Monday, August 27, 2007


Sierra Club California was honored today to present the national Sierra Club’s Distinguished Achievement Award for 2007 to Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez for his work leading to passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, AB 32. This award recognizes a single act of particular importance to the environment by a person in government.

Assemblymember John Laird joined Sierra Club California’s Bill Allayaud and Bill Magavern in presenting the award to Speaker Núñez in front of an appreciative crowd of dozens of Sierra Club volunteer activists. The volunteers from around the state were in the Capitol for Sierra Club California’s annual Lobby Day.

More pictures from Lobby Day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

We’ve Got A Budget Now, So What Else is Going On In The Capitol?

After months of acrimony, the Legislature finally approved the budget on Tuesday. There will undoubtedly be additional wrangling and protests in the coming days, as various groups try to dissuade the Governor from slashing their programs to achieve the additional $700 million in cuts promised to Senate Republicans. But legislators and advocates are largely turning their focus toward the hundreds of bills remaining either in the Appropriations Committees or on the floor of the Senate and Assembly.

At this point in the Legislative process, most of the bills that would have undermined environmental protections have been blocked in committee. Most of the environment-related policy committees have conservation-oriented majorities, and provide a good opportunity to weed out the bad bills. This is a very good thing, from the standpoint of preventing environmental damage, but it also means that most of the good bills that we’re working on face their biggest hurdles later in the process, when we need to get a majority of the Senate and Assembly to vote for the bills. Garnering a majority of votes invariably involves persuading some of the members for which “the environment” is not a top-shelf issue, and is generally the hardest part of the process.

There are a handful of exceptionally important bills that we will blog about in greater detail in coming weeks, such as SB 375 (Steinberg) which would promote more sustainable growth patterns, and SB 974 (Lowenthal) which would address the serious pollution associated with our ports. But, in the meantime, here is a list of a couple dozen of the environmental bills we’re working on at this stage of the game. It's not an exhaustive list, but highlights some of the most significant environmental bills currently in play. This list represents the consensus priorities of the various groups working on environmental and public health issues in the Capitol, working under the umbrella moniker of "Green California".

Note that you can search for the text, analysis and prior votes on these bills at

SB 210 (Kehoe) – Requires the Air Resources Board to adopt and implement a low-carbon fuel standard by 2010 that achieves at least a 10 percent reduction on greenhouse gas emissions and maintains or improves upon air quality benefits gained by current gasoline and diesel fuel regulations.

SB 220 (Corbett) – Improves oversight and regulation of bottled and vended water. Increases inspection, labeling and consumer right to know requirements.

SB 375 (Steinberg) – Establishes financial and California Environmental Quality Act incentives for local governments to conform their general plans to a preferred growth scenario in regional transportation plans that incorporates smart growth principles, including housing for all within a region, greenhouse gas emission reductions as required by the ARB, and protection of farmland and habitat.

SB 411 (Simitian) – Requires retail seller of electricity to increase total procurement of eligible renewable energy resources so that at least 33% of retail sales are procured from eligible renewable energy resources no later than December 31, 2020.

SB 412 (Simitian) – SB 412 requires the California Energy Commission to complete an Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Market Assessment in advance of the approval of any LNG terminals in the State, and requires that an Environmental Impact Report contrast and compare environmental impacts of proposed LNG terminals and technologies to ensure that the safest project with the fewest impacts is considered as a preferred alternative

SB 456 (Simitian) – Prohibits the manufacture or use after 2008 of diacetyl, a powdered artificial butter flavoring that exposes workers to potentially fatal inflammation and scarring of the lungs.

SB 719 (Machado) – Will expand the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board membership from 11 to 15 members, to include additional representation from urban areas, rural areas, and public health experts.

SB 862 (Kuehl) – Reforms state water planning and reporting: establishes sanctions for failure to report on water diversion or use; requires the California Water Plan, after 2013, to report on the amount of energy produced and used under different water management strategies; changes requirements of urban water management plans; requires every agricultural water supplier to adopt an agricultural water management plan.

SB 966 (Simitian) – Requires retailers of pharmaceutical drugs to have in place a system for acceptance and collection of unused pharmaceutical drugs for proper disposal

SB 974 (Lowenthal) – Collects $30 per shipping container processed at the ports of LA, Long Beach and Oakland, to be used to mitigate air quality impacts and improve infrastructure.

AB 5 (Wolk) – Requires the Department of Water Resources to prepare a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and creates incentives for sound local planning by 1) prioritizing state flood protection funds for local agencies that have adopted a local flood protection plan and 2) prohibiting a local agency that fails to adopt a local flood plan from approving new development within a flood hazard zone.

AB 48 (Saldana) – Prohibits the sale in California, after 2010, of electronic devices, consistent with the European RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) directive, if they contain lead, mercury or other toxic heavy metals.

AB 70 (Jones) – Makes a local government jointly liable, with the state, for property damage if it increases the state’s risk of liability by allowing new development in a previously undeveloped area that is protected by a state flood control project.

AB 118 (Nunez) – Creates new air quality and alternative fuel programs at the Air Resources Board and California Energy Commission, respectively, and transfers specified funds and increases various fees to fund the programs.

AB 233 (Jones) – Strengthens enforcement of diesel emission control rules for heavy-duty on-road and off-road vehicles and engines, including by increasing the minimum fine on violators from $100 to $300 and by prohibiting the registration of a commercial diesel-powered vehicle manufactured before 1994 or if the owner has been cited for violating diesel emission rules. The ARB has only 18 field inspection staff statewide to inspect more than 500,000 diesel trucks.

AB 236 (Lieu) – Requires each state office, agency, and department that has flex fuel vehicles in its fleet to use the respective alternative fuel in those vehicles to the maximum extent possible. Requires a city, county, city and county, and special district including a school district and a community college district, when awarding a vehicle procurement contract to consider evaluating and scoring fuel economy.

AB 515 (Lieber) – Requires the CalOSHA Standards Board to adopt permissible exposure levels (PELs) for workplace hazardous substances that are equal to the health-based occupational exposure standard set by CalEPA.

AB 548 (Levine) – Requires owners of a multifamily dwelling to provide recycling services in accordance with the local jurisdiction’s recycling plan.

AB 558 (Feuer) – Requires businesses that use large quantities of chemicals known to be toxic to prepare a Toxics Use Reduction Plan to meet statewide toxic chemical use reduction targets. Provides technical assistance and reduced fees to businesses that undertake toxics use reduction.

AB 706 (Leno) – Bans brominated or chlorinated fire retardants from all seating, bedding, and furniture products.

AB 821 (Nava) – Enacts the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act to require the use of nonlead centerfire rifle and pistol ammunition when taking big game and coyote within the range of the condor, to stop the rampant problem of lead poisoning in California condors.

AB 828 (Ruskin) – Requires the Wildlife Conservation Board to investigate, study and determine what areas in the state are most essential as wildlife corridors and habitat linkages and to make that information available to other agencies and the public.

AB 888 (Lieu) / AB 1058 (Laird) – Requires CalEPA to develop and the CA Building Standards Commission to review “green building” best practices for commercial and residential buildings. The best practices become adopted standards by 2012 and 2013 respectively.

AB 1108 (Ma) – Prohibits the use of specified phthalate chemicals in toys and childcare products designed for children up to 3 years old; prohibits the use of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity as a replacement for banned phthalates.

AB 1358 (Leno) – Requires that the legislative body of a city or county, upon any revision of the circulation element of the general plan, modify the circulation element to specify how this element will provide for the routine accommodation of all users of the highway, defined to include motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, individuals with disabilities, seniors, and users of public transportation.

AB 1470 (Huffman) – Establishes a $250 million program to install solar hot water heaters as a means of reducing our dependence on natural gas, cutting global warming pollution and saving Californians money.

We’ll be working hard on these bills in the coming weeks, and if you’re signed up for our Action Alert network, we’ll email you and make it easy for you to help at opportune times. You can sign up here:

California Budget Finally Approved – Environmental Law (Mostly) Dodges a Bullet

The California Legislature finally approved the 2007-2008 State Budget yesterday – 51 days into the fiscal year and more than two months past the legal deadline of June 15. As has been discussed here and in many other forum’s, one of the biggest hurdles to completing the budget was the demand by the minority party in the Senate to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), particularly as it relates to global warming pollution.

So how’d it turn out? Though the language affecting CEQA is complicated, and will undoubtedly be litigated, it appears that little damage was done. There is a good post on the California Majority Report blog by Steve Maviglio, Assembly Speaker Nunez’s Deputy Chief Staff responsible for communications, which explains the CEQA deal in plain English.

There is also a particularly good post over at Bill Bradley’s New West Notes blog, which discusses more of the political context of this climate change skirmish.

Both of these articles are worth a read if you’re looking for more details about what played out over the past month.

** UPDATE** If you want to read the actual language of the CEQA exemption (SB 97 - Dutton) including the floor analyses and the vote count, you can find all that information here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gang of 14 Keep Moving the Goal Post on California’s Budget

In what has become the signature negotiating style of the ‘Gang of 14’ – the Senate Republicans blocking approval of the State budget – the Gang members added a new non-budget demand last night (after earlier indications that they had reached agreement). In addition to seeking to block the use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to mitigate global warming pollution, they now want additional language to eliminate environmental review of levee repair projects.

Holding out the approval of the budget based on these non-budget demands is just wrong. And continually adding new demands, months after the budget should have been completed, makes it impossible to reach closure on the budget.

Their most recent demand is to eliminate environmental review for levee repair projects, which is particularly ironic given that legislation signed by the Governor last year, AB 1039 (Nunez) already exempts levee repairs from CEQA, provided that the repairs are on the same footprint as the existing levee.

The Democratic Leadership is caught between a rock and a hard place – the budget needs to get approved so that the most vulnerable among us don’t suffer undue hardships, but Senator Perata et. al. need to deal with a Republican Caucus in the Senate which has handed the keys to the most extreme, recalcitrant aspects of their party.

We continue to urge Senator Perata to resist the Gang of 14’s demands for additional rollbacks of environmental protections. These demands have no place in the budget debate, especially at this late date. We hope that at least one member of the Gang of 14 comes to their senses, and decides to put the good of Californians before the desires of their campaign contributors and party zealots.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Environmentalist Pressure Removes Water Board Member

Sam Wakim with vitriolic conservative commentator Ann Coulter, at the 2004 National GOP Convention.

He’s a right-wing Republican activist who lives in the Central Valley. So what’s he doing on the North Coast Water Board?

Sam Wakim is the Chair of the Siskiyou County Republican Party and is a leading candidate to replace Doug LaMalfa in representing the Second Assembly District, which encompasses the Northern Central Valley, plus Modoc and Siskiyou counties. He was appointed to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in November of 2006.

Wakim currently resides in the town of Mount Shasta, and runs a dental practice in Yreka. Though he does maintain a business office that is (just barely) within the boundaries of the North Coast Water Board region, one has to wonder how you can serve on the North Coast Water Board and simultaneously seek to represent the Central Valley in the Assembly.

Residency requirements are not Wakim’s only problem. His ideological perspective comes through at Board meetings, with belittling comments such as referring to the Karuk Tribe’s sacred World Renewal Ceremony (which requires ritual cleansings in the Klamath River for 10 days) as their “little festival”, and pushing back against staff (and other Board members’) efforts to address the public health concerns of toxic algae blooms in the Klamath River system. The toxic algae blooms are among the worst in the world, exceeding World Health Organization standards by more than 100 times.

Sample driver's license from Sam Wakim's web site.

Wakim also runs his own personal blog (under the pseudonym Abu David) which provides additional insights and concerns about his politics. For example, his post lambasting Senator Gil Cedillo for carrying a bill to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants includes this intemperate mock license.

Sierra Club California opposes the confirmation of Sam Wakim’s appointment to the North Coast Water Board, which is scheduled to be heard before the Senate Rules Committee next Wednesday. We believe the Governor can, and should, do better. Though we have been quite critical of a few of Schwarzenegger’s appointments, he has generally made many quality appointments, and we are frankly perplexed at how Wakim ended up in an important environmental post.

The North Coast has many complex water quality challenges, and the public deserves a better appointment to this important seat. The Water Board should not be used as a political stepping-stone, nor as a venue for exerting right-wing ideology. We call upon the Senate to reject his confirmation, and the Governor to make an appointment better suited to represent the interests of the public on the North Coast.

UPDATE: Sam Wakim resigned on Thursday. Please see this Sacramento Bee story for more details. We look forward to working with the Schwarzenegger Administration on appropriate appointees for this and other vacant positions on the North Coast Water Board.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Gang of 14 Republican Senators Holding Budget Hostage at Behest of Oil and Developer Lobbies

Sierra Club California’s Bill Magavern speaks at August 8 press conference with Senate leaders on budget impasse and global warming.

Today I induct the new members of the California Hall of Shame. Senators Aanestad, Ackerman, Ashburn, Battin, Cogdill, Cox, Denham, Dutton, Harman, Hollingsworth, Margett, McClintock, Runner, and Wyland are holding hostage the entire budget for the state of California.

This Gang of 14 privileged white men is obstructing the funding of schools, hospitals, parks and other vital services because the oil and developer lobbies that fund their campaigns want to weaken our keystone environmental law, the
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Forget about the fact that this is a policy issue 8 that should be addressed through the normal legislative process -- because of California's bizarre requirement for a 2/3 majority in each house to pass a budget, blocking the budget is just about the only leverage the Republican Caucus has, so the needs of the people who depend on state services will take a backseat to the wishes of polluters.

These 14 Republican senators (their 15th colleague, Sen. Maldonado, broke with the pack and supported the budget passed by Assembly Democrats and Republicans) want to delay for years the Environmental Quality Act's application to global warming pollution. They're clearly not listening to the people of California, who, according to last month's poll by the Public Policy Institue of California, believe in large and growing numbers that it is necessary to take immediate steps to counter the effects of global warming. Eight in 10 Californians believe global warming will be a very (54%) or somewhat serious (28%) threat to California's future economy and quality of life.

Fortunately, Senate President pro tem Don Perata, backed by the entire Senate Democratic caucus, declared today that he will staunchly defend environmental quality and refuse to flinch in the face of the hostage-taking by the Gang of 14.

Bill Magavern
Senior Representative
Sierra Club California