The arrival of a new year is cause for reflection on the past and renewed commitment to the future. As we look back at 2012, California has much to be proud of including:
1. Our economy is rebounding thanks in part to California’s strong commitment to clean energy
- AB 32 and the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard continue to drive clean energy investments and job creation. California leads the nation in clean tech investment.
- Voters wisely passed Proposition 39 in November. This measure will provide resources to improve energy efficiency for schools and other public buildings, creating jobs in the process.
- The legislature passed two bills to ensure that clean energy investments are made through a public process and that a portion of the revenues will be invested in our most disadvantaged communities.
- The Energy Commission adopted new standards for residential and commercial buildings, making California’s new buildings amongst the most energy efficient in the nation. The new standards will save Californians billions of dollars on their electricity and natural gas bills and avoid the need to build six large power plants.
2. Our coast and ocean are healthy and accessible to all
- California boasts the only statewide network of Marine Protected Areas, or parks in the sea where ocean wildlife can thrive with minimal disturbance from humans. The final leg of this landmark system took effect in December. In addition, President Obama proposed expanding marine sanctuaries off our coast, which would make those areas off-limits to oil and gas drilling.
- Whales, dolphins and other marine life can swim along our coast without getting blasted by loud noises. Marine Protected Areas will remain protected. The Coastal Commission unanimously denied PG&E’s application for high intensity seismic surveys at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in November.
- Drakes Estero, in Pt. Reyes National Seashore, finally has the wilderness protection it deserves because U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar courageously decided to allow a commercial oyster operation there come to an end, fulfilling a promise made by Congress decades ago.
- More than 50 cities and counties from Long Beach to Fort Bragg passed (or are in the process of passing) ordinances to keep plastic bags out of the waste stream and our waterways.
- The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) decided against sinking a decommissioned Navy ship off of Dana Point for artificial reefing purposes and proposed to categorically exclude all vessels built prior to 1985 from future sinking because of the likelihood that these ships will leach toxic chemicals into the ocean. MARAD issued its decision after NRDC raised extensive legal and environmental concerns.
3. Our rivers are getting cleaner and fish are swimming in them
- Salmon are spawning in the San Joaquin River for the first time in more than 60 years, thanks to NRDC’s 20 years of advocacy.
- NRDC supported completion of the Red Bluff Pumping Plant and Fish Screen in August to replace the Red Bluff Diversion Dam and significantly improve fish passage conditions on the Sacramento River.
- The state adopted a strong rule on agricultural water measurement, which will enable volumetric pricing of water supplied for irrigation. Making more efficient use of irrigation water will be crucial for maintaining the agricultural economy of the Golden State and the health of its rivers and fisheries in the years ahead.
4. Our cities (even Los Angeles!) are on their way to becoming more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
- The Los Angeles and Sacramento regions adopted Sustainable Community Strategies that set the standard for smart urban design. As the plans are implemented, Californians will be able to live closer to their jobs and will have convenient, healthy, affordable transportation choices.
5. Our State Parks survived a tough year and they’re as popular as ever.
- State Parks continued to generate approximately $4.3 billion in economic activity for California last year.
- More than 70 State Parks were slated for closure in 2012, but will remain open thanks to quick action by the legislature and Governor Brown when additional revenues became available.
6. Our furniture is on its way to becoming less toxic
- In June, Governor Brown directed his administration to revise California’s decades old flammability standard that drives the use of toxic chemicals as flame retardants. This standard has provided no measurable fire safety benefit.
- Early in 2013, the state is expected to release a new, draft flammability standard that will ensure fire safety without the need for toxic chemicals.
7. Our deserts are home to healthy wildlife populations and are on pace to generate clean, renewable energy
- A “smart from the start” planning process advocated by NRDC, other environmental groups, solar developers, and local, state and federal agencies, helped expedite the permitting process for more than 2,500 megawatts of clean energy on public lands, which is enough to power half a million homes. These projects will generate more than 3,600 jobs.
These are only some of the reasons why we love to live and work in California. Its natural beauty and environmental leadership are unmatched. I am continually amazed by the diligence and creativity of my colleagues as we work to safeguard the Earth. But despite years of progress, there are new and continued threats to our air, water and land. We are counting on our leaders in Sacramento to stand with us as we strive toward a healthy future for all. Here’s what NRDC’s California team will focus on in 2013:
1. Protecting the rights of communities to have a say in new development
- The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) ensures the public’s right to know about the impact of new development projects on their health and environment. This foundational law is threatened by business interests who aim to gut the most important provisions. NRDC is open to changes that would reduce unnecessary delays in the CEQA process and make it work better. But we will not agree to sweeping changes or exemptions that put our health and quality of life at risk.
2. Advancing California’s clean energy and clean air policies
- California’s climate and clean energy law, AB 32, is reducing pollution and boosting the state’s economy. NRDC will continue to weigh in on implementation details and work to replicate successes in other areas.
- Our landmark sustainable communities law, SB 375, is driving remarkable change in the design of neighborhoods around the state. NRDC is participating in the regional planning process in the San Joaquin Valley, where we are working to promote farmland conservation, affordable housing and cleaner air.
- A key ingredient for SB 375’s success is for local communities to have resources to develop housing, retail and other services near transit. To this end, NRDC will work to pass legislation that gives cities economic development tools to promote smart growth. We will also continue our advocacy for increased transit funding.
3. Protecting California’s natural resources and communities from oil and gas development
- As in many other parts of the country, the practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is booming in California. Most of the fracking in California is for oil rather than natural gas, but we face the same risks to our air, water, and land from fracking and other forms of oil development.
- California’s oil and gas oversight agency recently released a discussion draft of regulations to put basic protections and public notification requirements in place. In addition, legislators have introduced bills to regulate fracking. NRDC is working with our partners, and drawing on our work in other states, to make oil and gas production in California as safe and transparent as possible.
4. Ensuring adequate water supplies for people and fish
- As the state and federal government develop their management plan for the San Francisco-San Joaquin Bay Delta Ecosystem, NRDC is preparing recommendations to address what we view as inadequacies in the current approach. The plan will affect the West Coast’s largest estuary, many endangered fish species, the future of the California salmon industry and drinking water for 23 million Californians. Reducing water diversions from the Bay-Delta and increasing water efficiency and recycling are necessary to ensure the health of this vital estuary and the reliability of the state’s water supplies.
5. Addressing plastic pollution and its effects on the coast and ocean
- Many local jurisdictions have banned free, single-use plastic bags from grocery stores, which is helping to raise awareness and minimize plastic bag use in those areas. But many other plastic, single-use items are ending up in our ocean and threatening marine life. There is not yet a statewide solution to the proliferation of plastic trash in our environment. NRDC is working on a comprehensive solution that would reduce the generation, land-filling, and littering of throw-away plastic items, like straws, bottles, and utensils, which are among the items most commonly found littering the coast.
NRDC is prepared to use all of the tools at our disposal: advocacy, litigation and science, to fight and win on these and other issues that come our way in this coming year. Please join us in the fight.
Photos: Vannida Mel (California coast) and Charles Rome (Yosemite Falls)