Recent studies by a variety of environmental organizations say that California’s coastlines are at risk in the future of flooding due to sea rise, which could worsen due to climate change.

And a bill by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Marina del Rey) would allow a state agency to continue to pursue its work on addressing the ecological phenomenon.

Senate Bill 1066, which the senator introduced Feb. 14, would authorize the California Coastal Conservancy to fund projects that involve addressing climate change.

Lieu, who represents coastal communities Marina del Rey and Venice as well as cities in the South Bay, sees an economic as well as an environmental imperative in proposing SB 1066.

“Rising sea levels and storm-driven waves pose direct risks to the state’s coastal resources,” the senator said. “With the coastal economy contributing $46 billion annually to the state and with 80 percent of California’s 38 million residents living within 30 miles of the coast, we must take steps now to ensure the coastal economy and environment survives.”

The conservancy has been addressing climate change through a series of initiatives designed to guide readers to several sections that have been completed on its website at www.scc.ca.gov.

Jeremy Pal, a professor of engineering and environmental science at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester who has written extensively on global warming, believes that combating climate change is a complex problem that should transcend politics. Nevertheless, he does think that legislators should be more proactive in pursuing policies that can help curb this phenomenon.

“Adaptation to and mitigation of climate change are largely political issues beyond the actions of individuals,” Pal stated. “That said, state lawmakers and government agencies certainly could do more and probably should do more about climate change.”

Recently, the topic has reentered the national political discussion. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has stated recently that he has never believed in the “hoax of global warming” and categorized the concept of man-made climate change as “bogus.”

Lieu said there is no disputing the evidence accumulated by scientists regarding the warming of ocean temperatures and alterations in weather patterns. “The science is clear that the earth is heating up,” he said. “We need to start taking aggressive steps to begin to address climate change.”

SB 1066 gives the conservancy additional authority to allocate funds for initiatives to study and plan for climate change.

While Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay is not directly involved in efforts to fight climate change, the environmental organization does have an interest in protecting watersheds as well as the state’s coastlines, which can be impacted by changes to the climate system.

The organization is also concerned with sea level rise and sea level change.

“Heal the Bay feels strongly that planning for climate change adaptation is critical for protecting California’s coastal future in the face of ocean acidity and sea level rise,” said Sarah Sikich, Heal the Bay’s coastal resources director.

Due to drainage and degradation, coastal wetlands can be a source of carbon dioxide that, once in the atmosphere, can be a contributor to global warming and lead to increased carbon sequestration, according to a report issued last year by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in conjunction with the World Bank.

The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, which will be assisting the conservancy and the California Department of Fish and Game in a much- anticipated revitalization of the Ballona Wetlands, received a climate ready estuaries grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address how climate change will specifically affect the state’s wetlands and watersheds.

“Climate change is a very important issue to wetlands, especially as it relates to sea level rise and global carbon management,” said Karina Johnston, a commission restoration biologist.

Marcia Hanscom of the Playa del Rey-based Ballona Institute said she once attended a workshop on global warming hosted by the California Coastal Commission and was impressed with its efforts.

But Hanscom, who is opposed to Johnston’s organization being part of the Ballona Wetlands restoration, is not convinced that all government agencies’ use of scientific data conforms to climate change protocol.

“It seems to me that if the state were truly planning for sea level rise with this project, they would keep as much land as upland as possible, since rising tides will likely inundate many acres of the lands that are needed for refuge from the waters by certain species,” she asserted.

This is not the first time that Lieu has expressed an interest in taking on the consequences of global warming.

“The threat of global climate change is the biggest issue we face, not as a state, but as a planet,” then-Assemblyman Lieu said in an Oct. 25, 2007 interview with The Argonaut.

Sikich thinks SB 1066, if passed, can be an important legislative tool for government agencies as well as environmental groups concerned with climate change.

“(SB 1066) will help enable California to buffer against severe impacts associated with climate change and it will ensure protection for valuable natural resources,” she said.

Lieu said the conservancy is one of the state’s agencies that are best equipped to work on projects that could affect coastal infrastructure and natural resources. “They are a great organization that has helped California and its environment,” he said.

Pal, who was one of the contributing authors on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC), an international collaboration of scientists that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, sees a benefit in government intervention on climate change given that recent studies indicate that ecological reserves like the Ballona Wetlands can be vulnerable to warmer temperatures and degradation.

“Since some states and regions are more vulnerable to climate change than others, it is probably a good idea to address the issue from the federal government level down to the state and even the county levels,” the LMU professor noted. “This is especially the case when our federal government appears to be doing little to address climate change.”

To Lieu, there is no time to waste on addressing the consequences of climate change.

“The enormity of the problem requires a coordinated approach,” the senator concluded. “Climate change is the single most important environmental issue in our state.”

SB 1066 will enter one of its first stages in the legislative review process next month, when it will be assigned to a policy review committee.

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