California Legislative Update

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Originally published on NRDC Expert Blog.
By Victoria Rome 

Many bills are working their way through the California Legislature having survived votes in their house of origin and are now moving to policy committee hearings in the opposite house. We’re about half-way through the 2021 legislative session and the legislature is poised for consequential actions — both on the state budget and across dozens of policy bills. Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed revisions to the state budget, announced in May, and subsequent actions by the legislative budget committees would deliver unprecedented investments in COVID-19 recovery, public health, climate mitigation, disaster preparedness, racial justice, and community resilience.

NRDC is working to ensure that the final budget and legislative action reflect important advances for all Californians, like utility bill debt relief, affordable and clean transportation options, wildlife and ecosystem protection, energy efficiency improvements, healthy school food, environmental justice, and more.

Gov. Newsom’s revised budget proposal is incredibly promising, proposing billions of dollars for investments in clean energy, climate resilience, zero-emission vehicles, among other proposed expenditures for environmental and health protection. The proposal demonstrates the Governor’s commitment to addressing the climate emergency and taking real action to deal with it.

With the impacts of climate change now felt year round, most acutely by lower-income workers and communities of color, we’d like to see additional, targeted funding directed toward clean transportation with an emphasis on fully funding programs that are delivering the biggest pollution reductions and air quality benefits (including clean trucks, buses, and off-road equipment). We are also encouraging state officials to make zero-emission passenger vehicles accessible to low-income communities and communities of color — building on and fully funding the Charge Ahead California Initiative — established by Senate Bill 1275 in 2014.

California’s residential and commercial buildings are a large source of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Legislature should ensure that funding is available to help people improve the energy efficiency of their homes and work toward transitioning completely from natural gas appliances. These investments will lower utility bills, spur the adoption of clean technologies, reduce housing and solar costs, and support a transition to healthy, zero-emissions homes for all.

Additionally, NRDC’s priorities for the state budget, include:

  • Ensuring sufficient funds for drought mitigation, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and for the Coastal Commission to address sea level rise.
  • Ensuring that utility customers who struggled to pay their water and power bills during COVID continue to receive services and are relieved of all utility debt.
  • Supporting a just, resilient and healthier food and farming system — including improving access to healthy foods with farm-to-school programs; a tiered “mill assessment” or pesticide fee to support the transition away from toxic pesticides to safer pest management; protections for communities impacted by harmful pesticides; and increased air monitoring and enforcement of pesticide use.
  • Supporting active transportation programs to promote biking and walking, grants to expand affordable housing in infill areas, and support for the state’s successful but oversubscribed Low-Income Weatherization Program.
  • Ensuring greater accountability and oversight of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, making progress in fully replacing lead service lines, and providing funding to address PFAS contamination in drinking water, including expanded monitoring and cleanup.

Moving into the second half of the legislative session, NRDC and our partners aim to pass critical policy bills including:

  • AB 118 (Kamlager) to establish the Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems Act, or CRISES Act grant pilot program to allow for alternative approaches to emergency response.
  • AB 416 (Kalra) California Deforestation-Free Procurement Act to ensure the state’s procurement contracts protect boreal and tropical forests and fundamental Indigenous rights. The destruction of tropical and boreal forests is increasing greenhouse gas emissions, threatening wildlife, and infringing on Indigenous community rights while decreasing carbon storage capability.*
  • AB 525 (Chiu, Cunningham, Friedman) to advance responsibly developed offshore wind. The bill, coupled with the recent announcement from the Newsom administration and the Interior Department will jump start California’s process for offshore wind as part of the state’s clean electricity mix.
  • AB 794 (Carrillo) to ensure that state funding for the purchase of clean vehicles will create high-road, high-quality domestic jobs for disadvantaged workers in the manufacturing and trucking industries.
  • AB 962 (Kamlager) to allow for returnable and refillable bottles to flow through the state’s Beverage Container Recycling Program so that they can be washed and refilled.
  • AB 1200 (Ting) Safer Food Packaging and Cookware Act would protect our food, health, and environment by banning the use of toxic “forever” PFAS chemicals in paper-based food packaging and require disclosure of chemicals like PFAS and bisphenols in cookware.*
  • AB 1276 (Carrillo and L. Gonzalez) expands upon the state’s straws upon request law to include other single-use food accessories such as utensils and condiment packets.
  • AB 1395 (Muratsuchi and C. Garcia) to establish in law the state’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2045.
  • AB 1401 (Friedman) to eliminate parking requirements for homes and commercial buildings near transit.
  • SB 222 (Dodd) to establish a framework for a statewide water and wastewater affordability assistance program, like programs in place for low-income electricity and telecommunications customers.
  • SB 343 (Allen) prohibits the use of the chasing arrows symbol on plastic products unless they are truly recyclable. SB 343 would help consumers make informed choices about the products and packaging they buy.
  • SB 596 (Becker) requires the State Air Resources Board to develop a comprehensive strategy to reduce the carbon intensity from cement use by 40 percent from 2019 levels by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality in this sector no later than 2045.*
  • SB 796 (Bradford) to allow the County of Los Angeles to return land in Manhattan Beach, known as Bruce’s Beach, to the living descendants of the owners from whom that land was wrongfully taken in the 1920s simply because of their race.

Other key bills are on hold for this year, but can be revisited next year, including AB 1087 (Chiu), the Environmental Justice Community Resilience Hubs Program, which would fund upgrades to critical facilities that environmental justice communities depend on for vital support services; SB 502 (Allen) to improve and modernize the Safer Consumer Products Program; SB 342 to add environmental justice representation to the South Coast Air Quality Management District; and SB 449 (Stern), which would require financial institutions and insurers to assess and report climate-associated financial risks.

See here for a full list of the bills that NRDC supports or opposes.

As California emerges from the pandemic and looks toward a return to normalcy, the climate crisis, and its effects; drought, wildfires, and heatwaves continue to pressure us to act. But Governor Newsom and the California Legislature, working together with stakeholders over the next several months, can better position our state to tackle climate change and build up resilience and equity in our communities.

*NRDC is a sponsor or co-sponsor of this bill

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