The 11th hour

Auntie Ruth is green to the eco scene. Read each week as she weeds through the dirt and unearths new gems of environmental knowledge.

Dubya still has a few weeks left in the Oval Office, and his administration has been making the most of its remaining days—at the expense of the environment. In mid-December, the Interior Department eliminated a 35-year-old provision in the Endangered Species Act that required federal agencies to seek independent scientific reviews of planned projects to determine if they’d adversely affect imperiled plants or animals. This major change will allow agencies who undertake oil and gas drilling and road and power-plant construction to make their own assessments. However, if a project results in the loss of species, known as “take,” the agency will continue to be held liable, which isn’t much consolation to conservationists or the taken species. The Interior Department received almost 235,000 comments on the proposal; at least 208,000 letters opposed the rule, according to The Washington Post.

Auntie Ruth was glad to hear that the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to require older big-rig trucks to reduce their diesel emissions. Trucks will need to be retrofitted or replaced starting in 2011. Diesel trucks are responsible for one third of the state’s smog, and diesel particulates are suspected brain carcinogens. The new rules apply to trucks that weigh more than 14,000 pounds that travel through the state. Owners will be required to retrofit about 230,000 heavy-duty rigs with diesel exhaust traps and replace about 350,000 older, dirty engines by 2023, according to the Los Angeles Times. While the change will cost truckers an estimated $5.5 billion (minus $1 billion in government subsidies), proponents argue that concern over the cost to truckers doesn’t trump the cost to our public health.

Long ago, Ruth started taking canvas bags with her to the grocery store, but some shoppers haven’t yet made the switch. Well, Auntie Ruth thinks it’s time to force their hands! She signed a petition sponsored by the Environmental Council of Sacramento that aims to encourage the city of Sacramento to ban plastic grocery bags, which will eventually be presented to the city council and Mayor Kevin Johnson. The ban would impose a fee or tariff on the use of plastic bags. ECOS hopes to obtain 5,000 signatures, but currently only has about 100. Sign the petition at