California’s 2009 Legislative Session Ends with a Whimper

Ending one of the most contentious legislative sessions in California's history, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed dozens of environmental bills and signed several others over the weekend that will add tons of air pollution to our environment, delay our freedom from fossil fuel dependency and put people at risk to preventable toxics exposure. The legislative session was mired in stalemates over the state budget, economic downturn, water woes and industry-led midnight deals.

Polluters used economy scare tactics to attack public health protections, environmental progress and existing laws this legislative session. For the first time in years bills that hurt the environment managed to pass the legislature and were signed by the Governor and too many of the bills that would have provided true environmental and public health protections for Californians were held over until next year.

Good news was hard to come by this session, as the Governor's veto pen fell hard on environmental bills this year - a notable departure from his previous record.

A package of bills (SB 14 and AB 64) that would set the most aggressive renewable energy targets in the country were vetoed by the Governor, as was a bill that would have ensured that the state's green building standard is rigorous and leads to buildings of superior environmental performance.

In signing AB 1318 (Perez) and SB 827 (Wright), the Governor allows the South Coast Air Quality Management District to dismantle landmark environmental court victories blocking the sale and distribution of unsubstantiated air emission credits to power plant developers in Southern California. These bills have nothing to do with job creation and everything to do with AQMD trying to make an end run around landmark environmental laws and the federal Clean Air Act.

More progress was made in implementing California's existing landmark environmental laws. California's Global Warming Solutions Act's (AB 32) scoping plan was adopted early in 2009 by the California Air Resources Board, California's climate and land use planning law's (SB 375) regional target reductions plan was developed and CARB is set to vote on the plan this month. The California Fish and Game Commission also adopted measures within the Marine Life Protection Act to create 24 marine protected areas and ban or restrict fishing in nearly 20 percent of coastal waters between the North and Central California Coast, a similar effort is underway in Southern California.

The package of water bills currently under consideration in a special session called by the Governor this week is still in flux, but initially represents a real breakthrough among environmental groups, major utilities, business and agricultural interests. The package consists of policies to require the State Water Board to develop public trust flow determinations to restore and sustain the Delta estuary and our salmon fisheries, a comprehensive and enforceable water conservation program that addresses industrial, agricultural and urban water use, and a Delta Stewardship Council, a groundwater monitoring program and enhanced enforcement capacity at the State Board to address the problem of illegal diversions and permit violations.