Legislative Session Concludes with Environmental Progress and Hurdles

Posted on 19 September 2013

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By Rebecca Saltzman

California League of Conservation Voters

The first year of the 2013-14 legislative session concluded in the wee hours last Friday morning. In the final days of the session the legislature considered a number of CLCV's and the environmental community's priority bills, many of which we had been working on since the early days of the year with the help of our members and allies.

Overall, the year included some important wins and some hard-fought losses. We are proud of victories on bills to protect wildlife and our families from lead in the environment, reduce toxic chemicals in building materials, and begin a process to hold accountable oil companies for manipulation of gas prices for political effect. Losses on coastal protection, banning plastic bags, and increasing fines for air pollution were disappointing and we will keep up the fight.

First, the good news:

Protecting California wildlife from lead: Lead ammunition is a toxic threat to California condors and other iconic birds, including bald eagles and golden eagles. Lead ammo is also harmful to fish and other wild animals. But lead ammo puts people at risk, too: leadshot is a toxic threat to people who eat the meat of animals caught or hunted in California. AB 711 (Rendon) protects wildlife, humans, and the environment from toxic lead contamination from the use of lead ammunition by requiring the phase-in of non-lead ammunition in hunting over a four year period and banning lead ammunition in hunting. It is now on the governor's desk: take action to ask him to sign AB 711 into law.

California State Capitol Building | Photo credit: Steven Pavlov

Investing in cleaner transportation technology: AB 923, the Carl Moyer diesel emissions reduction program, and AB 118, the clean transportation investment program, have benefitted California's health, air quality, and economy. Last year, a bill to extend the programs narrowly failed, but this year a similar bill, AB 8 (Perea), passed. 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 including trucks, buses, locomotives, agricultural, and marine engines. 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. It's also helping California meet AB 32 goals. The bill is on the governor's desk, and this week Governor Brown said he would sign it.

Winning protections from toxics flame retardants: Currently, all building insulation in California is required to include toxic flame retardant chemicals, which have been linked to lower IQs in children, reduced fertility, and increased cancer risks. Making matters worse, these chemicals are ineffective and fail to offer additional fire safety. 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 building fire safety and encouraging healthy building practices. The bill would instruct California agencies to change standards to "provide manufacturers with flexibility in meeting building flammability standards, with or without the addition of chemical flame retardants." Receiving bipartisan support in the Assembly and Senate, it is now on Governor Brown's desk. Take action to ask him to sign AB 127.

Ensuring access to clean water: Over the past two years the legislature passed a package of bills known as the Human Right to Water package. Four bills were passed in 2011, and the Human Right to Water bill, AB 605 (Eng) was signed into law last year. These bills were a huge step towards ensuring access to clean drinking water for all Californians, but according to the State Water Resources Control Board, there are still 21 million Californian’s representing 680 communities in our state that only have access to water from contaminated sources. So this year another drinking water bill package was introduced by assemblymembers Alejo, Perea, Rendon and Stone, and three of the bills passed with bipartisan support - AB 21 (Alejo), AB 30 (Perea), and AB 115 (Perea). Unfortunately the most contentious bill - AB 145 (Perea-Rendon) was held in the Senate Appropriations committee, and the effort to ensure access to clean water will continue next year.

Analyzing and preventing gas price manipulation: SB 448 (Leno) tasks the California Energy Commission (CEC) to work with the Attorney General’s office to set a standard for illegal market manipulation in the gas and diesel markets. 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 the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) prioritized killing this bill, it was a tough fight to pass it. But it passed with the bare minimum votes in the Senate and Assembly and is now on the governor's desk.

Unfortunately, it's not all good news:

Plastic pollution continues: CLCV has been working for several years to reduce plastic pollution by banning plastic carryout bags and polystyrene takeout containers. Cities and counties throughout California continue to pass local bans, but all state level efforts have failed. SB 405 (Padilla) would have phased out plastic carryout bags in grocery, convenience, and drug stores. Unfortunately, it failed on the Senate floor in May, on an 18-17 vote. The good news is that Senator Padilla plans to bring the bill back next year. Local jurisdictions keep moving forward with their bans, so plastic bags’ days are numbered and a statewide policy is only a matter of time. Sign on to our petition and urge California to ban wasteful single-use plastic bags.

Our coast is still at risk: 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 ability as 20 other state regulatory agencies: the power 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 a procedural concurrence vote on the amendments, it failed.

Penalties for air quality violations remain small: Last year, an explosion at the Chevron refinery in Richmond caused 15,000 people to rush to the hospital to address asthma and respiratory symptoms and tens of thousands more had to shelter in place. Yet the current penalty for single-day air quality violations like this is only $10,000. SB 691 (Hancock) would have increased the penalty for air pollution violations where there is a severe disruption to the community from $10,000 to $100,000. This bill narrowly passed the Senate and but was not brought up on the Assembly floor due to a lack of firm support by assemblymembers.

Funding for sustainable communities remains scarce: 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 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 passed last year but was vetoed by Governor Brown. This bill passed the Senate and Assembly but, along with several other related bills, was not forwarded to the governor at his request. The conversation on these issues will continue next year.

Some legislative outcomes are still evolving:

Fracking: For the past three years CLCV has worked to address the risks and impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Early in the year, CLCV worked with allies to stop AB 7, which would have failed to provide significant regulations to fracking. CLCV also supported two bills focused on groundwater monitoring around fracking - AB 982 (Williams) and AB 669 (Stone) - but neither of them made it out of the Assembly. CLCV worked all year with allies at Clean Water Action, Environmental Working Group, and NRDC among others in support of SB 4 (Pavley) because the bill includes substantial new requirements to assess risks and put protections in place for impacts. SB 4 requires ground water monitoring before and after fracking operations, disclosure of chemicals used, and notification of local residents of the practice. Unfortunately, at the last minute new amendments taken on the Assembly floor substantively weakened environmental review requirements, introducing an unacceptable level of local discretion and new ambiguities regarding jurisdiction. With these amendments, CLCV and other environmental groups could no longer support the bill and withdrew support. CLCV, along with many others, is calling on Governor Brown to immediately impose a moratorium on fracking.

CEQA: At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, the environmental community and our allies were prepared to fight to stop the gutting of one of our most important environmental laws, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). As the year went on though - and thanks to our efforts and those of our labor allies - it became clear that we had won this fight (for this year, at least). Senate President pro Tem Steinberg worked instead on a comprehensive CEQA reform bill, SB 731, and earned the support of many environmental organizations. At the end of the session, SB 731 was shelved, and Senator Steinberg introduced SB 743, to provide CEQA exemptions for the promised new Sacramento Kings Stadium and included new amendments on traffic and specific plans that had been discussed in the SB 731 context and had statewide CEQA implications. Attached to the Stadium bill, the CEQA changes passed easily off the Assembly and Senate floors over the objections of many in the environmental community. Only time will tell how this bill will impact CEQA, and it’s abundantly clear that citizens will still have to be the watchdogs in their communities.

We’re not done yet…

The bills that made it through the legislature now must be signed by Governor Brown.

And since this was the first year of a two-year legislative session, we're not done working on the bills that didn't make it to the governor's desk. Several of them will be back next year, and we'll be ready to work - with your help - to pass them.

This article was originally published at California League of Conservation Voters. To urge Governor Brown to sign any of the bills mentioned in this article, please visit the CLCV's Action Page.