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Mixed grades on environment

October 14, 2008|Margot Roosevelt, Kenneth R. Weiss

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be known as the greenest governor in America. But his eco-record this year was at best "mixed," according to report cards from the Natural Resources Defense Council and other major environmental groups.

Not only did he terminate the most significant air pollution bill to reach his desk -- a measure to assess ship container fees that would be used to alleviate port traffic emissions -- but he vetoed other green bills strongly promoted by environmental groups:

Fire safety -- The governor vetoed AB 2447, sponsored by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), which would have required cities and counties to certify that new subdivisions have adequate fire protection before approving projects. It would also have required new homes to have fire safety features such as defensible space, emergency water systems and at least two escape routes.

In its report card, the Planning and Conservation League called the bill "the most meaningful measure on the governor's desk related to wildfire danger." But Schwarzenegger contended that it would be too "costly and time consuming" for the state to verify whether fire standards were being met.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, October 19, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Sharks: An article in Tuesday's California section about "virgin birth" in sharks described the fish as an ancient species. Sharks are a group of species with ancient origins.

Green building -- The governor vetoed AB 2939, sponsored by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), which would have authorized cities and counties to adopt green building standards that exceed those adopted by the state. Schwarzenegger said localities already could adopt stricter standards and the bill was "unnecessary and overly far-reaching."

Environmentalists also criticized the governor for signing a bill that gives exclusive authority over green building rules to the Building Standards Commission, instead of sharing authority, as is the current practice, with bodies such as the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board that have an environmental portfolio. "The commission is a body where industry has more influence," said Matt Petersen, executive director of Global Green, an environmental group that served on the building commission's technical advisory board.

Toxic chemicals -- The governor vetoed SB 775, sponsored by Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) to increase screening and tracking of childhood lead poisoning. The bill would also have required that information about lead, which can cause retardation, be given to pregnant women.

Schwarzenegger also vetoed SB 1313, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), which would have banned two chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), from being used in food packaging.

The chemicals have been linked to cancer and developmental problems in children. But the chemical industry says the science is not definitive.

Despite his vetoes, the governor won praise for signing the nation's most comprehensive bills to require future regulation of toxics, an effort to get away from a chemical-by-chemical approach.

And he also reinforced his record as an advocate for action on global warming with a bill to control sprawling development that leads to more driving, and thus to more planet-heating greenhouse gases.

-- Margot Roosevelt


Second shark has 'virgin birth'

The first time it happened, scientists thought it might be a fluke. A female hammerhead shark at a zoo in Omaha had not been in contact with male sharks for at least three years and yet experienced a "virgin birth." She delivered a single pup.

But it has happened again, according to the latest issue of the Journal of Fish Biology. This time, a blacktip shark had spent nearly her entire eight years at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center without any male companionship from her kind.

And again, in what some religions might call a miracle, and what science calls parthenogenesis, she produced a single pup. Employing DNA fingerprinting techniques used in human paternity tests, scientists have determined that in this case, as well as the hammerhead in Omaha, the solitary offspring contained no genetic material from a father.

"It's reasonable to assume that female sharks can do this on occasion," said Demian Chapman, a shark scientist with the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University in New York. "I'm sure this happens in the wild but haven't been able to prove it yet. There's no reason that keeping a shark in captivity would cause a fundamental change in the reproductive system."

Sharks have suffered steep declines in all of the world's oceans, either inadvertently caught by fishing nets and hooks or targeted for shark fin soup marketed as a delicacy in China.

Some scientists have suggested that parthenogenesis may be a last-ditch way for severely depleted populations to reproduce if their numbers fall so low that males cannot find females.

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