2013 California Legislative Session: Environmental Progress in the Face of Industry Roadblocks

Public Support Produces Wins in Clean Transportation, Health, Environmental and Wildlife Safeguards

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (September 19, 2013) — The first half of the 2013-2014 California legislative session wrapped-up with hard won public interest environmental bills headed to the Governor’s desk in the areas of wildlife protection, reducing chemical exposure and clean transportation, among others, but more work remains to be done in the second half of the session to protect California from industrial pollution, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“While the plastic, chemical, agribusiness and oil industries fought to block  many key environmental protections, we were able to achieve some critical new safeguards for our air, land, water, wildlife and communities,” said Ann Notthoff, California Advocacy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We will continue to work with our allies to ensure stronger protections for California.”

Hot Environmental Topics in 2013:

  • California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA): While the bill to modernize CEQA (SB 731, Steinberg) was made a two year bill on the penultimate night of the session, it is good news that an amendment to improve CEQA’s treatment of traffic was added at that time to another CEQA related bill carried by Senator Steinberg to keep the Sacramento Kings basketball team in Sacramento, SB 743. This amendment eliminates a byzantine provision of CEQA called Level of Service (LOS) that led cities and developers to prioritize road-widening as a traffic solution over other transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects. Removing LOS as a metric will help reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Also, an exemption for specific plans was added to SB 743 at the insistence of the Governor’s office, which claims that it will promote transit friendly development along the lines of Sen. Steinberg’s landmark climate and planning law, SB 375 (2008). Only time will tell how this new exemption will affect our urban areas, but it is the biggest hit to CEQA’s project level review requirement in 40 years. Since specific plans are notoriously unspecific, citizens need to be vigilant about development proposals in their communities.  
  • Get the Lead Out (AB 711, Rendon). Going to the Governor’s desk: A big win that phases out toxic lead ammunition for hunting in California over the next four years, protecting critical wildlife like the endangered California condor.
  • Toxic flame retardants in building insulation (AB 127, Skinner). Going to the Governor’s desk: The bill is an important step towards reducing public exposure to toxic flame retardants. It instructs California agencies to change standards in order to allow manufacturers to produce building insulation without flame retardants. 
  • Marine Plastic Pollution (AB 521, Stone): None of the several bills on this topic, including AB 521 (Stone and Hueso), SB 405 (Padilla) and SB 529 (Leno) passed this year in the face of heavily financed opposition from the plastics industry. The Assembly Appropriations Committee held AB 521, the innovative producer responsibility program for plastic pollution in May. This issue will be a subject of active debate again in 2014.     
  • Coastal Access and Resource Enforcement (AB 976, Atkins): A big loss, this bill, which would give the Coastal Commission the kind of enforcement authority that other state agencies already have, is arguably the most significant amendment to the Coastal Act in years. It stalled in the last week of the session on the Assembly floor on what’s known as a “concurrence” vote. Several assembly members who had previously voted for AB 976 refused to vote for it the final time to send it to the Governor.  Enforcement of coastal protection and access policies will be a major issue next year. 
  • Fracking (SB 4, Pavley) – Unfinished Business: Several bills to enact a moratorium on fracking failed passage this year. The one bill that survived, SB 4, took on end of session amendments that compromised the bill’s original intent and NRDC withdrew support. This issue will continue to be a subject of active debate in Sacramento. NRDC urges Governor Brown to declare a moratorium on fracking in order to fully assess the health and environmental threats posed by this dangerous practice.
  • Clean Transportation Hits the Road:

    • Funding for Clean Fuels (SB 11, Pavley/AB 8, Perea/SB 359, Corbett). Going to the Governor’s desk: These bills reauthorize key clean vehicle and fuel incentives programs to continue through the end of 2023. Californians can now continue to benefit from improved air quality and public health, reduced carbon pollution, and job creation from these incentive programs. 
    • Cleaner Cars for All (SB 459, Pavley): The bill will help Californians, especially lower income residents to retire older, higher polluting cars and trucks and replace them with cleaner, more efficient vehicles that will save them money at the pump.
    • Ensure evaluation of community alternatives to a freeway expansion project (SB 811, Lara). Going to the Governor’s desk: The bill directs California’s Department of Transportation to consider “Community Alternative 7” when determining whether or not to expand the I-710 freeway between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and downtown LA. Community Alternative 7 is a proposal made by CEHAJ, a coalition of environmental, environmental justice, health and community groups to improve the 710 freeway, including implementation of zero emission goods movement technologies, pedestrian and bike upgrades, and LA River improvements.
    • Sustainable Transportation Planning (AB 1290, J. Pérez): This bill adds critical expertise in the form of two new legislative appointments to the California Transportation Commission – ensuring that this decision making body more accurately represents the stakeholders involved in implementing SB 375 – California’s landmark Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Law.
  • Increase bonding levels for oil industry (SB 665, Wolk). Going to the Governor’s desk: This bill helps to ensure that taxpayers are not left holding the bag for accidents related to oil and gas drilling. It increases the statutory minimum amount for indemnity bonds that companies engaged in oil and gas drilling in California are required to file with the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. These increases are long overdue and will better offset the state’s costs for responding to oil and gas violations.
  • Brownfield Cleanup (AB 440, Gatto). Going to the Governor’s desk: The bill will help expedite the clean-up of contaminated sites, while encouraging investment in urban areas. AB440 promotes infill development by giving local governments tools to more easily and quickly clean up and redevelop contaminated properties.
  • Electric Program Investment Charge (SB 96, Budget Committee). Going to the Governor’s desk: This bill helps implement the newly-minted $162 million per year clean energy research, development and demonstration program.

Looking Ahead:

NRDC and our partners will continue to work in the second half of the legislative session in 2014 to ensure a strong collective commitment to clean energy, clean water, and environmental safeguards in California, including:

  • Greener Communities (SB 1, Steinberg): This bill would make funds available for mixed-use development that gives access to public transportation, accommodates pedestrians and bicycles, and provides affordable housing.
  • Ensure clean drinking water (AB 145, Perea): This bill would improve drinking water infrastructure and boost water recycling in the state by consolidating drinking water programs at the State Water Board.  
  • Conserving Water (SB 750, Wolk): This bill would require newly constructed apartment buildings to include meters or sub-meters that measure water use to each unit, allowing residents to know how much water they use and to create a financial incentive to conserve water.
  • Raises penalties for single-day air violations (SB 691, Hancock): This bill would raise penalties for single-day air violations. Right now, the maximum penalties allowed for serious industrial air quality violations amount to little more than a slap on the wrist. SB 691 would change that by taking a much needed step towards making those penalties a more effective incentive for industries to take necessary precautions to avoid accidents.