Holding the Line
After two years of increasing budget deficits and emboldened attacks on environmental protections, 2010 found the environmental community deep in the trenches. The objective of the community this year was a simple and sobering “hold the line!” After a bruising 2009, when only five of the top fifteen environmental priority bills were signed into law and with another budget deficit close to $20 billion, our expectations for the 2010 legislative session were modest at best. With many non-profit coffers already strained by the multi-year recession and the intensity of a statewide election year, many non-governmental organizations tempered their legislative agendas to conserve resources for the challenges later in the year.
Moreover, in a climate where health care, child care, and education funding at all levels had been cut to the breaking point, environmental advocates found themselves dispelling the false dichotomy of jobs versus environment at every turn. Enacting and even maintaining existing environmental protections had never been more difficult.
Strong Allies in the Storm
Given the difficult backdrop, the environmental community was fortunate to have enjoyed significant support from leadership in both the Senate and Assembly. In his second year as Senate President pro Tempore, Senator Darrell Steinberg and his staff continued to offer solid support for our agenda. The election of John Pérez as Speaker of the Assembly this year was a particularly welcome event. As a former member of CLCV’s Board of Directors, Speaker Pérez was quick to show his pro-environment colors.
He appointed strong environmental champions to chair the most influential committees. Nancy Skinner became chair of the powerful Rules Committee, Wes Chesbro took the helm of the Natural Resources Committee, and Jared Huffman remained chair of the Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee. Our good fortunes were further enhanced when Speaker Pérez hired Pete Price, CLCV’s own long-standing legislative advocate, as his senior environmental advisor.
Attempts to Dismantle Environmental Protection
By mid-February no fewer than 33 “regulatory reform” bills and 18 bills that sought to “reform” (or, too frequently, weaken) the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) had been introduced or carried over from 2009. Largely the domain of the Republicans, these bills also boasted some moderate Democratic authors. The regulatory reform bills focused on “streamlining” the rulemaking process and shackling—in some cases eviscerating—the authority of agencies such as the Air Resources Board, the Energy Commission, and even OSHA. Several measures, including Senator Wyland’s SB 1263, were flagrant efforts to repeal, roll back, or hinder the implementation of California’s landmark 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32. Others would have piled on multiple layers of additional review and analyses by outside organizations that would have not only delayed effective implementation of scores of current public health and safety laws, but also racked up exorbitant price tags for redundant studies and legal challenges.
Several groups lobbied hard against this rash of bad bills as they moved into their first policy committees. Fortunately, all but a small handful were held or not even heard. Some of the more modest calls for reform were legitimate; in those cases, the environmental community worked with legislators and state agencies to improve parts of their rulemaking process.
California Environmental Quality Act on the Chopping Block—AGAIN
The power of local governments and citizens to participate in the development of their communities is the heart of CEQA. Unfortunately, the economic downturn gave cover to those who stand to gain from squelching that public participation. After three egregious CEQA exemptions were signed into law in 2009—AB 1318 (V.M. Pérez), SB 827 , and AB 81 x3 (Hall)—some legislators took the opportunity to seek a slew of new jailbreaks. Carrying the water for the governor, Assemblymember Chuck Calderon and Senator Lou Correa proffered the most brazen of all—the identical measures AB 1805 and SB 1010—which would have let 125 high profile projects off the hook by exempting their environmental analysis from judicial review.
These two bad bills (and fourteen others like them) were summarily defeated in committee. Legislators had promised in 2009 that the exemptions they passed for a potential football stadium in the City of Industry would not set a precedent. It took a strong and sustained effort from environmental justice and other groups to remind legislators of that promise. CLCV is proud to have joined with its allies to stop these short-sighted plans, though we will no doubt have to resume the fight in 2011.
All Eyes on the Ballot Box
The most significant fight in 2010 for clean air, water, and communities was waged at the ballot box. With two gubernatorial candidates who couldn’t have had more profoundly different environmental values, scores of state districts and offices up for grabs, and a dozen critically important propositions in the balance, all eyes and vast resources were focused on the November elections. The prospect of losing the state’s first-in-the-nation climate and clean energy law to a cynical, self-serving, and Texas oil company-backed repeal hung over the environmental community—and California’s thriving clean technology business community—like a Damoclean sword. Early in the year, before the so-called “Logue Initiative” (named for its putative author, Assemblymember Dan Logue) had even qualified for the November ballot, a campaign to defeat it was formed. Hundreds of community, health, business, and faith-based organizations joined with environmental groups in defense of the law that has already set California on a path to sustainable development and economic revitalization. The unprecedented campaign and grassroots organizing efforts paid off. The “Dirty Energy Proposition” (Prop 23) was defeated by 61% of voters—the largest margin of any measure on the ballot.
The passage of another ballot initiative, Proposition 25, also offered environmentalists hope that the years of endless budget stalemates would draw to a close, as state budgets will now be able to pass with a simple majority vote. Unfortunately, the simultaneous passage of Proposition 26 undercut state and local governments’ authority to fund essential programs with fees that could be passed with a majority vote; Prop 26 now deems many of those fees as taxes needing a 2/3 vote. Also disappointing was the failure of Proposition 21, which would have provided urgently needed funding for state park maintenance and operations.
Water Bond and Oil Drilling Proposals Punted
Two other high-profile natural resource management issues were taken off the table this year by extraneous events. Largely due to the state’s dire economic climate, the $11.2 billion water bond scheduled for the November ballot was deferred until 2012 at the request of the governor and subsequent action by the legislature. On another front, the proposed Tranquillon Ridge oil extraction project off the Santa Barbara coast was shelved within days of the news of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Pushing Forth a Proactive Agenda Amidst a Flurry of Bad Bills
Recognizing that large-scale, big-ticket environmental fixes wouldn’t flourish in the current political climate, legislators introduced fewer pro-environment bills than usual. There were a dozen or more good two-year bills (introduced in 2009) awaiting action in 2010. CLCV and our partners in Green California narrowed the field to track 87 priority bills in five broad categories. Of these, one out of four were “bad bills” opposed by multiple environmental organizations—a higher proportion than ever before.
Of the remaining measures that garnered environmental support, 22 were identified as high priorities and have been chosen as the Scorecard bills. As usual, the scope of bills spanned an impressive array of issues ranging from net energy metering to ocean acidification; from sustainable community planning to forest carbon sequestration; from pesticide poisoning to product stewardship. As expected, capital-dependent projects and new state and local programs were few and far between. When money is tight, legislators get creative. They carefully worked their bills to cost the state less than $150,000, the threshold to avoid being placed into Appropriations “Suspense files” in either house (where bills can languish or flourish, frequently depending on their authors’ relative standing with leadership). Even then, few important bills escaped the Appropriations axe.
Casualties of Corporate Clout
Of the casualties in the legislature, AB 1998 (bans single-use plastic bags), SB 722 (33% renewable portfolio) and SB 797 (bans toxic chemical in baby bottles) were arguably the highest priority and the most disappointing. Both AB 1998 and SB 797 failed on the Senate floor after heavy pressure from the American Chemistry Council. SB 722 died during the last night of session, a victim of procedural delay tactics by obstructionist legislators that prevented a final vote in the Senate.
In such a lean year, one popular concept among legislators was “extended producer responsibility” (EPR), which means that manufacturers must take responsibility for the eventual end life and disposal of their products. Some manufacturers’ groups are on board with the idea, such as that of the carpet industry. However, SB 1100 (Corbett), which would have created an EPR program for discarded batteries, buckled under intense industry lobbying and was not put to a final vote on the Assembly floor.
Measured Gains—But Progress, Nonetheless
Of the 14 highest priority bills that CLCV actively supported this year that were enrolled, eight were signed by the governor. These include AB 2289 (Eng), which adds new standards and testing methods to the Smog Check program; AB 2514 (Skinner), directing the CPUC to determine targets for new energy storage systems; AB 2398 (J. Pérez), which creates a state carpet recycling program to be funded and operated by carpet manufacturers; and SB 918 (Pavley), which conserves water by allowing safer storage of recycled water in groundwater basins and surface reservoirs.
At least ten important measures stalled in the legislature this year, falling victim to the clout of the growing “mod Dem” caucus in both the Senate and Assembly which by some counts has doubled in size in the past three to four years. With stalwart environmental champions Senator Wiggins and the late Senator Oropeza absent much of this year due to illness, environmental advocates found themselves struggling to find the final two or three votes to get their bills off the Senate floor. We faced similar challenges in the Assembly where at times as many as ten Democrats could be counted as swing votes. As in the case of Senator Pavley’s SB 797, it took a strong Speaker to get some bills off the Assembly floor.
In addition to the early demise of the scores of bad CEQA and regulatory reform bills, our collective efforts were successful in defeating two late runs on weakening the state’s once-through power plant cooling policy (AB 1552, Bradford) and a late-in-the-game effort to provide big box stores with a CEQA exemption (AB 1581, Torres).
Keen readers will also notice that overall average voting scores are up this year from last year by 5–10 percent. On first read, you’d think, “Great! What is everyone complaining about?” The difference is that in 2009, two bad bills made it to the floor of both houses (and one was even signed into law)—which dinged several legislators’ scores and brought the averages down. This year, we were able to kill many of those bad bills in committee before they were given a floor vote. Thus, averages look better this year with relatively similar performance from the legislature—except for the dozens of bad bills we killed in committee!
With the decidedly mixed voter performance on ballot initiatives relating to the environment, we have our work cut out for us in 2011. The good news is CLCV helped elect a strong class of legislators and a “Green Governor,” and environmentalists are emboldened by our show of community power in the defeat of Proposition 23.
Back to the main 2010 California Environmental Scorecard page.