Year in Review: 2015


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Legislature passed landmark climate solutions, but influence of oil industry and legislative “Oil Caucus” loomed large

The California Environmental Scorecard reveals how members of the state legislature and Governor Jerry Brown performed on the most important environmental and public health bills in the 2015 legislative session.

California’s legislature passed and Governor Jerry Brown signed historic bills that will increase the state’s use of clean, renewable energy to 50% by the year 2030, more equitably distribute the benefits of clean energy to low-income families, ban microbeads from personal care products, automatically register millions more voters, and end California’s illegal ivory trade, among other important bills.

“Environmental champions in our legislature and advocates on the ground worked hard to pass clean air and clean energy bills that deliver benefits equitably to all residents, making California the undisputed national environmental leader,” said Sarah Rose, Chief Executive Officer, CLCV. “Most significantly, Californians made history by passing a first-in-the-nation law, SB 350, committing our state to increasing our use of clean, renewable energy to 50 percent and doubling energy efficiency in our buildings by the year 2030. This progress is possible because of the tremendous outpouring of grassroots support from Californians who know our state can and will rise above the challenges of dirty air, communities at risk from wildfires, and threatened drinking water supplies.”

Priority bills that made it to the governor’s desk and were signed into law include:

  • SB 350 (De León) increases the state’s use of renewable energy to 50% and doubles energy efficiency of buildings by 2030;
  • AB 693 (Eggman) makes benefits of solar power accessible to residents of multifamily housing;
  • SB 185 (De León) requires California’s public pension funds to divest from holdings in thermal coal;
  • AB 888 (Bloom) bans plastic microbeads in personal care products beginning in 2020;
  • AB 1461 (Gonzalez) creates a more effective Motor Voter registration program which will automatically register millions more California voters;
  • AB 1496 (Thurmond) directs the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to develop a program to reduce methane emissions;
  • AB 1288 (Atkins) adds two environmental justice representatives to the ARB;
  • AB 744 (Chau) reduces parking minimums for affordable housing near transit;
  • AB 96 (Atkins) closes loopholes in the state’s ivory trade ban.

“These legislative successes are shared by every community in this diverse, beautiful state we call home,” said Rick Zbur, President and Chair of the Board, CLCV. “Access to clean air, clean water, and the benefits of our transition to cleaner sources of energy are critical to all Californians’ quality of life. SB 350 and AB 693 in particular will democratize the benefits of clean energy and make sure they are implemented equitably across all communities, while AB 1461 will help reverse the trend of Californians disengaging from the political process.”

But there was a great deal of unfinished business this year due mostly to the outsized influence of the oil industry. The industry, led by their lobbying arm, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) launched a major, multimillion dollar campaign to strip SB 350 of a provision to reduce petroleum use in California by 50% in the next 15 years, and to stop SB 32 (Pavley) which would have set greenhouse gas reduction limits to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, consistent with the level climate scientists warn will be required to avoid catastrophic climate disruptions. Both SB 32 and the petroleum reduction provision of SB 350 passed the Senate, but failed to garner enough support in the Assembly.

Lobbying reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office show that from July 1 to September 30 this year, the oil lobby in California spent $11 million, bringing their total spending to $18 million so far in 2015. 

“One of the most important stories of this legislative session is the rise of what many have called the ‘Oil Caucus’—a group of Assembly members including Henry Perea, Adam Gray, and Jim Cooper—whose campaigns are funded directly and indirectly by polluter money, and who worked publicly on behalf of industry priorities, often at the expense of their own constituents,” said Rose.

With help from the Oil Caucus, the oil industry was successful at halting other important bills aimed at better regulating its practices, including AB 356 (Williams), SB 248 (Pavley), and SB 484 (Allen), which would have reformed the state’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program by requiring disclosure of chemicals used in well treatments or injections, ensuring that oil and gas projects do not contaminate aquifers containing water suitable for drinking and irrigation, requiring the State Water Board to review aquifer exemption applications, and/or requiring the shutdown of illegal injection wells if regulators fail to shut them down. The industry also notably stopped a bill to protect the coast from oil spills (SB 788, McGuire), despite the fact that California is still recovering from the May 2015 Refugio oil spill, one of the biggest spills in decades.

“Despite the amazing progress this year, we must continue to monitor and fight back against the influence of special interests like the oil industry,” said Rose. “Polluters are determined to halt our progress on clean air, clean energy, and solutions to climate change, and they have convinced far too many lawmakers to represent their interests rather than voters’ strong environmental values.”

CLCV releases the Scorecard one year before the 2016 General Election, at a time when the organization is interviewing candidates for competitive races throughout the state.

“The CLCV Environmental Scorecard is an important tool to help California voters decide if lawmakers represent their values on critical issues like clean drinking water, clean air, climate change, and the preservation of our wild creatures and places,” said Zbur. “For more than 40 years, our members have used the Scorecard along with our endorsements to determine which candidates will consistently fight to protect all Californian’s rights to a clean and healthy environment and a sustainable future for our children.”

2015 California Environmental Scorecard Highlights:

Scorecard 2014 2015
Average of all Assemblymembers 68% 62%
Average Assembly Democrat Score 87% 89%
Average Assembly Republican Score 24% 9%
Perfect 100s: Assembly
Toni Atkins, Richard Bloom, Rob Bonta, Ed Chau, David Chiu, Kansen Chu, Matt Dababneh, Susan Talamantes Eggman, Jimmy Gomez, Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Marc Levine, Patty Lopez, Kevin McCarty, Kevin Mullin, Anthony Rendon, Miguel Santiago, Mark Stone, Tony Thurmond, Phil Ting, Das Williams, Jim Wood
24 21
Average of all Senators 69% 60%
Average Senate Democrat Score 90% 91%
Average Senate Republican Score 24% 2%
Perfect 100s: Senate      
Ben Allen, Marty Block, Loni Hancock, Jerry Hill, Hannah-Beth Jackson, Mark Leno, Kevin de León, Carol Liu, Mike McGuire, Bob Wieckowski, Lois Wolk
12 11
Governor Jerry Brown 92% 100%

An important note about our scores

It’s important that we explain a few intricacies of our scoring process. The votes and resulting scores themselves are just one tool to understand lawmaker performance. Over the years, CLCV and our allies have been fortunate to work with some truly standout legislators. Some of them have authored groundbreaking bills, while others have shown extraordinary leadership by shoring up close votes on environmental bills, often convincing their colleagues who are on the fence to vote the right way. While we make every effort to thank legislators publicly for that kind of leadership, authoring bills or helping to build a vote count doesn’t earn them extra credit on CLCV’s Scorecard. The other side of the same coin is that every year there are lawmakers who lobby against pro-environmental legislation or advocate for bills that would have negative environmental outcomes behind the scenes, even if they don’t ever have a recorded vote on a given bill, or if they ultimately vote in favor of a good, if weakened, bill. The Scorecard cannot reflect this back-room behavior in their score.

Finally, different rules in the Senate and Assembly mean that some lawmakers who had previously supported bills in committee don’t have that support recorded because they missed a final vote. Senate rules stipulate that members are not allowed to “add on” their vote after the roll has been called; on the other hand, members of the Assembly may add their “Aye” or “No” votes after roll call has closed if those votes don’t influence the bill outcome. This rule difference can affect scores negatively in the Senate.

About the California League of Conservation Voters

The political muscle of the environmental movement in America’s leading environmental state, the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) is the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental political action organization. CLCV uses sophisticated campaign tools to help elect pro-environment officials and to hold them accountable for passing legislation to protect health, communities and the environment. CLCV publishes the annual California Environmental Scorecard, which rates the actions of every state legislator and the governor on the state’s environmental priorities each legislative year. To learn lawmakers’ 2015 and lifetime scores, visit The printed version of the Scorecard will be available in January 2016.


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2018 California Environmental Scorecard

New for the 2018 legislative session: The 45th annual California Environmental Scorecard rates elected officials on 2018, another successful year for the environment in spite of heavy opposition from polluting industry.

Find out how your legislators did in 2018 in CLCV's California Environmental Scorecard.