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Sierra Pacific Industries, California’s largest private land owner, claimed a share of that money almost immediately for, in effect, doing nothing. In a September 30 press release, the company seemed pleased:

“Elements of this transaction are unique to California; the first project in the series of activities will be designed to protect the genetic diversity and integrity of Giant Sequoia trees in the Sierra helping to expand its range as an adaptation strategy in the face of climate change. Noted for their enormous potential to sequester carbon dioxide, over 20,000 Giant Sequoias in this first project area will be conserved in perpetuity.”
“Overall, some 60,000 acres of SPI’s private timberland in California will be dedicated to this transaction. The projects will be submitted to the Climate Action Reserve for registration in the Reserve’s registry of carbon offset credits consistent with CAR’s recently approved forest protocol; Version 3.0. The Climate Action Reserve is a national offsets program working to ensure integrity, transparency and financial value in the U.S. carbon market. The protocol was approved by the Climate Action Reserve on September 1, and endorsed by the California Air Resources Board on September 24, 2009.”

Environmentalists have cried foul over this:

“This looks a whole lot like a giant timber company getting paid millions of dollars to do business-as-usual, and destroying our forests, water quality, and wildlife in the process,” said Brian Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Giving carbon credits for logging operations is a shell game where timber companies win, and the forest, the climate, and everyone else loses.”

The deal announced today is based on last week’s decision by the California Air Resources Board to adopt a set of protocols for assessing the carbon impacts of forest practices, including a measure that would allow forest clearcutting to qualify for carbon credits as part of California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The board heard testimony from numerous conservation organizations opposed to the provision, asking the board to postpone the decision to allow time to consider the environmental impacts of the rule. However, it board voted unanimously to immediately adopt the protocols with the clearcutting provision included.

“This explains why everybody was so anxious to adopt the forest protocols last week and totally ignore the obvious problems regarding forest clearcutting,” said Nowicki. “Giving carbon credits for clearcutting calls into serious question the integrity of California’s forest carbon program and, in fact, raises serious concerns over the state’s commitment to achieving real reductions in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

The response from the governor’s office was predictable. Opposition to clear-cutting “is like a religion to some folks,” Dan Pellissier, Schwarzenegger’s deputy Cabinet secretary for energy and the environment, told the Los Angeles Times. “There is no amount of science that will undercut their beliefs.”

Schwarzenegger’s condescension towards environmentalists and embrace of big business polluters, combined with a possible fatal flaw in Obama’s new greenhouse gases plan, virtually assures that Californians will have many more bad air days ahead.

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