Monday, March 30, 2009




Memo to NorthernStar Natural Gas, Woodside Energy, Mitsubishi Corp. and other would-be developers of liquefied natural gas facilities in California and elsewhere on the West Coast:

Forget it. At least for another decade or two.

That's a message they should have gotten in the early days of last winter, when reports from the former George W. Bush administration's Energy Department and the staffs of two key state agencies concluded that neither California nor the United States in general will be needing more LNG anytime in the foreseeable future.

In fact, those reports predicted a huge drop in LNG imports over the next 20 years, with the federal experts expecting that LNG will account for just 3 percent of all natural gas used in America by 2030, compared with 16 percent today.

LNG is natural gas supercooled into liquid form, then taken across oceans by huge, specially-built tankers and eventually warmed back into gaseous form at receiving facilities, where it is pumped into existing pipeline systems.

Just in case the reports from the Energy Department and the state Energy and Public Utilities commissions weren't enough, along came new President Barack Obama with his theme of change. He certainly made a big one at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and he did it on only his third day in office last January.

That was when he appointed Jon Wellinghoff president of FERC, the agency that must approve all major energy transmission and pipeline projects anywhere in America.

Wellinghoff had already served on the commission for a few years before Obama elevated him to chairman. He was a dissenting vote when FERC prematurely approved the putative Bradwood Landing LNG facility near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon, about two-thirds of whose natural gas product would have ended up padding the monthly bills of California consumers. His written dissent on that vote and another involving the Sparrow's Point LNG project on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland provide good insight into where new LNG facilities are likely to get with FERC under Obama - nowhere.

For one thing, his Bradwood opinion shows he was well aware this plant was intended to extract money from Californians. "The primary purpose of Bradwood," he said, "is not to meet the projected energy needs of the Pacific Northwest, but rather is to serve other markets. Access to Northern California markets would be necessary to site an LNG terminal in the Pacific Northwest…"

On Sparrow's Point, he wrote, "Evidence leads to the conclusion that (domestic natural gas and renewable energy sources) are reasonable, environmentally preferable alternatives to service the future energy needs of the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic regions."

This is change: A federal official who actually looks at the evidence.

For contrast, have a look at the farewell speech of Joseph Kelliher, the Bush-era FERC chairman who tried to hustle through as many LNG approvals as possible during his last months in office.

Among other "achievements" he reviewed in his swan song, Kelliher listed the fact that his FERC "authorized a 500 percent increase in LNG importing capacity."

What an accomplishment! When the potential need for LNG is about to drop by 80 percent, he proudly trumpets that he's approved a 500 percent increase. No wonder construction on several East Coast LNG plants already approved has halted or been mothballed.

It is, of course, no accident that Obama chose Wellinghoff to replace Kelliher. For Wellinghoff cut his government teeth as the official consumer advocate for the state of Nevada, representing that state's consumers in all utility matters and helping it avoid the kind of energy crunch California experienced during the early years of this decade. Back then, as now, California's public utility commissioners were pretty much the property of the companies they regulated, and their votes for deregulation led to that disaster. This did not happen in Nevada, partly because of Wellinghoff and the consumer advocate office he helped create.

Obama's pledge to wean America from much of its dependence on foreign energy found Wellinghoff an existing advocate at FERC. By contrast, even as Bush was calling for the nation to end its addiction to foreign oil, his man at FERC was pushing vastly increased dependence on foreign natural gas. Consistency, as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously observed, is the hobgoblin of small minds, and was never much of a Bush concern.

So the latest era of pushing for LNG in California has probably ended, both because there never was any need for it and because priorities in Washington, D.C., have shifted in a consumerist direction.

But that doesn't mean Californians should cease their vigilance. For the state utilities commission still hasn't rescinded its foolhardy 2004 vote to allow gas companies to substitute LNG - if they can get it - for domestic natural gas supplies. Until that happens, nothing in this field can be certain and consumers will continue to be at risk for billions of dollars in rate increases.

Elias is author of the current book "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It," now available in an updated third edition. His email address is






So now we know what "post-partisanship" really means: It's a way for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to transition into whatever he wants to do next - probably a job in President Obama's cabinet since he's now saying he won't run for any other elective office "until you change the Constitution."

It's true that no one knows precisely what Schwarzenegger wants to do after he's termed out 20 months from now. He's usually coy when asked, but did insist the other day that he's "not running for anything."'

Yes, there are plenty of conservative Republicans in California who wish he'd run for the U.S. Senate next year. They figure his reneging on "no new taxes" pledges has made him so unpopular in the GOP that he wouldn't be able to win the party's senatorial primary election and would have to run as an independent.

If he did that, they figure, he might split the liberal and moderate vote with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, thus allowing a true-blue ultra-conservative like Orange County state Sen. Chuck DeVore to sneak into a very coveted office with something like a 35 percent showing. But Schwarzenegger says he won't become an independent.

Certainly, Boxer is ready if Schwarzenegger should make a sudden move in her direction, like his surprise announcement in 2003 that he'd run for governor. "I'm getting ready for him," she quipped last winter. "I'm lifting weights. I'm already up to 8 pounds."

But Schwarzenegger plainly knows his frequent bombast would be less productive in the collegial Senate than on the campaign trail.

Even if he could get the Republican nomination against Boxer, there's a good chance Schwarzenegger - with a current positive rating of just 38 percent in California polls - could not beat her.

Which might explain some of his recent post-partisan preening. When liberal Democrat Obama made his first post-election trip to California, there was the nominally Republican Schwarzenegger thanking him for "the courageous leadership and the great commitment he has displayed" and for the money Obama's stimulus program will bring to California.

Later that day, Schwarzenegger was the first to jump in and defend Obama when he made a slighting reference to the Special Olympics, founded by the governor's own mother-in-law.

The next day, Schwarzenegger showed up at the White House with more sycophantic talk. Then he went on "Meet the Press" with still more.

It all sounded like a job applicant, rather than a leader of the loyal opposition party.

Because he's an immigrant, Schwarzenegger cannot run for president - often an ambition for California governors from Hiram Johnson to Earl Warren to Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown - "until they change the Constitution," but he definitely could serve in a top cabinet slot.

When it comes to immigrants in high-profile federal jobs, think former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, for just two. The Kissinger experience has even demonstrated that a thick German accent is no disqualifying factor.

For sure, the Schwarzenegger personality appears more suited to a top executive job than the Senate, where he could not exert his will the way he's often tried to do as governor.

Yet, he and wife Maria Shriver show a taste for Washington, D.C. social life. A cabinet job might do as well as a Senate seat for becoming leaders on the capital's party circuit.

And Schwarzenegger might feel he can accomplish a lot as either a cabinet officer - think Interior or Energy or Commerce or Transportation, where he could pursue the green agenda he's fond of pushing - or in some newly-conceived job like climate change czar, with cabinet status.

If Schwarzenegger is really committed to leaving a positive legacy, something he's hinted at frequently of late, this might be his best path. For it takes a decade or more to become influential in the Senate. Example: Boxer, now in the last two years of her third six-year term, only recently attained any significant Senate clout. Not noted for that kind of patience, Schwarzenegger will be 63 (with a history of heart trouble) at the time of the next general election. He knows he might not live long enough to become a Senate grandee like his wife's Uncle Teddy, Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

For sure, it looks as if Schwarzenegger needs to land some kind of major federal job if he wants to leave a positive legacy in government. His record of disregarding promises like no new taxes and his pledge never to accept campaign money from special interests will leave his California legacy mixed at best.

Which may explain why Schwarzenegger has looked more like a job applicant than anything else ever since Obama took the oath of office.


Elias is author of the current book The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It, now available in an updated third edition. His email address is

Thursday, March 26, 2009




The doomsayers contend a new superport Mexico plans to build on the coast of Baja California about 180 miles south of San Diego means the end of commercial success for California and the elimination of thousands of jobs.

"Watch it and weep," said Steve Frank, political consultant and former head of the conservative California Republican Assembly, who notes the enterprise depends on Mexican trucks having access to America under of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Never mind both the fact that President Obama has already cut back severely the number of Mexican trucks allowed to work in this country and the fact that the recession is delaying work on the port itself.

The real questions are whether this port, when it's eventually built, has to be a disaster for California? Might it actually improve life in this state?

Here are a few maritime statistics to consider: About 30 million shipping containers crossed the Pacific Ocean last year, headed for West Coast ports. More than half (15.7 million) were unloaded at the congested, neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Another 8 million or so landed in other California ports, from San Diego and Port Hueneme to Oakland and Eureka.

Hauling off those containers created truck traffic which in 2007 contributed almost 20 percent of the human-spawned smog in the Los Angeles Basin, not to mention innumerable traffic jams.

Under the state's greenhouse gas law, AB32, a lot of that pollution will have to be cut in the next 10-12 years. The deadline falls not far from the putative opening date for the Mexican port.

Meanwhile both the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports now spawn about as much rail and road traffic as likely will ever be practical, as both are built out to near capacity. The same for Oakland.

So maybe the time is right for another port that could relieve some of the pressure. For even though cross-Pacific trade is down a bit this year, every forecast says the 24 million containers now reaching here from overseas will increase by at least 50 percent over the next 10 years.

This suggests California just might need the port Mexico proposes to build at Punta Colonet, now a bucolic village of 2,500. That port, if completed as scheduled in about 2018, would handle no more than 2 million containers in its first phase and might eventually be expanded to deal with as many as 10 million, depending on how many ships choose to unload there. Neither figure poses a serious threat to California trade.

But the new harbor could take the pressure for expansion off California ports, where it would still be more economical for America-bound cargoes to unload. Yes, there will be some added costs at this state's ports as they are compelled to clean up both ship-caused pollution and truck exhausts.

But any cargo unloaded at Punta Colonet - and even Mexican President Felipe Calderon says it would aim mostly to serve American needs - would have to be trucked north or taken north on rail cars, then link with American highways and railroads.

Costs for that would likely far exceed any pollution cleanup expenses imposed on the existing harbors at Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland.

So once ship emissions have been cleaned, there will be no incentive other than practical need for ships to dock in Mexico, when transport of their containers to other points is much more convenient, cheaper and faster from the California ports.

This means the reality here is very different from the doomsday claims often made about the Mexican port. Once built, it would be more likely to handle overflow from the already super-crowded Los Angeles-Long Beach complex than to replace it. It would probably be no more a threat to the existing big seaports than Port Hueneme, the Ventura County port that now takes pressure off its bigger brethren by receiving and exporting cars, strawberries, pineapples and a few other commodities. It is also the key port supporting California's existing offshore oil drilling platforms.

Far from a threat, the Mexican port would help ease traffic, cut smog and reduce illegal immigration by providing steady jobs within Mexico. Traffic at California ports has not been cut by the advent of a huge new harbor at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Why should it suffer from a new colleague in Mexico?

Interestingly, the same people who say they fear the planned Mexican port said nothing against Prince Rupert. Might that be because one would be run by Hispanics, while Anglos are in charge of the other?

Elias is author of the current book The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It, now available in an updated third edition. His email address is





There was a time when the term "states' rights" stood for trampling on the rights of individuals. Many states asserted during the great civil rights battles of the 20th Century that they had the right to prevent some citizens from voting, eating in the restaurants of their choice, drinking from public water fountains or sitting where they pleased on buses and trains.

But issues of states' rights were essentially turned on their head by a U.S. Supreme Court bent on restricting some items (like medical marijuana, okayed in 1996 by California voters) and by the former George W. Bush administration, which was willing to claim almost anything to further its agenda of favoring big business over consumers and the environment.

That began to change after Barack Obama became the 44th president. For one thing, despite a few raids early in Obama's term, his attorney general Eric Holder has now made it clear he will no longer prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries operating according to California's 1990s-era law.

But other signals indicate the Supreme Court remains a states' rights opponent.

The most prominent of those came in a decision involving the U.S. Navy and the dolphins and gray whales that migrate annually along the California coast. The Navy and the marine mammals generally coexist happily, but not in the strait between San Clemente and Santa Catalina islands off the California coastline.

The Navy uses that strait to practice submarine detection because it boasts currents and other conditions similar to those in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic entrance to the Persian Gulf. Trouble is, environmental groups say naval mid-frequency active sonar has killed and injured whales and dolphins by interfering with their own sonar-like communications.

The state Coastal Commission and several private wildlife protection organizations sued last year to prevent the Navy from conducting exercises in the strait at times when marine mammals are near. U.S. District Judge Florence Marie Cooper went aboard several naval vessels to observe maneuvers and later found in favor of the whales and the Coastal Commission, instructing the Navy to shut down its sonar when within 2,200 yards of whales or dolphins.

The Navy appealed immediately to then-President Bush, who responded with the first and so far only presidential order exempting military maneuvers from environmental rules. The Natural Resources Defense Council and others took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which held by a one-vote margin that the Navy can do as it likes and never mind the state or the animals.

The ruling implies that even with Bush long gone, and with Obama reversing or about to overturn several Bush stances - including his refusal to allow California to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks - the states' rights battle will continue.

The biggest change so far is Holder's indication that the long federal campaign to harass or shut down medical marijuana clinics and cooperatives in California is over. A profusion of clinics sprang up after passage of Proposition 215, which allows use of medipot with a doctor's recommendation. Some of the clinics and co-ops have long been suspected of selling pot to anyone, not just those with notes from doctors. They also are accused of accepting almost any piece of paper as a recommendation, without bothering to check authenticity. Now, Holder says only those suspected of such wrongs will be prosecuted.

Under both Bush and his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, raids were frequent on clinics and arrests of growers who maintained they are supply only legitimate patients. The justification always was that federal law banning marijuana use takes precedence over any state law - even though more than a dozen other states have voted to legalize medipot since the California vote.

But despite Obama's hands-off medipot policy, the anti-states' rights Supreme Court majority remains. It's a majority that has insisted the federal government can override state decisions on siting of liquefied gas terminals, controlling pollution at ports and many other items.

So long as that majority survives, one principle long upheld by California's highest state court will be in jeopardy: That's the one which holds that while states may not grant their citizens (or animals, in some cases) fewer rights than guaranteed under the federal Constitution, they can grant more rights.

This was the principle at work last spring when the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, a decision narrowly reversed months later by the voters via Proposition 8 and now back before the same court.

It's a principle that has furthered the fight against smog, led to legalized abortion here long before the Roe v. Wade decision did it nationally and helped equalize revenue among school districts, among many important steps.

Bush eroded that principle, with consistent backing by the federal justices.

Obama has not yet shown he can reverse that tide.

Elias is author of the current book "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It," now available in an updated third printing. His email address is