A Big Year for the Environment
What a difference a year makes. Compared to the last several years, 2014 was a significant year for environmental progress in California. Cleaner air, healthier communities, reduced carbon pollution, less plastic waste, and the state’s first groundwater regulations are some of the highlights of a nail-biter of a legislative session. These critical victories mark steps towards a more equitable distribution of environmental benefits across California communities, and a commitment by a majority of our elected leaders to prioritize environmental and public health issues impacting our families and our future.
The success of bills that represent years and even decades of work to address sustainability, equity, and long term stewardship of our resources are the signature accomplishments of this year—one of the best for the state’s environment and for the health of all Californians in recent memory.
Of the eighteen bills CLCV scored this year, thirteen passed the Legislature and made it to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk; he signed all but one into law. Compare that to the previous year, when only nine of the eighteen bills CLCV scored made it all the way to the Governor’s desk, with eight signed and one vetoed.
Entering this year, CLCV identified California’s continued clean energy and climate leadership as a top priority, and despite a well-funded campaign by Big Oil to halt our progress, we are on track for full and timely implementation of California’s pioneering climate and clean energy law, AB 32 (Pavley, 2006). Legislative attacks included a last-minute gut-and-amend bill (AB 69, Perea) and other threats that loomed over the final month of the session as the oil industry attempted to halt the inclusion of transportation fuels in the state’s cap-and-trade program beginning on January 1, 2015. The funding for critical programs to clean our air—including several programs created by the important bills in this Scorecard—would have been jeopardized by such a move.
While there were important environmental priorities that fell short this year, including the widely supported moratorium on fracking and other risky oil and gas drilling practices (SB 1132, Mitchell), and a bill to provide protection for a State Marine Protected Area from repeated attempts to extract oil (SB 1096, Jackson), the national attention and opposition to fracking continues to grow. Similarly, despite the failure of a bill to phase out the use of toxic plastic microbeads in consumer products (AB 1699, Bloom), there is growing public concern about the long lifecycle of and potential hazards to our ecosystem from plastic of all kinds. With the attention on these issues steadily increasing, it is likely that similar bills will be introduced in coming legislative sessions.
What made this legislative year so different from those just preceding it was not just the volume of environmental priorities signed into law by the Governor, but the fact that environmental advocates achieved so many historic victories despite the powerful opposition and lavish spending from wealthy, polluting industries and their allies in the Legislature. These opponents of environmental progress not only beefed up their efforts to defeat pro-environmental legislation; they also launched a wholesale attack on California’s existing climate law, AB 32.
Thanks to stronger partnerships, sophisticated organizing, and thoughtful coordination by the environmental community along with strong environmental leadership from Governor Brown, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, and Speakers John Pérez and Toni Atkins, CLCV and our allies in the social justice, labor, business, consumer and faith communities prevailed on issues that will bring environmental benefits to all of our diverse communities, despite the onslaught from Big Oil.
Starting with the Governor’s budget, which allocates funding from revenue created by cap-and-trade auctions, to projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality, to successful legislation to require California to finally monitor and regulate its groundwater usage, the progress is impressive. Add to this a much-improved bipartisan water bond placed on the November 2014 ballot and passage of a first-in-the-nation statewide plastic bag ban, and this was a very successful year for the environment, the people of California, and for CLCV and our partners active in the state legislature.
Budget Kicks Off a Year of Progress
On June 20th, Governor Brown signed the 2014-15 Budget Act. Within the $156.4 billion budget, which took effect July 1st, the Administration and Legislature agreed upon a multi-year spending plan for revenue accumulated from fees placed on polluters under the cornerstone of AB 32 implementation: the state’s cap-and-trade program. This year, the budget allocated $832 million of cap-and-trade auction proceeds to “support existing and pilot programs that will reduce greenhouse gases, with a particular emphasis on assisting disadvantaged communities” (Governor's Budget Summary).
For years going forward, the budget allocates 60 percent of future auction proceeds towards public transit, high speed rail, and sustainable communities, with a focus on disadvantaged communities, with the remaining 40 percent of proceeds to be allocated in future budgets. These allocations are designed to bring benefits from climate leadership to a broad range of communities, support a more equitable distribution of benefits, and help address acute needs in California’s most at-risk communities. As transportation fuels come under the cap-and-trade system on January 1st, 2015, auction proceeds are expected to increase significantly, growing the amount of funding set aside to reach the emissions reduction targets set out under AB 32 to tackle the biggest environmental and moral issue of our time: climate change.
Historic Drought Prompts Historic Water Laws
The increasing impacts of climate change were inescapable this year. As we entered the 2014 legislative session, California was reeling from the driest year on record and entering into the third year of a historic drought—the worst since recordkeeping started in 1895. Early in the year Governor Brown announced water as one of his top priorities for the year, and he showed leadership throughout the year on water issues. In February, Governor Brown declared the drought a statewide emergency and passed legislation creating an emergency drought fund.
As the session pressed on, fresh water supplies continued to recede, residents of towns watched their wells run dry, aquifers were under threat of irreversible overdraught, and agricultural land lay fallow. In a symbolic move, Governor Brown directed staff to stop watering the grass surrounding the historic Capitol building in Sacramento, and it promptly turned brown. By May, 100% of California was suffering from severe drought, and 82% of the state was in extreme drought.
As the implications of higher than average temperatures and lower than average rainfall were felt statewide, the California legislature and the Governor were able to come to agreement on a policy to replace the twice-delayed water bond on the November ballot. In a show of nearly unanimous bipartisanship, AB 1471 by Assemblymember Anthony Rendon was passed and signed by the Governor after nearly two years of negotiations and deliberation. It was a great show of leadership from newly-elected Speaker Atkins, Former Speaker Pérez, outgoing Senate Pro Tem Steinberg, and incoming Pro Tem de León, along with water committee chairs Assemblymember Rendon and Senator Pavley. Delta Senator Lois Wolk played a particularly critical role by fighting to make sure that the bond protects the San Francisco San Joaquin Delta.
Environmental advocates and dozens of legislative staff and consultants all worked tirelessly to ensure that for the first time in over a decade, California voters will have a chance to vote for an environmentally sound, fiscally responsible, and much-needed water bond. If passed, Proposition 1 will allocate $7.5 billion statewide for critical water infrastructure improvements, expanding water recycling, improving watersheds, and other projects.
In one of the most significant policy achievements of the session, Governor Brown signed into law a historic three-bill package regulating the pumping and disclosure of groundwater usage on September 16th. Prior to the signing of SB 1168 (Pavley), SB 1319 (Pavley), and AB 1739 (Dickinson), California was the only Western state that did not manage its groundwater. With nearly 75% of the state relying on groundwater for some portion of their water needs and upwards of 60% of California’s water coming from the ground during times of drought, the Legislature and Governor took much-needed action. The package of bills is supported through the water bond as well, allocating $900 million to groundwater sustainability. The funding will prevent and reduce groundwater contaminants and provide sustainable groundwater management planning and implementation.
The groundwater bill package provides for the creation of local and regional groundwater sustainability agencies around the state. This will be a critically important tool to ensure no Californian is left behind, as water districts most at risk are responsible for serving some of our most heavily impacted communities. This package focuses on the most threatened groundwater basins in the state, which are in danger of irreversible damage caused by overdraughting and are also responsible for 96% of California’s groundwater pumping. With the state’s agriculture industry using 80% of the developed water supply, the majority of these most vulnerable basins are found within the agriculturally rich Central Valley.
Farmers are drilling deeper and deeper to extract water, endangering the structural integrity of underground water storage. The passage of these bills allows for the necessary actions to be taken to protect our ever-dwindling supply of clean and safe drinking water for all Californians. We expect and look forward to legislative and regulatory efforts next year that build from this momentous law.
One Word: Plastics
Plastic production and waste in America contributes to both climate change and ecologically-destructive debris. Twelve million barrels of oil are used to produce 30 billion plastic bags in the U.S. each year. Plastic bags are rarely recycled and frequently littered; they litter our streets and find their way to oceans, where they are responsible for an estimated 100,000 marine animal deaths every year through suffocation or ingestion as animals confuse plastic bags for a tasty jellyfish lunch. Even when disposed of properly, plastic bags end up in landfills, taking years to fully decompose and costing California upwards of $25 million annually.
After eight years of work by environmental advocates, California is officially the first in the nation to impose a statewide ban of single-use plastic bags. SB 270, authored by Senators Padilla, de León and Lara, will ban the distribution of plastic bags in grocery stores beginning July 1st, 2015, with convenience stores and pharmacies following suit a year later. Under the new law, if shoppers neglect to bring their own bags, grocers can provide either a recycled paper bag or a reusable plastic bag to the shopper at a cost of ten cents. With over 120 cities and counties already having implemented some type of plastic bag ban in California, the remaining jurisdictions will have to comply with the newly passed law as California asserts itself once again as the national leader in passing sweeping environmental policy.
As our Scorecard goes to press, plastic bag manufacturers have poured more than $1.2 million into a campaign to stop the ban. They plan to collect the signatures necessary by the end of December to place a referendum to overturn the law on the 2016 ballot. We will continue to fight for California’s leadership on this important environmental priority, including opposing this referendum funded by out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers.
Big Oil Fought for a Free Pass… and Lost (for now)
In the later months of the summer, attacks from Big Oil on California’s climate policies intensified. Since AB 32 passed in 2006, overseeing agencies like the California Air Resources Board (ARB) have held dozens of public hearings around AB 32 and the implementation of programs created to reach the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals. Programs like cap-and-trade—which places a “cap” on emissions from entities responsible for 85% of the state’s GHG emissions—have been successfully underway since 2012 when the majority of emitters had to come “under the cap.”
Oil companies are responsible for 40% of the state’s pollution through tailpipe emissions and have known for years that they would have to begin paying for the pollution they create starting in 2015. Pollution from the transportation sector has contributed to making California home to 7 of the top 10 most polluted areas in America--specifically the Central Valley, where 4 residents die prematurely from pollution every day and 1 in four children will suffer with asthma due to increasing temperatures caused by pollution’s catastrophic effects.
Meanwhile, it’s no secret that Big Oil is an influential interest group in Sacramento. An ongoing analysis of reports filed with the California Secretary of State shows that the oil industry has collectively spent more than $63 million lobbying California policymakers since January 1, 2009.
In a last ditch effort to escape the rules, the oil industry funded dozens of manufactured “concerned citizen” groups, seeding them with prepackaged talking points that sounded just like those of California’s top corporate polluters. Although they had different names and claimed to represent different kinds of constituents, what these phony “AstroTurf” groups had in common was a call for a delay in fuels coming under the cap. Next, Assemblymember Perea—representing Fresno, the number one most polluted city in the United States—circulated a letter in June signed by fifteen other Assembly Democrats calling on ARB Chairman Mary Nichols to postpone the transportation fuels deadline for inclusion in the cap-and-trade program. Perea told the Los Angeles Times that the lead lobbyists for the oil industry, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), “had provided him with much of the technical information he used in drafting his letter to Nichols.”
Republican lawmakers sent a similar request, which garnered less attention, but put them on record once again as opposing California’s leadership on climate and clean air and energy policy.
The response from environmental champions was swift and fierce. Incoming Senate leader de León, then-Senate Pro Tem Steinberg, AB 32 author Senator Pavley and Senator Lara wrote and circulated their own legislator sign-on letter urging the ARB and the Governor to stay the course on requiring Big Oil to play by the same rules as other industries. The lawmakers drove home the point that in order to reduce fuel costs and protect public health, California must stop its reliance on fossil fuels and invest in clean fuel alternatives. We commend ARB Chairman Mary Nichols and Governor Brown’s Administration for submitting their own response to Assemblymember Perea’s letter as well.
With oil companies doing all they could to protect their monopoly on fuels, the environmental, health, and environmental justice communities came together with scientists, economists, businesses, utilities, and labor in a unifying show of support for AB 32 and its full and timely implementation. Assemblymember Perea and Assembly Republicans also introduced follow-up legislation asking for similar delays in the law; both bills died without advancing from committee.
Considering the severity and scope of the assault on AB 32, CLCV takes the historic step—the first time in more than 40 years of scoring the Legislature – of negatively scoring the signatories to the letters as if they had cast a vote against AB 32 implementation. We take this unprecedented action to make it clear to lawmakers that their public support or opposition to state laws that tackle climate change will be part of their permanent record of environmental performance we share with our members, other environmental advocates, and the media.
This is hardly the end of this fight. The oil industry will continue to push its agenda with campaign contributions and phony front groups and it will continue its well-funded dirty tricks to avoid playing by rules as January 1 approaches. The good news is that as we enter the 2015-16 legislative session, we’ve sent a clear signal to oil companies that they can no longer protect their profits to the detriment of the health and well-being of the environment and the 38 million Californians who all deserve to breathe a little easier.
Fracking Bill Fails to Pass, but the Movement is Strong
We were successful at pushing back against oil industry opposition to AB 32, but in another major legislative fight the oil industry prevailed, at least for now. For the past several years CLCV and our environmental and public health allies have been working to protect Californians from the dangers of fracking. This year Senator Holly Mitchell introduced SB 1132, a bill that would have imposed a moratorium on fracking and other unconventional drilling practices, and it fell five votes short in the state Senate.
California's oil lobby, led by WSPA, spent more than $15 million this legislative session on lobbying activities to defeat the fracking moratorium. And despite the industry’s deep pockets, we came very close to getting this bill through the state Senate. Compare that to just a few years ago, when we couldn't even get a simple fracking notification bill passed in the Legislature.
More than 100 environmental, business, labor, health, social justice, and other groups worked together on this bill, and several counties and cities are now working to pass local moratoria on fracking and other risky drilling practices. This movement is growing stronger by the day, and we expect to support more proposals to protect our communities from fracking in upcoming legislative sessions.
Cap-and-Trade Revenue: Put to Good Use
As outlined earlier, this year’s budget creates an investment plan for revenue created from the cap-and-trade program thus far; about $832 million. That number is expected to increase significantly once transportation fuels come under the cap in 2015. Two new laws counting on fuels coming under the cap are SB 1275 by new Pro Tem de León and SB 1204 by Senators Lara and Pavley. SB 1275 creates the “Charge Ahead California Initiative,” directing the ARB to develop a long-term funding plan to put one million electric cars on the road while ensuring the communities who suffer the most from air pollution benefit from this transition.
SB 1204 by Senators Lara and Pavley picks up where SB 1275 leaves off, tackling the pollution coming from the medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses responsible for nearly 25% of GHG emissions in the transportation sector. The bill directs the ARB to use revenue created by cap-and-trade auctions tofund development, demonstration, pilots, and early deployment of zero and near-zero-emission truck, bus, and off-road vehicle and equipment technologies, with preference given to California’s most disadvantaged communities. This is an important victory for clean air in the state, specifically areas like the Port of Long Beach in Senator Lara’s district, where huge 18-wheelers leave the port and head down the 710 freeway in Los Angeles, releasing diesel exhaust into surrounding neighborhoods.
Protecting Public Access to the Coast
The California Coastal Commission is charged with implementing the Coastal Act, which was passed in 1976 to protect the state's 1,100 mile coastline and public access to the coast. But until this year the commission lacked the power to impose fines on those who intentionally violate the Coastal Act. A bill that would have provided the Coastal Commission this power (AB 976, Atkins) narrowly failed in 2013. This year, Speaker Atkins successfully passed this policy through the budget process. Now the Coastal Commission has the same power that 20 other state regulatory agencies have: the ability to levy fines on those violating the law.
The passage of SB 968 (Hill) was another big victory for access to the coast, and particularly for Martin’s Beach, a small, sandy beach in San Mateo County visited by the general public for over 100 years. In 2008, a new landowner closed the road and barred the gate, blocking off access. SB 968 sets up a process and timeline to restore public access. Though this bill only applies to Martin’s Beach, it sends a message to coastal landowners that access to our world-famous coast must remain public.
Your Right to Know
Two years ago, Governor Brown’s administration revised an outdated law that served as a de facto requirement for furniture manufacturers to add flame retardant chemicals to couches and other furniture. It was a huge step toward ridding Californians’ homes of toxic flame retardants, but it was not a ban. That’s why Senator Leno introduced SB 1019, a simple right-to-know bill that required furniture manufacturers to disclose on furniture labels whether the furniture contains flame retardants. One peer-reviewed study found that 85% of couches contained toxic or untested flame retardant chemicals. That means your couch probably contains these chemicals. Now that this bill has passed, Californians will know if furniture they purchase is loaded up with pounds and pounds of these toxic chemicals.
Another right-to-know bill didn’t fare as well this year. SB 1381 (Evans) would have required that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled as such. This bill followed up on Prop 37 – a ballot initiative CLCV supported and campaigned for – which barely failed in November 2012. Facing strong opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, California Farm Bureau Federation, and other interests, SB 1381 failed on the Senate floor.
This banner year for environmental progress on behalf of all of California’s diverse communities didn’t happen by accident. Thanks to the support of our more than 100,000 members and activists, CLCV facilitated tens of thousands of emails and thousands of phone calls to lawmakers about priority legislation. The increasingly vocal environmental majority in California could not and would not be ignored. The grassroots-powered success of pro-environmental bills this year demonstrates that real voters, with real hopes and dreams for the future, are more powerful than polluter interests like Big Oil. As a result, the 2014 legislative year will be remembered as one that reflects Californians’ values and our commitment to our environment, our public health and our future.
Let’s do it again in 2015, California conservation voters.
An important note about our scores
It’s important that we explain a few intricacies of our scoring process. The votes and resulting scores themselves are just one tool to understand lawmaker performance. Over the years, CLCV and our allies have been fortunate to work with some truly standout legislators. Some of them have authored groundbreaking bills, while others have shown extraordinary leadership by shoring up close votes on environmental bills, often convincing their colleagues who are on the fence to vote the right way. While we make every effort to thank legislators publicly for that kind of leadership, authoring bills or helping to build a vote count doesn’t earn them extra credit on CLCV’s Scorecard. The other side of the same coin is that every year there are lawmakers (and frequently governors) who lobby against pro-environmental legislation or advocate for bills that would have negative environmental outcomes behind the scenes, even if they don’t ever have a recorded vote on a given bill. They don’t have points subtracted for this behavior, although as we pointed out earlier, the very public call by both Democratic and Republic lawmakers to undermine California’s commitment to climate change solutions cost them Scorecard points this year.
Finally, different rules in the Senate and Assembly mean that some lawmakers who had previously supported bills in committee don’t have that support recorded because they missed a final vote. Senate rules stipulate that members are not allowed to “add on” their vote after the roll has been called; on the other hand, members of the Assembly may add their “Aye” or “No” votes after roll call has closed if those votes don’t influence the bill outcome. In the Senate, (then-incoming) Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León was pulled away from the floor due to his new leadership role (which included consolidating support for bills that were facing a tough vote), which meant that he was absent from the floor when votes were taken on some pro-environment bills. This rule difference between the Assembly and Senate had a particular impact of reducing the scores of some members of the Senate.