Some Progress, But on Many Key Issues It’s “Wait ‘til Next Year”
After a highly productive session in the 2006 election year established key new safeguards for the global climate and human health, this year has seen far fewer major new laws enacted to protect California’s environment. Although some key measures found success, on many vital issues our elected officials seem to be echoing the eternal refrain of Chicago Cubs fans: “Wait ‘til next year.”
Bright spots included flood protection, clean air, and endangered species protection. A package of bills negotiated by the Legislature and Governor finally starts to bring some sense to development in flood-prone areas. SB 5 (Machado) requires the state to prepare a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan by 2012. AB 5 (Wolk) reforms, restructures and renames the state Reclamation Board, which is the agency in charge of flood protection in the Central Valley. AB 70 (Jones) would provide for limited shared contribution between the state and local governments when local governments approve new developments in previously undeveloped areas that can increase property damages resulting from a flood for which the state is liable.
The Healthy Heart and Lung Act, AB 233 (Jones), sponsored by Sierra Club California and American Lung Association of California, will improve enforcement of rules that limit toxic diesel emissions, and SB 719 (Machado) will, at long last, reform the San Joaquin Valley’s lackluster Air Pollution Control District by adding expertise and urban representation. AB 118 (Núñez) will raise about $150 million annually for clean fuel and clean air programs.
Governor Schwarzenegger surprised many observers by signing AB 821 (Nava) to require the use of non-lead bullets when hunting big game within the range of the endangered California Condor. This state icon is suffering from lead poisoning, because the birds eat bullet fragments when scavenging carcasses.
Speaking of poisons, the Governor has opened a Green Chemistry Initiative to reduce human exposure to toxic chemicals, most of which currently come into our homes and workplaces without being required to demonstrate safety. Legislation to reduce toxic threats fared poorly this year on the whole, but Schwarzenegger’s signing of the Toxic Toys bill, AB 1108 (Ma), will invigorate the Green Chemistry process by keeping hazardous substances away from the youngest Californians. The bill bans pthalates, a plastic softener, from products meant for infants and toddlers.
Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed important bills to make our buildings and fuels greener. AB 888 (Lieu) would have set green building standards for commercial buildings, starting in 2013. AB 1058 (Laird) would have set green building standards for new residential construction, and AB 35 (Ruskin) would have required CAL-EPA to set sustainable building standards for the construction and renovation of state buildings. SB 210 (Kehoe) would have required the adoption of a low-carbon fuel standard by 2010 that achieved at least a 10 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and maintained or improved upon air quality benefits gained by current gasoline and diesel fuel standards.
The Legislature deferred until next year the vital tasks of spurring smart growth, requiring utilities to generate more power from renewables, and cleaning up the filthy air at the mega-ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland. Sierra Club California and our allies had pushed the Legislature to act in these vital areas, but many key bills stalled toward the end of session due to opposition from powerful special interests. SB 974 (Lowenthal), the Clean Ports bill, was deferred until January at the request of Governor Schwarzenegger. Both SB 375 (Steinberg), which seeks to reduce vehicular emissions through smarter land use patterns, and SB 411 (Simitian), which would require utilities to generate 33% of their power from renewable sources, failed to clear the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and AB 558 (Feuer), which would have generated information on the use of toxic chemicals, died by a close vote of the Senate Appropriations panel.
The Legislature’s failure to pass these important bills, along with the Governor’s vetoes of some of the bills passed by lawmakers, leave substantial unfinished business to be taken up next year. Since 2008 is an election year, and our elected officials know that protecting our health and ecology is very popular with voters, we have reason to expect more progress next year.
Bill Magavern has been the senior legislative representative for Sierra Club California since 2000, responsible for advocating for environmental causes before the State Legislature and executive agencies. His comments originally appeared in Environmental Politics from California’s Capitol, the blog of Sierra Club California, and is republished with their permission.