A Capitol Day for Environmental Advocates

Aug 9, 2012
By Jenesse Miller

It was a capitol day for dozens of environmental advocates.

The annual Green California Lobby Day on August 8 brought more than 65 advocates from 85 environmental and public health organizations to Sacramento to meet with members of the state legislature on the community's top policy priorities.

Green California (made up of groups that represent more than 1 million Californians) participants worked through a consensus-building process to identify important environmental bills being considered by the legislature, then communicated those priorities to policymakers during a packed day at the state Capitol.

Teams made up of diverse representatives from the participating organizations met with lawmakers and discussed the following:

  • Cap-and-Trade revenue: If invested in a fair and equitable way, revenue from California's upcoming cap-and-trade auctions (a major component of the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32) can make a real and positive difference in the lives of all Californians.
  • Plastic pollution: It’s time for common-sense solutions to the wasteful pollution from single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam food containers that is harming California’s ocean and wildlife and trashing both our urban environments and our beaches.
  • State parks: With more than 65 million visitors every year, our 279 state parks feature unmatched natural, cultural, and recreational treasures that must be protected for all Californians.
  • CEQA: The California Environmental Quality Act has served as an environmental bill of rights for decades, but is increasingly under attack by special interests, particularly at the end of the legislative session.

Advocates asked members of the state Senate and Assembly to support specific bills that (among others) clarify the fair and appropriate use of revenues from the upcoming auction of greenhouse gas emissions credits (AB 1532, SB 535, and SB 1572); stop harmful pollution by banning single-use plastic bags (AB 298) and polystyrene foam food containers (SB 568); and protect our struggling state parks system by ensuring no loss of park lands (SB 580) and finding new funding streams (SB 1589) to keep the parks open, maintain visitor services, improve an aging infrastructure, and address a more than $1.3 billion deferred maintenance backlog.

Several lawmakers who we expected to be on the fence on the proposed plastic bag and polystyrene bans acknowledged that plastic pollution presents major challenges to waste management and harms marine life, but they asked tough questions about the potential for economic hardship for companies (and their employees) using and making foam foodware in California.

Groups including Clean Water Action thoroughly addressed those concerns by explaining that the more recyclable and less polluting alternatives to polystyrene containers were comparably priced, and that the two California companies that manufacture foam food-ware, Dart and Pactiv, already make non-foam food containers at other facilities. The proposed law will encourage them to transition to safer products at the facilities that make foam.

I was pleasantly surprised to be in one meeting where a relatively conservative lawmaker told our team of advocates he is preparing to announce his support for AB 298, the proposed plastic bag ban (but still no guarantee on the polystyrene ban).

Environmental advocates from organizations like the Planning and Conservation League asked lawmakers to oppose bills that make changes to CEQA, our "environmental bill of rights" (these bills are frequently at the request of big developers), asking them instead to wait until changes adopted in 2011 are implemented and evaluated. If 2012 will be anything like 2011, the expected flurry of end-of-session bills asking for CEQA exemptions make transparency nearly impossible and encourage bad policymaking that strips communities of their right to input on major projects.

Many policymakers seemed sympathetic to our community's concerns but would make no promises on the CEQA issue, which makes it all the more important for the staff here at CLCV to 1) activate our members to put pressure on their representatives in advance of CEQA-related votes and 2) score the votes on these bills in our annual Scorecard.

The day ended with a reception honoring State Senator Kevin de León for his environmental leadership, as well as several outgoing Senators and Assemblymembers -- many of them facing term limits -- who have worked closely with the Green California community during their years in the state legislature.

Green California is organized by the CLCV Education Fund, which works to protect California’s environment and public health through programs focused on nonpartisan voter engagement, advocacy, legislative accountability and research and opinion polling.



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