only on the weekends, when customers are more willing to splurge. He also says he’s struggling to find affordable beef sausage for his $6.95 smoked sausage sandwich. (Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times / October 14, 2012)

Smokin’ Jonny’s BBQ opened less than a year ago, but pricey corn on the cob has already disappeared from the menu.

Rising beef prices are causing owner Jon Sekiguchi headaches as well. His Gardena restaurant sells beef ribs only on the weekends, when customers are more willing to splurge. And he’s struggling to find affordable beef sausage for his $6.95 smoked sausage sandwich.

Scorching weather this summer in the Midwest left crops parched and livestock famished. Restaurants, already struggling with high fuel costs and a sluggish economy, are starting to feel the pinch of higher food costs.

“It’s a tough one,” Sekiguchi sighed. “I didn’t want to sell corn for $3 when I used to charge $1.50. And it used to be better quality too.”

Commodity prices were increasing even before the dry spell. Economists say even bigger hikes are ahead as the poor U.S. harvest ripples through the food chain.

Now fast-food giants, fancy eateries and even corner coffee shops are scrambling to adjust. The cost of food rivals labor as the top expense for most restaurants. Restaurateurs are revamping menus, reducing portion sizes and even considering staff cuts. In the months to come, they say, watch for smaller steaks, fewer tortillas per entree and maybe even menu-wide price increases.

Customers are already seeing a change. Gina Grad, a radio network content producer, said she’s noticing smaller servings, steeper bills and thinner crowds at the trendy restaurants in her Los Feliz neighborhood, where organic and locally grown ingredients reign.

The “only good thing” to come out of it: “The number of people out to brunch on weekends is down,” said Grad, 34. “You can finally get a table in less than an hour.”

Actor Chase Edmondson, 22, of North Hollywood, said he’s taken to ordering kids meals to combat menu shock.

“It’s kind of ridiculous when you’re getting a hamburger for $12,” Edmondson said.

Restaurant prices have been rising for more than a year. Wholesale food costs rocketed 8.1% last year, the largest jump in more than three decades. The Olive Garden’s Never-Ending Pasta Bowl, offered at $8.95 for the last five years, jumped to $9.95 in late August, partly because of higher food costs.

And this summer, a Big Mac cost $4.33 on average in the U.S., up from $4.20 in January and $4.07 a year earlier, according to the popular Big Mac index compiled by the Economist.

Those increases will continue, but at a faster pace.

The price of corn — a key component in livestock feed and an ingredient in powdered sugar, salad dressing, soda and more — catapulted 60% in early summer. A British trade group recently predicted “a world shortage of pork and bacon next year,” which most analysts interpreted to mean that higher prices are ahead.

In the meantime, chickens and turkeys are getting more expensive just in time for the holidays. Already, chicken prices are up 5.3% from a year earlier, while the cost of turkey and other poultry is up 6.9%. Eggs cost 18% more in September than they did a year earlier.

Zacky Farms in Fresno, one of the country’s largest turkey producers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this month, blaming the rocketing price of animal feed.

Buffalo Wild Wings, the popular chicken wing chain based in Minneapolis, recently told analysts that it’s boosting menu prices by an average of 4% in its company-owned stores to help offset soaring wing costs.

Analysts expect overall food costs to rise 5% to 20% by the end of the year — a painful squeeze for businesses that, even in the most prosperous times, operate on tight margins with little room to maneuver.

“If the cost of the food goes up that much, it can pretty much wipe out their profit,” said John Davie, chief executive of food service partnership Dining Alliance. “Restaurants will be forced to look at everything from the phone bill to payroll to food costs to how they negotiate with vendors.”

Many big chains have avoided hefty menu price hikes thanks to long-term deals with their suppliers. It’s the little guys who are getting hammered hardest, said Don Krueger, an analyst at Motley Fool.

“Sophisticated large guys can hedge far into the future,” Krueger said. “The smaller mom-and-pop restaurants are going to get hit with the drought very shortly.”

Michael Colmaire, co-owner of Chicken Lady Cafe & Catering in Beverly Hills, said he’s loath to raise menu prices in a tough economy. But he can’t rule it out either.

“We’ll do everything we can up to our limit,” Colmaire said. “But we can’t sabotage our business and obviously we can’t work for free.

In lieu of price increases, some restaurants are scrimping on portions or dropping the extras — but many customers are noticing. Some are venting their frustration on social media.

Fast-food lover Sabrina Hartwell of Hesperia said she’s finding burgers with smaller, drier patties and fewer pickles and fries. “There aren’t as many specials anymore,” the 18-year-old said. “And when they’re available, they’re not as cheap.”

Brentwood restaurant consultant Kian Abedini said more eateries are turning to small plates and tapas dishes to save money. He’s noticing cheaper cuts of meat such as skirt and flank steaks on menus, along with more curry and rice dishes. Pickled items are showing up as well — they’re in vogue and less expensive than fresh foods, Abedini said.

Sherman Oaks real estate agent Jonathan Cohen, 46, said he, like other consumers, will be watching menu prices carefully.

“Eating out used to be much more automatic and spontaneous,” he said. “Now it’s more a point of discussion.”

Author: Tiffany Hsu
Source: Los Angeles Times
Original: http://goo.gl/hD7iU


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MARINA, Calif. — In the Central California coastal town of Marina, a $7 million desalination plant that can turn salty ocean waves into fresh drinking water sits idle behind rusty, locked doors, shuttered by water officials because rising energy costs made the plant too expensive.

Far to the north in well-heeled Marin County, plans were scrapped for a desalination facility despite two decades of planning and millions of dollars spent on a pilot plant.

Squeezing salt from the ocean to make clean drinking water is a worldwide phenomenon that has been embraced in thirsty California, with its cycles of drought and growing population. There are currently 17 desalination proposals in the state, concentrated along the Pacific where people are plentiful and fresh water is not.

But many projects have been stymied by skyrocketing construction costs, huge energy requirements for running plants, regulatory delays and legal challenges over environmental impacts on marine life. Only one small plant along Monterey Bay is pumping out any drinking water.

From Marin County to San Diego, some water districts are asking themselves: How much are we willing to pay for this new water?

“We found that our demand for water had dropped so much since the time we started exploring desalination, we didn’t need the water,” said Libby Pischel, a spokeswoman for the Marin Municipal Water District. “Right now, conservation costs less than desalination.”

Desalination plants can take water from the ocean or drill down and grab the less salty, brackish water from seaside aquifers. Because of their potential impacts to marine life, the California Coastal Commission reviews each project case-by-case.

There was great fanfare in 2009 when the last regulatory hurdle was cleared to build the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant in Carlsbad, north of San Diego.

At the time, it was proposed that the $320 million project would suck in 100 million gallons of seawater and be capable of producing 50 million gallons of drinking water a day. It was expected to come online by this year.

Since then, the plant owner, Poseidon Resources LLC, has been negotiating a water purchase agreement and is close to clinching a 30-year deal with the San Diego County Water Authority, a wholesaler to cities and agencies that provide water to 3.1 million people.

The compact is essential for Poseidon to obtain financing to build what has become a $900 million project, which includes the seaside plant and a 10-mile pipeline. The San Diego agency hopes the plant opens in 2016 and anticipates desalination will account for 7 percent of the region’s supply in 2020. It estimates the cost is comparable to other new, local sources of drinking water, such as treated toilet water or briny groundwater.

Interest is still high, but “people are realizing that desalination isn’t a magic fix to the state’s water issues,” said coastal commission water expert Tom Luster.

Water can be de-salted in different ways. Poseidon’s project will use reverse osmosis. Other plants shoot ocean or brackish water at high pressure through salt-removing membrane filters. Because pumps must be used constantly to move massive amounts of water through filters, these facilities are extremely energy intensive.

Also, in many cases, desalinated water is pricier than importing water the old-fashioned way – through pipes and tunnels. And it is cheaper to focus on conservation when possible: new technologies like low-flow toilets and stricter zoning laws that require less water-intensive landscaping have helped curb demand in communities throughout the state.

Desalination has been around for years in Saudi Arabia, other Arab Gulf states and Israel, which last year approved the construction of a fifth desalination plant. The hope is that the five plants together will supply 75 percent of the country’s drinking water by 2013.

The process also has helped ease thirst in places such as Australia, Spain and Singapore. Experts say it has been slower to catch on in the United States, mainly because companies face tougher rules on where they can build plants and must endure longer environmental reviews. Poseidon, for example, is facing opposition by environmental groups over its proposed plans to build another facility in Huntington Beach. The company has received several permits for the Orange County project, but still needs approval from the coastal commission.

About six miles south of the ghost desalination plant in Marina, the mechanical whir coming from a nondescript cinderblock building in a Sand City industrial park is the only evidence that the state’s sole operating municipal desalination plant is at work.

The $14 million facility has the ability to produce up to 600,000 gallons a day of drinkable water for the town of about 340 people. Sand City’s plant now produces half that amount each day; a third is used by the city with the rest sent elsewhere in Monterey County.

City leaders hoped to develop the former military town into an artsy, Bohemian beachside destination. With no other possible water options, they turned to desalination. “We’re just like Saudi Arabia. There’s nowhere else to get water and we want to develop,” said Richard Simonitch, the city’s civil engineer.

It’s not that easy in Monterey Peninsula, where regional water use from development has exceeded its yearly rainfall replenishment and desalination is one of the only options available.

Proposals have been fraught with mistakes, political infighting and scandal, and have cost Monterey area ratepayers tens of millions of dollars.

Earlier this year, state utilities regulators rejected Monterey County’s desalination plan, citing problems with environmental review. The plan was also mired in alleged corruption by a county water official, who now faces criminal charges.

Still, desalination will be an important part of the Central Coast’s future: the state ordered water suppliers to stop drawing from the Carmel River, its main source of the precious resource, starting in 2017. Even officials in Marina, with its shuttered plant, see a future in which demand will require their current desalination plant to resume operation and are planning another, larger plant to help make up for the expected water loss.

“Water politics in Monterey County is a blood sport,” said Jim Heitzman, general manager of the Marina Coast Water District.

Author: Jason Dearen and Alicia Chang
Source: Huff Post Green
Original: http://goo.gl/0kSqi


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