Driven to Distraction
As we reported in last year’s Scorecard, the 2006 legislative session was one of the most productive in recent years for the environment, capped by the enactment of the milestone AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. It was also an election year, and 2006 closed with hopeful signs of change:
Almost half of the Assembly—37 out of 80 members—were newly-elected freshmen (in 2004 there were 18). In fact, a majority of the Assembly Democratic caucus—25 out of 48—were elected to their first term.
The voters approved an unprecedented $43 billion in infrastructure bonds, for everything from transportation to housing to flood control.
Governor Schwarzenegger triangulated his way to easy re-election, cheerfully declaring that his election and the 2006 legislative session ushered in an era of post-partisan cooperation.
For environmentalists, AB 32 promised to change just about everything. If the state was serious about reducing its global warming gas emissions, then the process itself would lead to many other environmental improvements we had long supported.
Alas, it was all too much. The post-election, post-bonds, post-AB 32, post-partisan world, both real and imagined, seemed to drive the legislature and governor to distraction. After the voters approved a record level of bonds, the legislature and governor were eager to “put the money on the street,” but they struggled all year to decide exactly how it should be spent. With so much money on the table, the battles among interest groups and legislators were intense and many detailed spending decisions were left for next year.
The governor’s post-partisan vision barely made it past his State of the State speech before the Capitol’s worst-kept secret became obvious: his fellow Republicans in the legislature really won’t follow his lead. That was demonstrated most glaringly when Senate Republicans held up enactment of the state budget for 53 days despite Schwarzenegger’s pleas for their support. The more he pleaded, the less they supported.
Even AB 32 was a distraction. The governor signed global warming agreements with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He addressed the United Nations General Assembly. He appeared on the cover of Newsweek with the whole wide world in his hands. Not to be outdone, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, the author of AB 32, jetted to Davos, Switzerland to attend the World Economic Summit. It turns out the post-partisan world was in New York and Davos, not in Sacramento.
What Got Done
Amid all the distractions, what was accomplished in 2007? Of the 24 bills scored in this year’s Scorecard, the legislature sent 16 to the governor’s desk, and 10 were signed into law, including:
AB 70 (Jones), SB 5 (Machado), and SB 17 (Florez), a package of flood control bills that will limit development in flood plains and expand liability for flood damage resulting from improper development in flood plains.
AB 1108 (Ma), which bans the use of toxic phthalate chemicals in toys.
AB 821 (Nava), which bans the use of lead bullets in the California condor’s range.
AB 1470 (Huffman), to incentivize the installation of home solar hot water heaters.
SB 719 (Machado), to strengthen the board governing air pollution reduction in the San Joaquin Valley.
AB 118 (Núñez), which creates $210 million in new annual funding to develop and commercialize clean alternative fuels and to reduce vehicular air pollution.
The governor vetoed a number of environmental priority bills, including:
AB 35 (Ruskin), AB 888 (Lieu), and AB 1058 (Laird), a package of bills that would have directed the state to establish green building standards for state buildings as well as commercial buildings and residential structures.
AB 48 (Saldaña), which would have expanded the state’s e-waste law.
AB 1032 (Wolk), which would have banned suction dredging for gold in specified salmon and trout streams.
SB 1002 (Perata), which would have appropriated $600 million from 2006’s Proposition 84 bonds to restore the ecosystem in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and improve water quality in small communities.
SB 210 (Kehoe), which would have placed environmental protections in the state’s low-carbon fuel standards.
Schwarzenegger earned his highest score since becoming governor, though just barely. In his first two years he scored 58%, then dipped to 50% in 2006 despite signing AB 32. In 2007, his score is 63%, consistent with his previous performances and significantly higher than the average Assembly Republican (5%) or Senate Republican (9%). The governor deserves recognition for his leadership on climate change and his willingness to be independent from the rest of his party on some—though not all—environmental issues. We hope other Republicans learn from his example.
One of the most important and positive steps taken by the legislature and governor in 2007 was the implementation of AB 32, but it certainly was not without controversy. The governor’s budget proposed significant new spending for the Air Resources Board (ARB) to implement the new law, but some legislators and environmental groups thought the spending plan leaned too heavily toward getting a cap and trade system off the ground at the expense of early regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—a conclusion supported by the governor’s exuberant public statements in favor of “market mechanisms.”
In the summer the Chair of the ARB, Dr. Robert Sawyer, and Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon were none too gently pushed out of their jobs by the governor. The reasons are murky but they at least partly include controversy over the pace with which the ARB was adopting “early action measures” to implement AB 32. The surprising and happy outcome of the turmoil was the appointment of Mary Nichols as the new chair of the ARB. Nichols, a widely respected environmental leader who has held top jobs in California government and at US EPA—not to mention serving on the CLCV Board of Directors—quickly steadied the ship and took several decisive actions on behalf of the environment.
What Got Left Behind
Many of the environmental community’s most important bills, however, got left behind in 2007. In addition to the governor’s vetoes, a number of bills never got out of the legislature, including our two top priorities:
SB 375 (Steinberg) would have established a set of financial and regulatory incentives to achieve a number of environmental goals, including reduced air pollution, protection of critical habitat and farmland, and reduced emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from the transportation sector. Cal/EPA has acknowledged that cleaner fuels and vehicles alone will not produce the GHG reductions from the transportation sector that we must achieve to meet AB 32 targets. Despite vigorous opposition by developers and some local governments, SB 375 passed the Senate and two Assembly policy committees, taking numerous amendments to respond to opposition and legislative concerns. To our surprise and disappointment, the bill was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee at the direction of Assembly Speaker Núñez. SB 375 is a two-year bill and will be heard again in 2008.
SB 974 (Lowenthal) would have established a stable, ongoing, and broad-based funding source to improve infrastructure and mitigate air pollution from goods movement in and around the state’s major ports (Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland). There is wide acknowledgement that the transportation infrastructure bond passed by the voters in 2006 will provide only a small share of the overall cost for needed infrastructure and air quality improvements at the state’s major ports. The state’s voters already have agreed to fund that share through general fund repayment over 30 years. SB 974’s fee of $30 per shipping container would spread the cost of port improvements to all who benefit from the ports, including consumers of the products that move through them. At the request of the governor, Senator Lowenthal agreed to hold SB 974 on the Assembly floor, where we are confident it will be sent to the governor’s desk in 2008.
Other important bills were held in the legislature this year, including:
AB 923 (Wolk), which would have established a comprehensive wildlife action plan for the state.
AB 558 (Feuer), which would have created a California Toxics Use Reduction program and improved public information about chemicals used in products.
SB 411 (Simitian), which would have accelerated the state’s commitment to increase its use of renewable electricity sources.
SB 412 (Simitian), which would have required the state to conduct a needs assessment before approving new liquefied natural gas terminals.
SB 1020 (Padilla), which would have increased the state’s solid waste landfill diversion target from 50%, which has been achieved, to 75%.
AB 706 (Leno), which would have banned the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in furniture and bedding.
It is not unusual for tensions to be running high in the legislature by the last weeks of the session. After eight months of votes, amendments, demands, threats and slights, it doesn’t take much for most legislators to want to even the score. In 2007 the tension started earlier and got worse than usual.
Despite early expectations for an on-time budget, the legislature missed the July 1 constitutional deadline. Three weeks into July, the Assembly surprised everyone, especially the Senate, by passing a budget to the Senate and leaving town for the rest of the summer recess. The Senate, which in past years has left the Assembly holding the budget bag, rejected the Assembly budget and then failed to pass its own budget until late August, completely missing the summer recess. Things grew especially testy as Senate Republicans refused to cast any votes for the budget until their demands, including weakening of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), were met. In the end, Senate President pro Tem Don Perata crafted a bill that greatly limited any damage to CEQA, breaking the budget impasse.
The appropriations committees in both houses can act as gatekeepers, especially in the last few weeks of session when they hear bills from the other house. Beneath the veneer of analyzing the fiscal impact of bills, “second-house approps” is a tool the Speaker and pro Tem use to control which bills go to the floor for a vote of the full house. Some bills will be held in second-house approps—and here’s where the blood pressure rises—as a way to punish the bill’s author for some past vote or disagreement; they also can be held as “hostages”: i.e. “we’ll let your bills out of our appropriations committee when you let our bills out of yours.” In 2007 the gamesmanship seemed downright common, with priority environmental bills held in second-house appropriations, especially in the Assembly, often for unknown or specious reasons.
Eleventh-hour tensions led to bad decisions on several important bills. AB 118 (Núñez) could have been measurably improved by amendments in the Senate, but the author flatly refused, leading the chairs of the two Senate policy committees that heard the bill to either abstain (Simitian) or vote no (Lowenthal) on a bill supported by many environmental organizations. AB 558 (Feuer), a very important chemicals policy reform bill that had been extensively negotiated by the author with the Administration, was unexpectedly defeated in Senate Appropriations Committee when two Democrats voted against the bill, one for reasons he acknowledged at the time were unrelated to the bill.
A Successful Year for CLCV
Notwithstanding the challenges of the 2007 session, CLCV showed measurable success in its main activities—getting pro-environmental legislators elected and leading the Green California process to sharpen the power and influence of the environmental community in Sacramento.
We believe environmental support in the Assembly on tough floor votes improved notably as a result of CLCV’s electoral victories in 2006. Only four freshman Assemblymembers first elected in 2004 scored 100% in their first Scorecard; this year 11 achieved a perfect score. Four of these first-termers—Beall, DeSaulnier, Price and Soto—scored dramatically higher than their predecessors, and five more freshmen—Charles Calderon, Carter, Hernandez, Salas, and Solorio—while not scoring 100%, scored significantly better than those they replaced. CLCV worked actively in support of DeSaulnier, Hernandez, Salas and Solorio in their hotly contested 2006 primary races. Thanks to the strength of this freshman class, we expect to reap the rewards of a stronger environmental Assembly for years to come.
Other notable CLCV-endorsed members of this freshman class are Mike Feuer and Jared Huffman. Although they replaced former Assembly members with strong environmental records, both Feuer and Huffman are stars in the making and both introduced an impressive portfolio of pro-environmental legislation in 2007.
The challenge now is to get the best environmental bills to the Assembly floor for a vote. As we mentioned earlier, two of the most important environmental bills of the year—SB 375 and SB 974—could come up for a vote as early as January. CLCV will be ready to bring all of our resources to bear in order to get this legislation off the floor and to the governor.
In its second full year, Green California, a CLCV-led program, continued to grow and extend its effectiveness in the capitol. Green California’s priority bill lists have become a benchmark for many legislators, including those in positions of leadership. To capitalize on this opportunity, Green California’s diverse member organizations are currently evaluating how best to communicate a strategic yet comprehensive environmental agenda to legislators, media outlets, and California voters. CLCV recently sponsored the third annual Green California Summit, which was attended by 90 attendees from over 60 member groups who evaluated the 2007 legislative session and strategized on building political power.
Is There a Pattern?
A variety of distractions conspired to bollix the 2007 session, leaving much of the most important work for next year. Even as we go to press, the two issues the governor and legislative leaders identified as top priorities for 2007—health care reform and improved water supply—have gone unresolved, even after the governor called an October special legislative session. Capitol insiders are quick to point out, though, that 2007 is only the first year of a two-year session.
But we at CLCV have noted for several years that environmental legislation fares better in even years than in odd ones. Among the voting public in California, polls continue to show broad support for environmental protection, by Republicans as well as Democrats. 2005 was a rancorous year with only modest environmental gains; 2006 saw the enactment of the landmark AB 32 and other significant wins. In 2007 we have returned to a difficult session with fewer gains than last year.
This pattern may simply reflect the unfinished nature of the first year of the two-year session. But it also suggests that legislators are less willing to vote against the environment in an election year. At a minimum, that gives us reason to be hopeful that SB 974 and SB 375 will be signed into law and the 2008 session will improve on this year’s results.