A New Year and a Very New California Legislature
There was excitement in the air in January 2013 as CLCV and our allies in the environmental community began the legislative session. The improving California economy, combined with increased tax revenues from Proposition 30, helped create the first budget surplus in years. The entering legislative class included an unprecedented number of freshmen legislators (a whopping 48% of the Assembly), a Democratic supermajority in both houses and a governor known for his environmental legacy — factors that many Californians assumed would all but guarantee progress on protecting the environment. As we look back at this year, the measure of the session includes some important wins, but in many ways environmental gains were harder fought and more elusive than expected.
Governor Jerry Brown himself continues to defy easy categorization. His 2013 Scorecard tally – signing eight of nine priority environmental bills that reached his desk – is commendable, but it doesn’t take into account his Administration’s positions on other bills that failed to make it to his desk. On big-picture climate change solutions, he provides inspiring leadership: joining in major agreements with governors of other states and forming an unlikely partnership with China to work together on low-carbon strategies and clean technologies. But almost in the same breath where he says California provides a bold environmental model for the nation and the world, he expresses support for fracking and weakening the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In the governor’s own words: “Protecting the environment is essential to our long-term prosperity. I have long recognized that environmental protection and economic development go hand in hand and will continue to promote both as Governor.” CLCV and the environmental community continue to urge the governor to live up to his own long and impressive career of service in the public’s interest – and that means being an unwavering champion for California’s environmental legacy.
Uniting to work on big-picture objectives, the environmental community focused on legislation that would support California’s leadership on clean energy and climate change solutions, improve water quality, protect the coast, and preserve CEQA, the state’s preeminent environmental protection law.
Mounting concerns around climate change and the need to curb fossil fuel consumption in a state expected to see its population grow to 60 million by 2050 primed the pump for bills seeking solutions to these complex challenges. Therefore, we saw legislation introduced to encourage the use of alternative fuels, address market manipulation of fuel prices, enact a moratorium on and regulate hydraulic fracturing and acidizing for oil extraction, and hold polluters accountable for their impacts.
Combatting Climate Change: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
California’s landmark climate law, AB 32 (Pavley, 2006) requires the state to reduce its carbon emissions, including providing the framework for our state’s “cap and trade system.” One element of this program, the auctioning of emissions credits, began in the fall of 2012. Four auctions have been completed, raising $500 million for projects that will curb greenhouse gas emissions. Once fully implemented, more than 80 percent of the state’s emitters will fall under the cap, including the companies and industries whose pollution has the most extreme impact on climate change.
The spending plan for the auction proceeds is designed to focus on programs that will curb near-term emissions and sets aside 25% of the state’s clean energy investments to benefit disadvantaged communities (as stipulated in two laws passed in 2012: AB 1532, J. Pérez, and SB 535, De León).
Despite this remarkable progress towards achieving California’s pollution reduction goals, Governor Brown’s stunning proposal (accepted by the legislature) to borrow $500 million of the auction revenue for the state’s General Fund, without a repayment plan, was a significant setback. We expected to see funds immediately used to assist communities disproportionately impacted by pollution and to foster the growth of clean industry techniques, smart growth practices, urban open space creation, and infrastructure development. As we look to next year, we’re working hard to ensure that the borrowed funds and future auction proceeds are used to fight climate change, as AB 32 requires, for the benefit of all Californians.
What the Frack?
There is usually one environmental issue in a legislative session that captures everyone’s attention, and this year was no exception. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is the process of extracting oil or natural gas by injecting chemicals into the ground at high pressure, breaking up rock formations and allowing more oil and gas to flow out of the formation. Fracking has been virtually unregulated both on and offshore for decades in California. New oil extraction techniques like acidizing have heightened both the public’s concerns and the urgency for the state to wrestle control of when, how, and where these practices take place back from the oil industry.
This year saw the introduction of 11 bills addressing fracking, including two comprehensive regulatory bills. CLCV supported two bills focused on groundwater monitoring related to fracking – AB 982 (Williams) and AB 669 (Stone) – but neither of them made it out of the Assembly. Predictably, the oil industry, represented by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), fought mightily to preserve the status quo and stopped most bills from moving forward.
CLCV worked with a large coalition of allies including Clean Water Action, Environmental Working Group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council to support SB 4, authored by environmental champion Senator Fran Pavley. SB 4 evolved into the most comprehensive bill and requires:
Disclosure of all chemicals being used in all well stimulation operations;
Notification of all well stimulation activities to both landowners and tenants;
A permit for fracking operations;
An independent study analyzing all the threats and risks associated with fracking and other oil extraction practices by the Natural Resources Agency; and
One of the nation’s most thorough and comprehensive groundwater monitoring plans.
Unfortunately, amendments at the end of the legislative session weakened some of the environmental review elements of the bill and CLCV and several other environmental groups had no choice but to withdraw support. The amendments created legal uncertainty over the level of environmental review under CEQA for fracking and requirements that would apply during the interim period while the regulations are being finalized and scientific study is underway. While the final version of the bill still contains many of the tough regulations that CLCV considers major steps forward, the risk that oil companies could exploit legal language was too great to continue our active support.
This was particularly tough for many in the environmental community who had fought hard for SB 4, a bill that still contains some of the strongest fracking protections in the nation. The bill was signed by the governor and is now law. The key environmental provisions take effect January 1, 2014, and the regulations will be finalized by 2015. It is critical that the environmental community ensure the law is fully implemented and enforced to its fullest extent. Both Governor Brown and Senator Pavley have expressed interest in legislation that cures the problems raised by the late amendments. CLCV will work diligently in the coming year to ensure that fracking and other well stimulation operations are subject to meaningful environmental review.
CLCV joins dozens of other environmental groups and communities all across California in urging Governor Brown to use his executive authority to immediately impose a moratorium on fracking. There is still too much unknown about the potential hazards of fracking and California’s clear priority should be to protect our communities and our environment. Take action now to support a moratorium on fracking in California.
Whiskey’s for Drinkin’… Water’s for Fightin’
On the heels of the passage of “The Human Right to Water” package of bills in two previous years, legislators tried to keep the momentum going in 2013 by continuing to address water access and quality. This meant restarting conversations on an overdue water bond, and continuing a three decades-old discussion about the potential for new infrastructure to convey water from north to south.
Thanks to (increasingly rare) bipartisan collaboration, there were great legislative strides made to improve California’s water access and quality this year. Assemblymembers from the Central Valley led the charge pushing policies to address the state’s contaminated groundwater supply—on which upwards of 21 million residents depend. Assemblymembers Alejo and Perea took the lead and introduced a nine bill suite that sought to tackle the drinking water crisis in California. Four bills made it to the governor and were signed.
An impending water bond to pay for crucial water infrastructure improvements continues to loom for California, and for another year was pushed back. The water bond legislation was passed in 2009 as part of the first comprehensive package of water policy reforms passed in 25 years; the result of painstaking negotiations between Democrats and Republicans to find a compromise. But lawmakers pulled the $11 billion bond from the ballot in both 2010 and 2012 due to concerns that voters would not pass it because of the high price tag. This year legislators were back at the drawing board trying to come up with a scaled back water bond to address the needs of our growing state. Despite efforts by the new Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife chair and former Interim CLCV Executive Director, Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, the water bond has been put on hold yet another year.
CEQA: Here We Go Again, and Again, and Again
In what has become an annual exercise, protecting CEQA, California’s keystone environmental review law, from being gutted or weakened remained one of CLCV’s top priorities this year. The environmental community organized a broad based campaign including a particularly effective coalition with organized labor to fight attacks on CEQA. Thanks to these collaborative efforts, we won this fight (for this year, at least).
Early in the session, in a surprising move, the newly appointed chair of the Senate Environmental Quality committee, Michael Rubio, resigned his seat to take a job as the Government Affairs Director of Chevron. Senator Rubio who had previously introduced legislation to significantly weaken CEQA had been expected to serve as the legislative champion for these efforts. However, as quickly as Senator Rubio came, he went, and so did the threat of harmful changes to CEQA… or so we thought.
Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg continued to follow through with his commitment—announced the previous year—to work with stakeholders to craft a path forward to update, but not weaken, the core of CEQA. He introduced SB 731, the “CEQA Modernization Act,” on the same day Rubio resigned from the Senate. With some in the business community pushing aggressively to reduce the scope of CEQA review and limit public involvement, stakeholders representing labor and the environment joined to form a coalition with one goal in mind: to protect CEQA.
The resulting Common Ground Coalition, which CLCV helped lead, proved successful in staving off a major weakening of CEQA. In the last two days of session, however, Senator Steinberg announced that he and Governor Brown had struck a deal to shelve SB 731 for the year and instead move forward with an end-of-session bill, SB 743. The bill was designed to provide the same protections against CEQA litigation delays to a proposed Sacramento basketball arena as were provided to other large infill projects in Senator Steinberg’s AB 900 (2011).
Several of the provisions from SB 731 were added to SB 743, including revisions to the way traffic impacts are analyzed under CEQA. As SB 743 becomes law on January 1, 2014, CLCV will closely monitor how these provisions play out when applied on the ground. If implemented correctly, these amendments could incentivize transit proximity projects while reducing sprawl and related pollution.
Sustainable Communities and Redevelopment
Since the state dissolved redevelopment agencies throughout the state, lawmakers have been seeking solutions to the funding gap this has created for transit-oriented projects and affordable housing. SB 1 (Steinberg) would have provided cities and counties a tool to implement SB 375 (Steinberg, 2008) by authorizing Sustainable Communities Investment Areas near transit and in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. It also would have provided funding for new affordable housing and strengthened protections for existing affordable housing. A similar bill was vetoed last year by Governor Brown. SB 1 passed the Senate and Assembly but, along with several other related bills, was not forwarded to the governor at his request. In the next year advocates will continue efforts to work with the governor and the legislature to craft a solution that will support local communities’ abilities to invest in the kinds of projects that will create the sustainable communities of the future.
Cleaner Cars + Cleaner Energy = Cleaner California
California’s Carl Moyer diesel emissions reduction program (AB 923), and the clean transportation investment program (AB 118) have benefitted California's health, air quality, and economy. Last year, a bill to extend the programs narrowly failed. This year, however, a similar bill, AB 8 (Perea), passed and was signed by the governor. The Carl Moyer program reduces health risks from toxic diesel soot by supporting early upgrades and replacements of vehicles and equipment to cleaner alternatives for on-road and off-road sources. To date, the programs have cleaned up 48,000 dirty diesel engines and removed 146,000 tons of smog-forming emissions from California’s air. The AB 118 program supports emerging advanced transportation technologies and fuels, including plug-in, hydrogen fuel cell and other cleaner vehicles. The program has deployed 23,000 advanced clean and alternative fueled vehicles, and supported over 7,600 jobs since 2007. Keeping these programs alive is an important victory for clean air, public health, and California’s economy.
Several bills this year focused on expanding renewable energy; two of these proposals, which focused on making solar energy accessible to all Californians, passed the legislature and were signed by the governor. SB 43 (Wolk) makes renewable solar energy more available by providing all customers with the ability to invest in offsite renewable energy projects and receive a utility bill credit in return. AB 217 (Bradford) establishes a new program which provides $108 million to keep existing solar programs going for qualified low-income households until 2021. This program will also encourage residential solar in disadvantaged communities by providing low-income families with solar incentives and will create additional solar job training and employment opportunities in California’s growing solar industry.
Condors, Bobcats, Ammo and Traps… Oh My!
Lead-based ammunition is a toxic threat to California condors and other protected birds, including bald eagles and golden eagles, as well as to fish and other wild animals. Lead ammo puts people at risk, too: leadshot can poison people who eat the meat of animals caught or hunted in California. Scientists call lead ammunition the number one source of unregulated lead left in our environment. AB 711 (Rendon) protects wildlife, humans, and the environment from toxic lead contamination by requiring the phase-in of non-lead ammunition in hunting over a four year period and banning lead ammunition in hunting. CLCV applauds Governor Brown for signing AB 711 into law despite opposition by the National Rifle Association, making California the first state to implement a ban on lead ammunition.
Wildlife advocates have noticed a dramatic increase in the commercial trapping of bobcats in California, which is in turn driven by the demand for bobcat pelts in China, Russia and other foreign markets for luxury items like coats and slippers. Traps are frequently set on the threshold of Joshua Tree National Park, where trapping is prohibited, in order to entice bobcats out of the park’s protective boundaries. Governor Brown signed AB 1213 (Bloom), which sets a no-trapping buffer zone around Joshua Tree National Park and other state and national parks, national monuments and wildlife refuges where bobcats are protected year-round from commercial trapping.
A Banner Year for Protection from Toxic Chemicals
California made significant advances this year on removing toxic chemicals from everyday products, both on the legislative and regulatory front. California's Safer Consumer Products law (also known as the green chemistry initiative) went into effect in October 2013, making the state a leader in regulating chemicals in everyday products. The new regulations have the potential to make hundreds of consumer products – everything from nail polish to cleaning supplies – safer for all of us. The program was made possible by two laws authored by then-Assemblymember Mike Feuer (AB 1879) and then-Senator Joe Simitian (SB 509) and signed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008. The legislation set out a more comprehensive approach to harmful chemicals than the previous piecemeal approach of passing laws that ban specific chemicals from particular products and authorized California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to identify, prioritize, evaluate and regulate harmful chemicals in all consumer products and collect vital hazard and toxicity information on chemicals in commerce.
But environmental legislation is only as effective as the rules written to implement it. After an earlier attempt by Governor Schwarzenegger failed to get the program off the ground in 2010 and was criticized by environmental advocates, Governor Brown ordered a “reboot” of writing the regulations. CLCV is proud to have supported the green chemistry bills and the environmental champions who authored them, and we'll be following the implementation of the new program closely.
Meanwhile, progress continued on a particularly ubiquitous threat: toxic flame retardant chemicals, which have been linked to lower IQs in children, birth defects, reduced fertility, and increased cancer risks among other health concerns. The Chicago Tribune called California “the most critical battleground” in its 2012 investigative series exposing the chemical industry’s lies about the benefits of the chemicals. This year, the Brown administration followed through with its commitment to revise the arcane flammability standard (TB 117) that for decades served as a de facto requirement to use flame retardant chemicals in furniture and other consumer products. The updated regulations, which improve fire safety without encouraging the use of toxic chemicals, were drafted and made available for public comment this year.
But similar chemicals also lurk inside the walls of our buildings. Currently, all building insulation in California is required to include toxic flame retardant chemicals. AB 127 (Skinner) calls for a revision of the California Building Code to reduce the use of flame retardant chemicals in building insulation while maintaining fire safety and encouraging healthy building practices. The bill received bipartisan support in the Assembly and Senate, and in keeping with his leadership on this issue, Governor Brown signed it into law.
Our Coast’s Protectors Need New Powers
The California Coastal commission is charged with implementing the Coastal Act, which was passed in 1976 to protect the state's 1,100 mile coastline and public access to the coast. But the commission currently lacks the power to impose fines on those who intentionally violate the Coastal Act. AB 976 (Atkins) would have given the Coastal Commission the same power that 20 other state regulatory agencies have: the ability to levy fines on those violating the law. This bill narrowly passed the Assembly and Senate, but when it came back to the Assembly for what should have been a procedural concurrence vote on the amendments, it failed. Industry opposition worked very hard against the bill in the final days before the vote, and several assemblymembers who had voted for a stronger version of the bill earlier in the year abstained when the amended bill came back from the Senate.
Polluters Block Progress
Throughout the legislative session, oil and chemical companies along with other polluting industries were very successful at stopping bills that would regulate them and improve the environment. For example, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the trade association and lobbyist for oil companies like BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil, spent more than any other lobbying group – a breathtaking $2.3 million – in the first six months of 2013 alone (and that doesn’t even include direct contributions to lawmakers). Their most intense lobbying efforts were directed at stopping bills dealing with fracking (see above) but other bills were targets, too.
SB 448 (Leno) would have tasked the California Energy Commission (CEC) to work with the Attorney General’s office to develop a consistent method for determining whether illegal market manipulation in the gas and diesel markets is occurring. It also requires the CEC to develop a methodology to analyze data against that standard and analyze fuel market data that find and prevent manipulative activity, and to develop a report to the legislature on further recommendations to limit price volatility and price increases of gasoline and diesel in California. Once WSPA prioritized killing this bill, it was a tough fight to pass it. The bill passed with the bare minimum votes in the Senate and Assembly, but it was ultimately vetoed by the governor.
In 2012, an explosion at the Chevron refinery in Richmond resulted in a shelter-in-place order affecting tens of thousands of local families, and 15,000 people rushing to area hospitals to address asthma and other respiratory symptoms. Chevron’s penalty was a paltry $10,000, thanks to a law that limits single-day air quality violation fines. SB 691 (Hancock) would have increased the penalty to $100,000 for air pollution violations where there is a severe disruption to the community. This bill narrowly passed the Senate and but was not brought up on the Assembly floor due to major opposition by the oil industry.
Another industry win came early in the session with the defeat of this year’s SB 405 (Padilla), which would have phased out plastic carryout bags in grocery, convenience, and drug stores. CLCV has been working for several years to reduce plastic pollution by supporting bills that ban polystyrene takeout containers and plastic carryout bags. Local jurisdictions throughout California continue to pass plastic bag bans, with more than 80 counties or cities now covered by such ordinances. This year, Los Angeles became the largest American city to ban plastic bags at grocery stores, corner markets, and big-box retailers where groceries are sold. But for several years, efforts at the state level have failed thanks in large part to multi-million dollar lobbying efforts by the American Chemistry Council and out-of-state manufacturers of plastic bags like Hilex Poly. Sadly, this year’s effort met the same fate. Despite the fact that the bill earned the support of the California Grocers Association for the first time, it failed on the Senate floor on an 18-17 vote. The good news is that Senator Padilla plans to bring the bill back next year. Cities and counties keep moving forward with their bans, so plastic bags’ days are numbered and a statewide program is only a matter of time. Sign on to our petition and urge California to ban wasteful single-use plastic bags.
Disclosing Industry’s Influence on Elections
SB 52 (Leno/Hill), the California Disclose Act, would have fought back against hidden spending on campaigns by letting voters know who really is paying for political ads — in the ads themselves. The bill passed with the required 2/3 vote in the Senate, but it was not brought up for a vote in the Assembly. The authors have committed to working on the bill next year. With plenty of examples in this year’s Scorecard of the outsized political power of the fossil fuel and chemical industries and others who work against environmental progress, passing this bill continues to be a major priority for CLCV.
Eyes on 2014
As we noted in our introduction, we welcomed 38 new assemblymembers at the beginning of this legislative session, and four more took their seats through special elections. More than half of the members of the California Assembly just completed their first year in office. The newly elected lawmakers survived more costly and competitive elections thanks to a perfect storm of redistricting and “top-two” primary elections. With the passage of Proposition 28, allowing members to serve in either house for up to twelve years, these freshmen legislators are likely to stay for a while.
These are important factors to consider when determining why, in spite of a two-thirds supermajority of Democrats in the legislature, the environmental community experienced a more challenging climate than many had predicted. Many lawmakers may think they need to play it safe and not pick a fight with powerful industry interests. We have another election year around the corner in 2014, and it is up to all of us who share a commitment to delivering a healthy future to our children and protecting California’s conservation heritage to mobilize our environmental majority. We will need to work together in these districts to hold our lawmakers accountable: not to out-of-state dirty energy companies, but to their constituents who overwhelmingly want to protect our environment and see California leading the way for our next generation.