Monday, February 23, 2009

First Green Chemistry Implementation Hearing on Tuesday 2/24

On Tuesday I’ll be one of the witnesses at the first legislative hearing on the implementation of the 2-bill “Green Chemistry” package enacted last year by the Legislature and Governor. Sierra Club California supported AB 1879 and SB 509 because of their potential to transform state policy on chemical safeguards. Click here for more information.

For the first time, CA’s executive branch scientists now have the authority to keep consumer products free of harmful substances. The Dept of Toxic Substances Control, and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, are hard at work on implementation, but most of the tough work lies ahead.

To be successful, CA needs to create a system that can take timely and effective action, informed by sound science, to protect our families from chemical hazards in products. Analyses of multi-media impacts and safer alternatives are crucial, but we can not afford to get bogged down in “ paralysis by analysis.”

Bill Magavern
Sierra Club California

Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials and Assembly Committee on Health Informational Hearing on the Implementation of the California Green Chemistry Initiative; AB 1879 and SB 509

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How Does The Budget Framework Impact Environmental Protections?

The budget agreement reached by legislative leaders and the governor includes $15.8 billion in spending cuts, $14.3 billion in new taxes (including a 12 cent increase in the gas tax, 1% increase in sales tax, and .5% increase vehicle license fee, amongst others), and $10.9 billion in borrowing. Assuming that the proposal passes the Senate and Assembly this weekend – and passage is still in doubt -- portions of the deal will need to go to the voters for approval, likely on a special election later this year.

Given these serious funding cuts, and the myriad demands by Republican legislators to suspend or delay environmental protections, how did the environment fare in the final deal?

Smoke from diesel off-road vehicles is a major source of pollution, and delaying these new protections prevents us from cleaning up this serious threat to public health.

The biggest financial hit is to transit funding. The proposal suspends all state support for local transit for the remainder of 2009, as well as next year. The program remains, but has been totally de-funded. This brings the transit funding cuts from the last two budgets to about $3 billion.

Department of Fish and Game takes a $30 million dollar hit as a “loan” to the general fund. This could have the effect of jeopardizing an additional $30 million in federal matching funds.

Exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act, and truncated permit review, for eight road building projects. Although the worst of the proposed road building exemptions were eliminated, several smaller projects were included in the final deal.

The California Conservation Corp, a very popular and successful program that had been proposed for elimination, was saved.

The Williamson Act for preservation of agricultural land was restored.

Perhaps just as notable as what is included in the budget is how many of the Republican demands did not end up in the budget, including:

-Hobbling the Air Resources Board with red tape;
-Preventing the use of CEQA to address greenhouse gas pollution;
-Weakening protections from pesticides; and
-Far more sweeping exemptions for road construction projects.

While this was a terrible way to develop a budget – by 5 people in total secrecy – there is one other upside. The proposed budget framework would cover the remainder of this year as well as next fiscal year (2009-10). So we will not have a repeat of this hostage-taking scenario later this summer.

Although there is a lot not to like about this budget deal, and much of the next few years will need to focus on undoing some of the damage, we appreciate Senator Steinberg and Speaker Bass’ extraordinary efforts to minimize the damage, given an untenable situation.

Reform of the budget process – especially the elimination of the 2/3 requirement for passing budgets and taxes -- is desperately needed to prevent this kind of fiscal blackmail from happening again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Getting Clean Power Plugged In

Today’s packed Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications hearing showed just how many people hope to bring more clean power to California.

Right now is our best chance to give California’s clean-energy future a solid foundation. That’s why our state’s renewable portfolio standard should be at least 33 percent by 2020.

We can make that standard even stronger by requiring that newly generated power come from truly clean sources. It just makes sense to consider the potential impacts of building new dams and hydroelectric facilities, or of converting waste into energy. These proposals have a price tag that will be paid not only by ratepayers, but by California’s wild rivers and clean air.

Now is also a great time to start thinking about an enforcement strategy for bringing California into the clean-energy future. As Senator Simitian mentioned while defending the bill, California’s Public Utilities Commission never has issued a single penalty for utilities that fail to meet state standards for new renewable power. Not one.

That’s why it’s a good time to hold those commissioners to a higher standard as well, with regard to conflict-of-interest. We can’t continue the revolving-door policy that encourages the regulated to become the regulators.

Sierra Club California pledges to continue working with Sen. Simitian and the committee to improve SB 14 and to bring cleaner energy to all Californians.
Read Sierra Club California's full letter to the committee.
photo courtesy US Dept. of Energy