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Mixed bag for climate bills as California lawmakers wrap 2023 season

Mixed bag for climate bills as California lawmakers wrap 2023 season

California lawmakers passed some precedent-setting climate and environment bills before the clock ran out Thursday, Sept. 14 on the 2023 legislative session.

That includes a first-of-its-kind bill to make big corporations disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. Others would make it harder for oil companies to drill along the coast or abandon old wells, and still others would make it easier for offshore wind projects to advance.

Those bills need signatures from Gov. Gavin Newsom by mid-October to become law. If they aren’t vetoed, they’ll be added to the list of climate bills Newsom signed earlier in the session, including one that lets California regulators penalize oil companies found to be gouging drivers at gas pumps and one protecting Joshua trees.

Lawmakers also recently passed a resolution by state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is a global call to end new fossil fuel exploration and expansion, phase out existing production, and endorse clean energy alternatives. That makes California the largest global economy to support the proposal, which more than 100 governments worldwide have now endorsed.

“All in all, the legislature did some good work, and the governor has some important bills to sign,” said Christina Scaringe, a legislative specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity, when asked to look back over the session.

“But as the climate emergency rages all around us — every day bringing new stories of some terrible storm, fire, flood, or other catastrophe — the (California) Legislature needs to think bigger and do more.”

That’s because other legislation backed by Scaringe’s organization and others, such as a proposal to make California’s public pension funds stop investing with oil companies, did not make the cut this year.

Lawmakers also passed a budget this summer that cut $6 billion from climate initiatives. And regulators last month postponed the closure of three gas-fired power plants while increasing the amount of gas that SoCalGas gets to store at the Aliso Canyon facility — two moves opposed by environment groups and many local residents.

So while advocates are celebrating some big moves on climate this year, they’re also looking to do more in 2024.

“It’s a frustrating truth for all of us that as exciting as some of these wins are, they are not enough,” said Mary Creasman, head of California Environmental Voters.

“We are ready to work with leaders in January to ensure every year as we get closer to our 2030 climate deadline is a year of bold policy action that takes care of families at home as well as creates a ripple effect globally.”

In Newsom’s hands

Here are some of the significant climate and environment bills that got sent to the governor’s desk this session. All were authored by Democrats and most passed largely along party lines, though a few — including one that would require testing school water fountains for lead and one to study building solar projects along highways — drew solid bipartisan support.

– S.B. 253: If Newsom signs it, companies with annual revenues of more than $1 billion will have to publicly report how much greenhouse gas they generate by 2025 and how much their entire supply chains create by 2027. The bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would make California the only state with such sweeping disclosure laws.

– A.B. 1167: Known as the Orphan Well Prevention Act, it would require oil companies to take out bonds that cover the full cost of plugging oil wells and remediating the area whenever ownership is transferred. The goal of the bill from Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, is to prevent costs for so-called orphan wells from falling to the state and ultimately to taxpayers.

– S.B. 704: This bill by state Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, would stop giving oil and gas developments carveouts from a nearly 50-year-old law that requires projects along the coast to get special development permits that aim to protect the sensitive coastal ecosystem.

– S.B. 261: Companies with annual revenues of $500 million or more would have to disclose climate-related financial risks and the measures they’ve adopted to reduce those risks if this bill from state Sen. Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles, becomes law.

– A.B. 1373: California could act as a centralized buyer for both offshore wind and geothermal energy under this bill by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella. That would give developers an assured market, which should speed up projects in both sectors.

– A.B. 249: This bill from Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, would require lead tests at all water fountains and faucets in schools built before 2010 and would set a goal of reducing lead levels in school water systems to zero.

– A.B. 363: This bill would give the Department of Pesticide Regulation until July of 2024 to wrap up a comprehensive study on how consumer use of pesticides known as neonics affect pollinators, water systems and human health. And the bill from Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-San Ramon, also would require the department to adopt rules for using those products by July 2026.

– S.B. 337: Min’s second bill on this list would codify an executive order from Newsom to make California a so-called 30×30 state, committed to conserving at least 30% of its lands and coastal waters by 2030.

– A.B. 3: The state would have to create a plan to make ports ready for offshore energy and study the potential for making offshore wind power equipment in California under this bill from Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur, D-Hollywood.

– A.B. 727: Toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS would be banned from cleaning and floor sealing products sold in the state within a few years if this bill by Assemblymember Akilah Weber, D-La Mesa, becomes law.

– A.B. 1628: All washing machines sold in California after Jan. 1, 2029 would have to include fine microfiber filtration systems, to prevent microplastics from getting into the water supply, if Newsom signs this bill from Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, D-Inglewood.

– A.B. 1322: This bill would expand a ban on the most harmful types of rat poisons in California to include a kind called diphacinone. Assemblymember Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, introduced the bill after the death of the mountain lion known as P-22, who was found to have rat poison in his system.

– S.B. 48: State regulators would have to create a plan by July 1, 2026 to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in large buildings under this bill by state Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park.

– S.B. 49: Becker’s second bill on this list would encourage installation of solar power infrastructure in right-of-ways along California’s highways by having state agencies evaluate that potential. Passage comes after a recent report found there’s enough viable space for solar projects along Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego county roads alone to power more than 270,000 homes.

– S.B. 605: State regulators would have to study the potential of offshore wave power along California’s coast and make a plan to harness it, per the bill from state Sen. Steve Padilla, D-San Diego. A report would be due by Jan. 1, 2025.

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– A.B. 421: This bill from Assemblyman Isaac Ryan, D-Los Angeles, isn’t directly related to climate issues, since it involves changes to the state’s referendum process. But those changes include replacing a confusing process — where voters must mark “yes” to reject overturning a law — with clearer language that asks them to choose between “keeping a law” or “overturning a law.” So climate advocates are cheering A.B. 421 because they hope it will make it harder in fall 2024 for oil industry backers to succeed in getting voters to overturn a law Newsom signed last year that banned new oil drilling or major retrofits to existing wells within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, nursing homes or hospitals.

Newsom has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto these bills. Historically, he’s signed a majority of bills lawmakers pass. But he’s also vetoed dozens each year, including some closely watched bills.

Lawmakers can override any vetoes, but they need two-thirds of members in both the Senate and Assembly to agree, which rarely happens.

No dice this year

Here are some of the closely watched climate bills that didn’t make the cut. A few have been turned into two-year bills, with the full legislative session running through fall 2024. Others were quietly killed in committee, which means authors generally can’t reintroduce them until the 2025-26 session starts.

– S.B. 556: Californians who live within 3,200 feet of active oil wells and who develop health conditions linked to drilling — such as cancer, respiratory illnesses and birth defects — would have a right to hold some oil companies liable for up to $1 million under this bill from Gonzalez. It was killed in committee.

– S.B. 252: The state’s two largest public pension funds would have to divest, or stop investing in, major fossil fuel companies by 2031 under this bill, which is also from Gonzalez. This has been turned into a two-year bill, which means it will be considered again next year.

– S.B. 12: The state’s target for reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions would go up to at least 55% below the 1990 level by the end of 2030, replacing the current state goal of 40%, under this bill from Stern. It was killed in committee.

– S.B. 707: Known as the Responsible Textile Recovery Act of 2023, it would make California the first state to set up a “stewardship program” for its fashion and textile industries, requiring manufacturers to set up collection sites and then donate, repair or recycle items. State Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, turned it into a two-year bill.

– S.B. 511: This bill from state Sen. Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas, would direct the state air board to make inventories of greenhouse gas emissions for cities and counties to use as they prepare climate action plans and take other steps to limit local emissions. It died in committee.

– A.B. 1042: To close the so-called “treated seed loophole,” which is the subject of a lawsuit now pending against the state, the Department of Pesticide Regulation would have to develop regulations for seeds treated with pesticides before they’re planted under this bill from Bauer-Kahan. This one has been turned into a two-year bill and will be back in 2024.