Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Monday, March 18, 2013
His story, and President Obama's pick to succeed Lisa Jackson at the U.S. EPA and a look at Heil Environmental's truck doctor, all top this week's "Curbside Live."
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Craig McNamara, the son of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, balances public policy work with organic farming and teaching in the Sacramento Valley.
Craig McNamara, whose father was Defense secretary during the Vietnam War, balances public service and organic farming in the Sacramento Valley. (Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times / October 3, 2012)
Organic food basket: At his Sierra Orchards, Craig McNamara makes extensive use of pro-environment and conservation techniques as he grows 450 acres of organic walnuts, presses organic olive oil from 150 trees that are more than a century old and helps his son raise hops for a local craft beer. The Center for Land-Based Learning and the California Farm Academy are based at his farm, on the bank of Putah Creek near the Solano-Yolo county line.
Techniques: "We try to incorporate sustainability into all our actions," said McNamara, so that the farm supports "healthy people, a healthy planet and a healthy profit." He relies on solar power to run water pumps, sediment traps to reduce fertilizer runoff into streams and the underground aquifer, "green" composting that doesn't depend on animal manure and pollination with native bees.
Honors: His environmental work earned him the 2012 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award, the 2007 Leopold Conservation Award and other honors. He has served on the state Board of Food and Agriculture since 2002. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him board president.
Politics and the farm: McNamara has managed to find a balance among making a living as a farmer, teaching about the importance of farming and, as a high-level appointee, helping bring experience and expertise to public policy on water, labor, exports and other issues in the country's richest agricultural state.
Roots and upbringing: He grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Washington, D.C., in the shadow of his late father, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, considered the architect of the Vietnam War. In high school, Craig McNamara broke with his father over the war. His mother, Margaret, was a literacy pioneer who started the Reading Is Fundamental program.
Latin America travels: McNamara's interest in agriculture developed after he dropped out of Stanford University and traveled around Latin America for two years. On his way to Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America, he worked on peasant farms and came to understand "the importance of sustainable agriculture and how political food is."
Back to the land: McNamara came to the Sacramento Valley, where he fell in love with the flat, fertile soil and the farms, ranches and orchards. He received a degree in plant and soil science from UC Davis in 1976 and struggled for three years to run a 60-acre garden that supplied fresh produce to San Francisco restaurants. "It broke me financially and it broke me physically," he said. He switched to walnuts, he said, because they are high value, harvested once a year, healthful and not highly perishable.
Nuclear family: McNamara has been married for 30 years to his wife, Julie, an entomologist he met at UC Davis. They have two sons — Graham, 28, who works for a software company in San Francisco, and Sean, 25, who returned to the farm 18 months ago to grow hops. A daughter, Emily, 20, is a student at Brown University.
Young farmers: The California Farm Academy just graduated its first class of 20 young farmers from its six-month program. The center and academy are busy places thanks to a growing interest among young people in organic farming, farmers markets and the slow-food movement, he said. "It's a perfect wave, a wholesome wave," McNamara said. "Millennials understand the importance of agriculture and food and this vital connection to nature." California must attract more young farmers, he said, or risk losing valuable agricultural land from production.
Agricultural gold: As an educator, McNamara hopes that training will instill among students the same devotion to the land that the pioneers of the Sacramento Valley showed when they settled there after the Gold Rush. "People then were so dedicated, so courageous and so adaptable," he said. "The same character exists today."
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Josh Dorfman has a confession: He likes to take long showers. That’s where he does his best thinking, and he’s got plenty on his mind as a CEO, author and television show host.
The mission of his television show, “The Lazy Environmentalist,” is to make it as easy as possible for a person to reduce his or her environmental impact while maintaining a high quality of life.
This is where the long shower comes back into the story. Rather than stop doing something he truly enjoys, Dorfman mitigates the damage of his longer shower by using an Oxygenics low-flow showerhead that cuts water usage by 40 percent.
“There are product solutions that can help us with our environmental shortcomings,” he says.
Dorfman tries to get the word out about such products, whether they be eco-friendly winter boots, organic crib mattresses, or zero-down home solar panels. He teaches about these options through his books, Web site and television show.
“The lazy environmentalist approach is about determining what will turn Americans on to environmentally smart choices,” Dorfman says. “It’s about appealing to our enlightened self-interest that is very willing to do ‘the right thing’ provided there’s something else in it for us. It may not be laudable, but it’s reality, and I prefer working effectively within reality instead of engaging in a campaign of wishful thinking.”
Dorfman’s television show explores simple, green solutions for a variety of individuals. The second season of “The Lazy Environmentalist” will be debuting on the Sundance Channel on April 20, just in time for Earth Day 2010. Earth911 has a sneak peak of what to expect.
What’s new in season 2
Although the show maintains the same format, which highlights the green transition of an individual or family, the energy level is much higher in the new season, Dorfman says. His goal is to “not sugarcoat green.”
“We show lots of green solutions, but they are constantly being evaluated,” Dorfman says. “We honestly ask, ‘Can green solutions hold up in the real world?’ Sometime they do, and sometimes they don’t. It’s not just green show and tell. We test to see if the products really work.”
He is also excited about green myth busting. For example, the first episode involves greening a Hollywood interior designer, who has admittedly lied about looking into green options in the past. While at the store looking for zero VOC paints, Dorfman educates the store employee and viewers about the need to look closer at the label.
“Zero VOC doesn’t mean zero toxins. You have to check for both,” he says, explaining that sometimes consumers jump to buy the “green” product without verification.
The new season holds many surprises, including unique green candidates, such as a funeral director and an exterminator.
“We had a lot of fun filming, and I hope that translates to viewers,” Dorfman says.
From frustration to inspiration
Dorfman discovered his passion for environmentalism while living in China in 1995. One day in the crowded city, he pondered on how the world would be different when all the millions of Chinese people got cars. “I wasn’t even an environmentalist at that point, I just realized it would be really, really bad,” he remembers.
As he began to learn more about unsustainability, Dorfman changed his lifestyle and became a green activist.
“I went through the normal activist stage of being angry for a number of years,” he says. “By 2002, I was just tired of being upset all the time. My anger, frustration and fear were alienating me from my family. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be this person, and I’m not even affecting any change.’ I knew there had to be a way for me to be happier and also affect change in society.”
Dorfman felt inspired to start his own sustainable contemporary furniture company, Vivavi.
He wanted to “help shift the way Americans think about green living and rebrand environmentalism as choices that are desirable and that tangibly improve our quality of life.”
Although Vivavi was a fulfilling venture, Dorfman became increasingly interested in engaging the average American in green living practices. He was invited to host a radio show (which he broadcast from his New York closet), eventually leading to his first book and later, his television show.
Over the years, he has mastered the technique of communicating green to all audiences. Unfortunately, many green organizations and companies do not practice this approach, he says.
“One might argue environmentalists are actually the worst advocates of their own message,” Dorman says. “We don’t have a solution challenge. We have a communication challenge. Until we start talking about green choices in terms of things that matter to all people and not just to other environmentalists, only environmentalists will hear us.”
Dorfman shares a story from the first season of “The Lazy Environmentalist” when he was trying to green a family that produced an enormous amount of trash. The father was hardest to reach. It was only when Dorfman began talking about the possibility that trash pickup prices might increase that the father opened up to his suggestions.
“We’ve got to talk about it in terms of things people are personally invested in and get away from this feel good-ism which the majority of Americans don’t believe in, even if I personally do,” he says. “It doesn’t compromise our integrity to communicate with people on their own level.”
He describes an increasing need for better green marketing,visibility and accessibility.
“I believe that green business ought to do a better job of making their products available where people really shop, make prices comparable, and make quality of products comparable. The reality is that it is very difficult for people to change their behavior on their own volition, but if the green product is right there on the shelf next to the other product, people will buy it.”
Ashley Schiller is a freelance writer. She is currently finishing her bachelors in political science and journalism.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Did you lose your house to foreclosure this year? Did your lender forgive some of your mortgage debt because you sold it for less than it was worth? If so, you could be facing a big tax hit.
It is IRS policy to tax forgiven debt you are personally responsible for as if it is income. Say, for example, your credit card company settled a $10,000 debt for 50 cents on the dollar. You'd have a debt forgiveness of $5,000, which the IRS would count as income, just like your wages.
- The same policy held true for most mortgage debt until 2007, when Congress passed the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Act. That ended the liability for many homeowners -- but not all.
In general, if you lose your home to foreclosure or short sale, where you sell your home for less than you owe, the IRS won't add insult to injury by counting the difference as income. At least until 2012.
There are four major exceptions to the rule:
1. You did a cash-out refinance and splurged.
Many homeowners took cash out when they refinanced their homes and used the extra dough to pay for new cars, boats or vacations. Say you did that and then got into trouble, losing the house through a foreclosure or short sale. Even if your lender waived the remaining debt, the IRS will treat as income the portion of the forgiven debt that you took out as cash and spent. Only the funds used to actually improve your home won't be taxed. Yes, even if you spent the money on paying off your student loans or credit cards.
The IRS' reasoning is that only the money spent on home improvement actually added to your home's value. And that, presumably, diminished the difference between what you owed on your mortgage and the value of your home when it was foreclosed.
Beware: Some lenders made refinancing offers contingent on homeowners paying off credit card debt, according to Kent Anderson, a Eugene, Ore.-based attorney and tax expert. If you took one of those deals, the refinance money will be reported to the IRS and you will owe taxes on it.
2. You have a home-equity line of credit.
During the boom years, many homeowners tapped soaring home equity to make all sorts of consumer purchases. But the same rules that apply to refinancings also apply to home-equity loans: The IRS will only forgive the tax liability if the loan money was spent improving your home. And, tax experts advise, you'll need to show receipts to prove you did.
3. You lost your vacation home or investment property.
So the market tanked and you lost your vacation home. Unfortunately, if you didn't use it as your primary residence for at least two of the previous five years, you're going to pay the tax man.
More common, however, may be the case of investment properties gone sour. During the housing boom, buying homes for investment purposes soared, accounting for 28% of all sales during 2005, according to the National Association of Realtors. (Vacation homes made up 12%.) And many of these purchases were made with little down payment.
When the bust hit, second home prices cratered. The median price paid for investment properties fell 43% to $105,000 in 2009, from $183,500 in 2005, according to NAR. For vacation homes, the median price paid dropped 17% to $169,000.
If an investor bought a property in 2005 at the median price and sold it in 2009, he could have run up $75,000 or so in forgiven debt. If the investor is in the 25% income tax bracket, that would add nearly $19,000 to their tax liability. Ouch!
4. You owned a multi-million-dollar home.
It may be hard for Americans struggling in this weak economy to sympathize with anyone wealthy enough, at one time, to afford a multi-million-dollar home. But owners losing one could be on the hook for a huge tax bill.
Only the first $2 million in forgiven debt will be voided under the relief act; all the overage is taxable as income.
So, say, for example, you're Scarlett Johansson. You paid $7 million for your Hollywood Hills villa in 2007. (With a 100% mortgage; this is hypothetical, remember.) But now, you have it on the market for $4.59 million.
Say you can't unload it, your movies tank and you have to a short sale. (Hey, it happened to Nicholas Cage; he went into foreclosure.) If you sell it for $4 million, leaving a $3 million balance, the IRS would forgive the first $2 million. But the remaining million? You better hope you have a good accountant and a lot of deductions.
The good news? Even if you fall under any of these four scenarios, you may have a way out, according to Anderson. "If the taxpayer was insolvent at the time of the foreclosure, the forgiven debt can be excluded for tax purposes," he said. "It can also be discharged in a bankruptcy and approved by court order."
While most states follow the IRS lead and don't tax most forgiven mortgage debt, California still makes you pay. The state legislature hopes to change that before April 15, but right now California taxpayers are legally liable for paying state income taxes on forgiven mortgage debt.
The state, which has endured some of the worst price declines and foreclosure rates in the nation, did follow the federal lead when it passed the original debt forgiveness bill, but the state only authorized the relief for the 2007 and 2008 tax years. There have been successive legislative efforts to extend relief through 2009, but none have succeeded.
One attempt at passing an omnibus "conformity" bill resulted in a veto by Gov. Schwarzenegger for reasons having nothing to do with mortgage debt forgiveness. The governor objected to a different provision covering erroneous tax reporting by businesses.
Confusion and anxiety is running high, according to Rocky Rushing, chief of staff for democratic state Sen. Ron Calderon, who is spearheading new legislation. His office has fielded many calls from unhappy taxpayers.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Published on November 17th, 20082 CommentsPosted in Center, Energy, Leader
Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Executive Order to Raise California’s Renewable Energy Goals to 33% by 2020 and Clear Red Tape for Renewable Energy Projects
In an executive order signed on Monday, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger committed to getting a third of California’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Schwarzenegger made the announcement while speaking at a solar panel factory in Sacramento. California Executive Order S-14-08 puts the state’s renewable energy requirement at 33% by 2020, securing its place as the most aggressive renewable energy mandate in the country.
vote nowBuzz up!The order comes Just three days after Schwarzenegger issued another unprecedented executive order to state agencies telling them to make preparations for rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Schwarzenegger’s aggressive target, however, cannot be met without additional changes in the current policy landscape. In fact, just two weeks ago, California voters soundly rejected Proposition 7 which sought to increase the state’s renewable energy standard. Environmental groups were nearly unanimous in their opposition to Prop 7 because it created an exclusion for smaller utilities and power providers. Schwarzenegger said:
“…we won’t meet that goal doing business as usual, where environmental regulations are holding up environmental progress in some cases. This executive order will clear the red tape for renewable projects and streamline the permitting and siting of new plants and transmission lines. With this investment in renewable energy projects, California has a bright energy future ahead that will help us fight climate change while driving our state’s green economy.”
The Governor will propose legislative language that will codify the new higher standards and require all utilities, public and private, to meet the 33 percent target and spread implementation costs across all ratepayers with safeguards for low-income customers. The executive order will also allow for the expansion of eligibility for California’s RPS program to renewable energy generation from other western states.
The Governor made today’s announcement at the site of OptiSolar’s new plant in Sacramento, which will begin manufacturing solar panels in early 2009. When fully built out, the one-million-square-foot plant will be the largest photovoltaic solar panel manufacturing plant in North America.
Image: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
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