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Politics and Issues

2007 legislative session achieves progress; many key issues deferred

December 2007

by Bill Magavern

2007 saw far fewer major new laws enacted to protect California’s environment than 2006. Bright spots include flood protection, clean air, and endangered species protection.

A package of bills finally starts to bring some sense to development in flood-prone areas. SB 5 (Machado) requires the state to prepare a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan by 2012. AB 5 (Wolk) reforms, restructures, and renames the state Reclamation Board, the agency in charge of flood protection in the Central Valley. AB 70 (Jones) will provide for limited, shared contribution between the state and local governments when local governments approve new developments in undeveloped areas prone to flooding.

The Healthy Heart and Lung Act, AB 233 (Jones), sponsored by Sierra Club California and American Lung Association of California, will improve enforcement of toxic diesel emissions, and SB 719 (Machado) will, at long last, reform the San Joaquin Valley’s lackluster Air Pollution Control District. AB 118 (Núñez) will raise $150 million annually for clean fuel and clean air programs.

Governor Schwarzenegger surprised many observers by signing AB 821 (Nava) requiring the use of non-lead bullets when hunting big game in condor areas.

Legislation to reduce toxic threats fared poorly this year on the whole, but Schwarzenegger’s signing of the Toxic Toys bill, AB 1108 (Ma), bans pthalates, a plastic softener, from products meant for infants and toddlers.

Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed important bills to make our buildings and fuels greener. AB 888 (Lieu) would have set green building standards for commercial buildings, starting in 2013. AB 1058 (Laird) would have set green building standards for new residential construction, and AB 35 (Ruskin) would have required CAL-EPA to set sustainable building standards for the construction and renovation of state buildings. SB 210 (Kehoe) would have required the adoption of a low-carbon fuel standard by 2010 that achieved at least a 10% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and maintained or improved air quality benefits.

The Legislature deferred until next year the vital tasks of spurring smart growth, requiring utilities to generate more power from renewables, and cleaning up the filthy air at the mega-ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland. Sierra Club California and our allies had pushed the Legislature to act in these vital areas, but many key bills stalled toward the end of the session due to opposition from powerful special interests. SB 974 (Lowenthal), the Clean Ports bill, was deferred until January at the request of the Governor. Both SB 375 (Steinberg), which seeks to reduce vehicular emissions through smarter land use patterns, and SB 411 (Simitian), which would require utilities to generate 33% of their power from renewable sources, failed to clear the Assembly Appropriations Committee. AB 558 (Feuer), which would have generated information on the use of toxic chemicals, died by a close vote of the Senate Appropriations panel.

There is substantial environmental business to be taken up during the 2008 election year. As our elected officials know that protecting health and ecology is very popular with voters, we have reason to expect more progress next year.


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