Opinion: Green Light


Knights of Dave Min’s Laguna “Environmental Roundtable” 

By Tom Osborne

The event, attended by maybe forty people who are hardcore local environmentalists, was under-publicized and unpretentious. No news crews. No hype. It was much like a UC Irvine symposium, meaning heavy on substance, verifiable facts and expertise. Mayor Bob Whalen and councilmembers George Weiss and Mark Orgill were in the small audience while councilmember Alex Rounaghi was a panelist.

King Arthur would have been hard-pressed to assemble a more valorous and dedicated group of seven environmental champions than those who figuratively met on the field of Laguna’s Susi Q Center in the late morning of Aug. 9. They came not for combat but to present their informed views on a range of issues critically important to the health of our habitats, water courses, drinking water, ocean, soils and more. The occasion was California state Sen. Dave Min’s (SD 37) Environmental Roundtable. The speakers had all earned their chops in the service of greening Orange County, a kingdom until more recent decades not known for environmental leadership. Yet, as the event showed, this county has been steadily getting in tune with the rest of California in demonstrating the boldness and vision necessary to build a livable future.

Min’s presenters included Laguna’s prodigy councilmember Rounaghi; Kate Wheeler, president of the Crystal Cove Conservancy; Michael O’Connell, president and CEO of Irvine Ranch Conservancy; Garry Brown, founder and president of Coastkeeper; Jim Sulentich, executive director of Natural Communities Coalition; Katherine Moore, consultant to the California Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee, and, appropriately, Min, whose environmental credibility can be matched by few Orange County politicians. He masterfully emceed the meeting of minds. 

All panelists delivered substantive remarks. Still, as an opinion columnist rather than a reporter, what follows is my rendering of what seemed most salient for readers rather than a comprehensive account of what transpired.

With the smoldering Lahaina, Maui inferno framing this writing, O’Connell’s prescient comments stood out: “Our wildfires [in OC] are driven not by fuels but by winds. Eighty-mile-an-hour [Santa Ana] winds prevent putting out fires,” he said. For our edification, Min urged us to read California Burning by Katherine Blunt to fully appreciate the ignition danger unburied power lines present to communities. Mayor Whalen, notably, has worked tirelessly on undergrounding in Laguna Beach.

Regarding the need for clean, sustainable energy, Min said, “we’re going to blow past [a 1.5 degree C increase in temperature]. Still, we must displace oil. . . . [and] the old fossil fuel infrastructure. [We have] a five-alarm fire. We can . . . transform our economy. Orange County can be the hub for the Green Apollo Project.” 

Of course, water was discussed. Moore, with a nod to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s urgings, spoke to the future she saw on California’s horizon: “We have to plan for having ten percent less water.” Min added: “Orange County is a world leader in recycling water.” But scaling up Orange County’s recycling efforts would necessitate more facilities to carry out the reverse osmosis process. Such facilities require permits, which led Min to ask arguably the most vexing question of the entire Roundtable: “How do we balance permitting with environmental protection?” 

In my opinion, that question lies at the heart of the ongoing disagreement within the environmental movement about siting industrial scale wind turbines and solar installations in places like the Mojave Desert. I strongly favor streamlining permitting that simultaneously protects the environment. A recent Princeton University study showed that without such streamlining America would lose up to eighty percent of the emissions reductions afforded by the landmark Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

All presenters made brief closing remarks. Rounaghi teasingly put Min on notice that Laguna would soon surpass Irvine as Orange County’s environmental leader when our city’s fleet of electric vehicles took to the roads, and our public buildings were electrified. Laguna as a green Camelot; it has a nice ring to it.

Tom Osborne and his wife, Ginger, co-lead the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He is available by email at [email protected].

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  1. Unfortunately, Laguna Beach remains the only South County city without a recycled water system choosing, instead, to discharge 2 million gallons daily of secondary sewage just 1.5 miles offshore hoping it all just “goes away”. Annually, we are flushing over 1/2 billion gallons of wastewater with everything in our urine next to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and an essential whale migration route. The ocean controls the climate and we determine the health of the ocean. Future Environmental Roundtables must address our unwillingness to aim for Zero Liquid Discharges to Laguna’s and California’s precious ocean waters. Instead of dumping our wastewater into the ocean, more recycled water for a perimeter wildfire protection system will be invaluable when the next wildfire erupts.

    Who will lead?


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