2012 was the second year of California’s two-year legislative session, as well as the final year for state Senate and Assembly districts drawn a decade ago to protect then-incumbent legislators. Amidst the session’s unfinished business, the state capitol was full of lawmakers about to be thrown into redistricting chaos. Meanwhile, the perennially iconoclastic Governor Jerry Brown defied easy categorization in 2012. For the most part, he championed renewable energy and environmental protection; in particular, Governor Brown has acted decisively to address climate change by aggressively implementing the state’s renewable energy standard However, he welcomed exemptions and revisions to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), California’s bedrock environmental law.
Against this backdrop, CLCV entered the 2012 legislative session with a steadfast commitment to five top legislative priorities that held true through the year:
Fair and equitable allocation of AB 32 cap-and-trade revenue;
Protecting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA);
Curbing plastic pollution of our oceans and communities;
Protecting state parks; and
Fairness in elections and voting rights.
We shared the first four core environmental priorities in common with Green California, a powerful network of more than 85 environmental, public health, and social justice organizations facilitated by CLCV’s sister organization, the CLCV Education Fund. Throughout the session we worked with our tens of thousands of members and in Sacramento with our partners in Green California to advance these issues, allowing us to magnify our community’s strength and speak to the state legislature and regulatory agencies with a unified voice on issues impacting California’s air, water, and natural resources.
On the final priority, we collaborated with “good government” organizations on ensuring transparency and equal access to participation in elections.
How did we fare on our priorities? Results were mixed: California’s environmental advocates experienced both victories and disappointments.
Delivering on California’s Climate Change Promise: AB 32
For more than a decade, CLCV has been a strong supporter of State Senator Fran Pavley’s work to find solutions to climate change. Despite a major opposition effort funded by oil companies and other polluting industries, then-Assemblymember Pavley authored and, with the help of organizations like CLCV, passed AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Signed into law by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, AB 32 created the framework to make California the nation’s leader in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But major questions remained about how to implement the law and allocate the revenues raised by proposed cap-and-trade auctions.
Fast-forward to 2012. CLCV worked to pass two important bills aimed at implementing the landmark climate legislation by guiding the allocation of revenues from the auctions. AB 1532 (J. Pérez) provides a comprehensive framework for how the revenues from the auction of GHG emission allowances will be allocated. The bill will help ensure that these revenues are allocated to uses that reduce GHG emissions, including renewable energy, low-carbon transportation, natural resource protection, and research and development of clean energy technology.
SB 535 (De León) directs a portion of these revenues to help Californians who are least able to confront the expected impacts of the climate crisis at the local level. Specifically, the bill directs the Brown administration to allocate 25% of the revenue to projects that provide benefits to disadvantaged communities and to allocate a minimum of 10% of the revenues to projects located within disadvantaged communities. Passing SB 535 was a huge win that took years of effort by the environmental and social justice communities.
Governor Brown signed both AB 1532 and SB 535 into law at a crucial time, just months before the first auctions began in November 2012. With the success of AB 1532 and SB 535, a framework has been established and disadvantaged communities will benefit from the revenues.
Curbing Plastic Pollution
Despite successes at the local level, the 2012 legislative session included the failure of two important legislative proposals aimed at reducing plastic pollution. AB 298 (Brownley), which would have phased out plastic bags from California's supermarkets, retail pharmacies, and convenience stores, was not able to muster the votes for passage in the Senate and was held in Senate Appropriations. SB 568 (Lowenthal), which would have phased out polystyrene take-out containers, failed on the Assembly floor.
Together, these bills would have made a huge impact on improving the health of our marine environment. Eighty percent of the trash in the world’s oceans comes from land-based sources like landfills, open trash containers, and littered streets. Plastic debris in particular migrates to the ocean and breaks down into smaller pieces, where it harms and kills fish, birds, and other wildlife.
The good news is dozens of cities and counties banned plastic bags and/or polystyrene take-out containers in 2012, and many more have already done so in 2013. In July 2012 the Los Angeles Unified School District – the largest school district in California and second largest in the country – announced it would ban polystyrene food trays after students advocated for the change. CLCV is in this fight for the long haul, and will continue working to kick our state’s addiction to wasteful, single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers.
Stabilizing State Parks
After a protracted budget shortfall threatened to close a quarter of our state parks, and communities throughout the state scrambled to find revenues to keep them open, Californians were astonished and outraged to learn that parks staff had hidden $54 million in a secret fund. So it was with some relief that CLCV and other advocates for California’s state parks welcomed the passage of two bills supporting the parks.
AB 1589 (Huffman) provides a wide-ranging flexibility for additional funding streams for state parks. Among the many provisions in the bill, AB 1589 establishes a new State Park Enterprise Fund to identify, evaluate, and pursue future revenue-generating options within state parks that are mission-consistent.
AB 1478 (Blumenfield) would halt state park closures for two years. The bill appropriates funds from the once-hidden surplus to parks, specifically allocating matching funds on a dollar-for-dollar basis for parks with funding agreements with private organizations. Governor Brown signed both bills into law.
One major parks bill that CLCV and allies in Green California worked to pass for the past two years did not pass. SB 580 (Wolk), which would have instituted a no-net-loss policy on parklands, was held in Assembly Appropriations in August 2012. This bill would have maintained the investment that taxpayers have made in California’s state park system by mandating that state park lands cannot be used for non-park purposes unless there is no practical alternative to using those lands and either replacement lands are provided, or a combination of replacement lands and monetary compensation is offered.
Flame Retardants: Where There’s Smoke…
Environment and health advocates have had mixed success over the past few years in helping to pass laws that ban toxic chemicals from consumer products and advance so-called “green chemistry” policies to reduce the public’s exposure to harmful chemicals. For every victory like last year’s bill banning toxic bisphenol-A from baby bottles and sippy cups, there are many disappointing setbacks thanks to the well-funded lobbying efforts of the chemical industry.
Flame retardant chemicals—which hundreds of studies show pose significant risks to human health and don’t actually save lives from fires—are one class of chemicals where it’s been particularly difficult to make progress. After years of supporting bills authored by state Senator Mark Leno to get the toxic chemicals out of furniture and other consumer products, CLCV and our allies enjoyed a surprising leap forward on the issue this year. The Chicago Tribune published an investigative series revealing an intricate web of deception and years of outright lies by manufacturers of fire-retardant chemicals and their surrogates.
Soon thereafter, Governor Brown announced that he was directing the state’s Bureau of Home Furnishings to begin the process of revising Technical Bulletin 117—the arcane regulation that has served as a de facto requirement for California and national furniture manufacturers to load their products up with the chemicals—so that flame retardant chemicals are no longer mandated for fire safety purposes.
A draft of the new regulation was released in July 2012, and public comment was sought on the new regulation in February 2013. The new regulation could take effect in 2013. This is an important step in finally prevailing against the chemical industry, which has spent more than $23.2 million defending the decades-old regulation. CLCV and our allies are organizing grassroots support for the change and will remain vigilant to ensure that the new law proposed by the Brown administration protects our health and environment.
Oil Companies’ Influence: Fracking and Clean Energy Legislation Go Down in Flames
Despite several attempts this session, three bills to regulate fracking in California failed. SB 1054 (Pavley), calling for disclosure of fracking installations, failed on the Senate floor. AB 591 (Wieckowski), regulating disclosure of fracking chemicals, and AB 972 (Butler), a fracking moratorium, were held in Senate Appropriations. The Brown administration is developing fracking regulations and released draft regulations in late 2012. Several fracking bills are likely to be introduced in 2013.
Under pressure from intense lobbying from utilities, the legislature failed to pass two bills aimed at expanding renewable energy. AB 1990 (Fong), also known as “solar for all,” failed on the Senate floor and SB 843 (Wolk) was held in the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.
SB 1455 (Kehoe), which aimed to increase usage of alternative fuels, failed to get the 2/3 vote needed to pass, despite the work of a broad coalition supporting the bill.
CEQA: Protected, For Now
A major win for the environmental community was our success at stopping efforts to gut the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CLCV worked to protect CEQA with the help of many environmental partners, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League, Sierra Club California, and others. We worked inside the capitol, meeting with legislators and urging them not to make major changes that would significantly change CEQA in the last two weeks of the session, with little time or opportunity for review or input. Assemblymember Jared Huffman authored a letter to Assembly and Senate leadership, co-signed by 33 lawmakers, urging the same. On the grassroots level, we launched a public awareness campaign to “Save CEQA” and, in just a few days, thousands of CLCV members signed on to a letter urging the legislature not to gut CEQA.
Our combination of public and behind-the-scenes tactics proved to be effective. The bills that would have made the most significant changes to CEQA were never introduced. In 2013, further attempts to weaken CEQA are already underway; CLCV continues to be on the front line.
Fairness in Elections and Voting Rights
CLCV worked on three bills related to elections and voting rights. AB 1436 (Feuer) would allow Californians to register to vote up to and on Election Day, potentially allowing 850,000 more eligible voters in California to register and vote in the next election. It passed both houses and was signed by Governor Brown. Assembly Joint Resolution 22 (Wieckowski) calls upon the U.S. Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The resolution passed both houses and did not need to be signed by the governor.
AB 1648 (Brownley), the California Disclose Act, would have fought back against hidden spending on campaigns by letting voters know who really is paying for political ads, in the ads themselves. The bill passed the Assembly, but unfortunately time ran out and it was not brought up for a Senate vote. CLCV will continue to work with good government organizations to bring disclosure to political spending.
Year after year, polluting interests pour money and resources into attempting to eviscerate California’s strong laws to protect our air, water, and health. Yet when we work with our partners in Sacramento and our members statewide to marshal our collective grassroots strength, we know we can win the tough fights.