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Humboldt County, California, seen by Planet. Photo: Planet Labs, Inc.

Humboldt County, California — located along the Pacific coast, north of San Francisco — is now using photos and data provided by the private satellite company Planet to find and ticket illegal marijuana cultivators.

Why it matters: The new monitoring method has revolutionized the way the county enforces permitting for growing cannabis, and it shows a surprising way that relatively cheap access to space can affect daily life.

The impact: Before the county began using Planet’s data, officials issued less than 100 citations for these kinds of infractions 2 years ago, Humboldt County Deputy Director Bob Russell tells Axios. But last year, the county issued 690 and collected more than $1 million in fines and penalties.

  • Instead of having to rely on complaints and site visits in the large, rural county, county officials can now use Planet's data to find illegal greenhouses or other structures and track how long they've been there.
  • Planet is in its second year of a 3-year agreement with Humboldt to provide satellite imagery of about 2,700 square miles of the county multiple times per year. Planet charges the county about $200,000 per year.
  • While the county did use satellite data to track compliance before, it was hit or miss, according to Russell.
  • Officials were dependent on Google Earth or other databases updating their imagery on their schedules.
  • TerraServer, Earth-i and GeoNorth Information Systems also competed with Planet for the contract.

What's next: Russell sees a future where this kind of data becomes even more useful. Instead of having to comb through the data, machine learning might be able to do the heavy lifting, flagging suspicious structures imaged from one month to the next.

Go deeper

SEC debunks conspiracy theories about meme stock mania

Photo: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The SEC issued its long-awaited report on the meme stock mania, which downplayed the narrative that a "short squeeze" was the primary driver behind GameStop's historic stock moves — and shot down conspiracy theories about the event.

Why it matters: The postmortem was highly anticipated, largely because of what it could hint about what the regulator thinks should be done in wake of the saga. But the report stopped short of specific policy recommendations.

Breaking Biden's diplomatic logjam

Expand chart
Data: Center for Presidential Transition via Congress.gov; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The logjam for reviewing and confirming President Biden's ambassadorial picks is finally starting to break.

Why it matters: Biden is far behind his predecessors in the rate at which his ambassadorial picks have been confirmed. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a series of high-profile hearings and votes this week to finally begin chipping away at the backlog.

1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats brace for staredown over paid family medical leave

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senior House Democrats are braced for battle with the Senate over whether paid family medical leave — a key priority for progressives — will be included in President Biden’s final budget reconciliation bill, lawmakers and aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has indicated he wants to cut the program to reduce the bill's price tag. “Paid family and medical leave must be in the final package,” Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Axios on Monday.