October 5, 2015

Update on 2015 Environmental Legislation

The 2015 legislative year is nearing completion and, at the time of this writing, WG staff is awaiting final action from the governor on bills that were passed by the Legislature.  This year was filled with the usual battles in the capitol corridors over health, labor and water bills.  However, none of these bills or issues captured the attention of the state or nation quite like SB 350 authored by Senator President pro Tempore Kevin De Leon (D – Los Angeles) and SB 32 authored by Senator Fran Pavley (D – Agoura Hills).

WG had a very active role in opposing both bills.  SB 350 especially became a focal point for the Legislature, the Governor’s Office, and for the many stakeholders affected. 2015 will be remembered as a pivotal year on climate legislation.

SB 350 was introduced early in the year with great fanfare from the environmental activists and Senator De Leon.  The bill mandated a staggering 50 percent reduction in petroleum use in the state, an increase of the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent and similarly increasing the energy efficiency of buildings.  Not surprisingly, the oil lobby mounted a significant opposition campaign on the bill.

WG also joined a large opposition coalition and was a significant player in opposing the bill as it moved through the Legislature.  WG’s attention was primarily focused on the unrealistic expectations and unforeseen consequences imparted by the 50 percent petroleum reduction mandate.

Efforts to stall the bill were complicated by the governor’s affinity for the measure as evidenced by his State of the State speech in January and by the full throttled support from Senator De Leon.  Ultimately, the moderate Democrats in the Assembly exercised their clout on the bill and succeeded in stripping the petroleum reduction mandate in the final days of session.  This revised version of SB 350 passed out of the Legislature and is awaiting a certain signature by the governor.

Although SB 32 did not capture as much attention as SB 350, it is arguably the bill that would have the most impact upon the daily activity of California’s businesses and residents over the long-term.  In order to reach the goals of SB 32, you would have to accomplish the goals outlined in the original version of SB 350 and much more.  SB 32 was introduced to extend the mandate of AB 32 which was passed in 2006.  AB 32 requires that greenhouse gases be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020.  SB 32 originally required the California Air Resources Board to approve statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits that are the equivalent of 40 percent below the 1990 level to be achieved by 2030 and 80 percent below the 1990 level by 2050.  Again, the bill faced strong opposition from a large coalition of industry groups including WG.  The moderate Assembly Democrats compelled the author to drop the 80 percent mandate and subsequently held the bill in the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.  Senator Pavley has indicated that she will continue to advocate for the greenhouse gas emissions reduction mandate next year.

WG staff remains vigilant on further efforts to mandate emissions reductions for a reason.  Agriculture was not directly targeted in the first phase of the AB 32 implementation programs.  However, the industry was included in the recent AB 32 scoping plan for emissions reductions potential.  California has already tackled the low-hanging fruit of emitters through Cap and Trade and other regulatory mechanisms.  As additional legislative and regulatory mandates are rolled out, agriculture will have to adjust daily operations in order to attain what will likely be burdensome and unrealistic emissions reductions expectations.

For now at least, farmers and many other California businesses have won an important reprieve from unrealistic environmental demands.