California Legislature makes little progress on the environment

by Mark Olalde, Desert Sun


  • Many environmental bills were not passed during the 2020 legislative session in California
  • Mary Creasman, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, remarks that we are running out of time to make big environmental impacts:
  • “We only have until 2030 to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis and prepare for what’s happening, and right now there’s no clear vision or agenda from leadership in Sacramento on how to tackle this challenge…Big Oil and other industry interests have a hold on our state legislature and are putting our future at risk.”
  • A few environmental bills that made it past the legislature include AB793, a bill that will cut down on waste and increase the use of recycled materials, and AB841 which would help streamline the installation of electric vehicle charging stations
  • Bills that gain huge support from environmentalists but ultimately failed include AB 345, which would have created setbacks between oil drilling sites and homes, hospitals, parks, and other community spaces. Another set of bills, AB1080 and SB54, would have called for a 75% decrease in single-use plastics and mandated that products be recyclable or compostable by 2032

The Climate Center has been tracking energy and climate bills throughout the 2020 California legislative session. Endorse the Climate-Safe California Platform to implement scalable solutions that can reverse the climate crisis.

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Senators energy package continues fracking and drilling

, Grist


Senators Lisa Murkowski (R) and Joe Manchin (D) revealed the  American Energy Innovation Act of 2020

  • The bill does not stop drilling or fracking but does develop more solar and other renewable energy as well as carbon capture
  • Portions of the bill mention exporting natural gas, a known emitter of methane into the atmosphere
  • There is also mention of constructing new oil and gas facilities in Appalachia

Continued drilling and fracking will not deliver us to a climate-safe future.  The only way we will achieve rapid decarbonization on the timeline required by the science is through bold policy action

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Brace for the deluge: Special interests are spending millions to get the California legislators they want

By Ben Christopher, Cal Matters


With primary elections coming up in California, deep-pocketed interest groups, including the fossil fuel industry, are pumping money into campaigns to secure a say in state lawmaking.

  • California’s primary is happening earlier than usual and many residents are casting their ballots early
  • Independent expenditure committees are allowed to spend as much money as they can raise and have spent $12.5 million on this upcoming election
  • Oil and gas producers, realtors and car dealers are responsible for nearly half of all outside spending
  • The Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class and the Restore California’s Middle-Class Coalition are the California Independent Petroleum Association’s two major committees and have spent over $3.7 million on state legislative races

The Climate Center advocates for key legislation to rapidly decarbonize California. Click here to see which bills we are supporting.

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Green Deal law to make EU’s energy shift irreversible

by Ewa Krukowska, Bloomberg, January 28, 2020


The European Union is drafting a measure, titled the Green Deal, to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions entirely by 2050 in hopes to become the world’s first carbon neutral continent. 

  • The EU wants to make their new climate law irreversible 
  • The Green Deal is meant to keep Europe on track with the Paris Agreement climate goals
  • Reaching the existing climate targets will require additional spending of 260 billion euros ($286 billion) annually

The Climate Center works on achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 and net negative emissions by 2035 through rapid decarbonization.

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The root of the problem: Finding solutions for the Great Barrier Reef

by Maddie Maffia, CCP

This summer, I am studying land-use practices and their impacts on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in Australia. The GBR is the most diverse coral reef ecosystem in the world. Sadly, it has lost 80% of its coral reef coverage in the northern portion of the reef over the past decade. One of the primary problems for the coral reefs comes from terrestrial land-use management practices.

The majority of the land off the coast of Queensland is primarily used for coastal urbanization, growing sugar cane, cow grazing, and rainforest conservation. However, the area adjacent to the coral reefs is largely used for sugar cane and cow grazing. This land-use practice has immense effects on the GBR due to the increase in runoff, which increases the amount of sediment and nutrient accumulation in the waterways. For example, the coral and algae live in a mutually-beneficial relationship with each other, and excess nutrients in the reef can upset the natural balance of these ecosystems. The plants grab the extra nutrients and grow to dominate in size or quantity more than they normally would. This, in turn, allows the algae to outcompete the corals, which leads to a decrease in coral reef coverage. In addition to this, farmers tend to maximize their profit by placing their farms adjacent to waterways to allow their cows and crops access to freshwater. This additionally increases the rate of transported pollution and furthers the degradation of coral reefs.

The Australian government is very proactive in passing marine legislation to protect the coral reefs, however, the legislation is covering up the problem rather than stopping it. To prevent pollution from entering the waterways, the government needs to address how farmers use their land to make it more sustainable and viable for the coral reefs downstream. Strategies like carbon farming – where farmers use no-till methods and cover crops to quickly sequester carbon and improve soil fertility without toxic fertilizers and pesticides – are undoubtedly going to be the way of the future.

This idea of fixing the root of the problem can easily be translated back to the United States. Switching from fossil fuel use to all-electric renewable power sources (with battery storage) will be key to tackling climate change. How we get there remains to be seen. Many policy wonks agree that we will need a meaningful (high) carbon tax that can help fund the transition and retraining that will be required. However, trying to solve our problems downstream – whether that’s in the coral reefs or at the end of millions of tailpipes – is not efficient or effective. Heading upstream to the source to face the problem head-on will save time, money, and lives.  As we phase out fossil fuels, we will also phase out thousands of pollution-related deaths in favor of a healthy sustainable existence and a stable planet.

Congrats to California on passing a budget allocation to clean car planning

by Dustin Gardiner, SF Chronicle

California is on the verge of spending $1.5 million to study what it would take to “significantly reduce” emissions from vehicles — including phasing out new gasoline-powered cars — after a San Francisco legislator used a budget maneuver to bring the idea back from the dead.

For two years, Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting has unsuccessfully pushed bills that would clear the way for the state to end the sale of new cars that emit greenhouse gases by 2040. The bills have never even received committee hearings, due to opposition from moderate Democrats.

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The tortured tale of two transportation bills

Or how I learned to love the fight for climate change

by Jane Bender, Board member of The Climate Center

Here’s the bottom line

An overwhelmingly Democratic legislature in the most progressive state in the union cannot pass a study bill on reducing vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because of one person—the Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

And here’s the whole story.

We were thrilled two years ago when Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced AB 1745, a bill stipulating that starting in 2040, any new passenger vehicle had to be zero emissions to be registered in California.

This was truly a “speed and scale” solution responding to the thorny issue of GHG-smothering transportation in this state. The Climate Center was behind the bill from the first. But alas, the fossil fuel industry got wind of it. The industry unleashed their lobbyists and Ting was forced to withdraw the bill. It didn’t have a chance even to get out of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Ting didn’t give up however. Working with a coalition of environmental and clean air activists, he introduced AB 40, a bill, that took a two-step process. For the first step, the bill called for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to come up with a feasibility study of how such a ban could work for our state. First a study.

The second step would have been a bill to implement CARB’s proposals. Plenty of time for analysis, for public hearings, for debate.

Again, we at the Center jumped on AB 40. Ting worked with Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Solano County) and chair of the Transportation Committee. Frazier was the key to getting AB 40 out of committee onto the floor for a vote. Frazier strongly opposed AB 40, as he had AB 1745 the year before.

The opposition was just as vocal and effective this time around. The business community wrote a long letter opposing all aspects of the bill.  Ting tried to work with Frazier on compromises. But in the end, Ting gave up. Frazier’s demands weakened AB 40 so significantly that it became unworkable. Frazier wouldn’t budge and Rendon, the Speaker of the Assembly, remained hands off.

So there you have it. The challenge facing us has risen to new heights. We are fighting for the future and against the forces of denial. And yes, I feel inspired by the challenge.

This is the most important thing we can be doing for our grandchildren, and for the millions of people who, like the typhoon victims in Africa, the flood victims in the Mid-West, the fire survivors in California, are now and will continue to face massive dislocations and chaos.

This blockade in our state legislature is a clarion call to action for all of us.  And I hope you love the call as much as I do. We need a lot of passion as we go forth.

Stay tuned for ways you can be involved. And in the meantime, take the clean car pledge.


The power of public outrage: spending plan passes after GOP drops anti-environment riders

By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News

Congress passed a $1.3 trillion federal spending bill early Friday following negotiations in which Republicans, in order to garner needed Democratic support, agreed to remove a slew of provisions that would have gutted environmental and campaign finance laws.

The congressional negotiators also agreed not to impose the draconian spending cuts President Donald Trump wanted in a variety of clean energy and environmental enforcement programs, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. In fact, the latter saw an increase.

Because the so-called “omnibus” spending package includes partial funding for a wall on the Mexican border and a steep increase in Pentagon spending, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was able to declare it a compromise that fulfilled Trump’s agenda. With a deadline looming to avoid a government shutdown, Trump signed the bill on Friday, a few hours after he suggested on Twitter that he might decide to veto it.

Environmental, health and public interest advocates said the deal demonstrated the power of public outrage over dozens of riders the GOP sought to attach to the must-pass bill to fund the government through the remainder of this fiscal year.

“What is crystal clear is that the outrage from the public is breaking through to Congress,” said the Sierra Club’s legislative director, Melinda Pierce. “While the omnibus is far from perfect, it is unmistakable that the public’s clear message made all the difference.”

More than 80 anti-environmental-policy riders had been included in either the original House-passed version of the appropriations bill or in the Senate drafts as Congressional leaders entered into closed-door negotiations. Just as troubling to climate advocates and other public interest groups were provisions they feared would increase the flow of dark money into campaigns and elections.

But Democrats, while in the minority, had bargaining power. GOP leaders feared they would lose the votes of Republican Freedom Caucus members and deficit hawks like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who might balk at the prospect of passing a bill more than 2,200 pages long only hours after it was unveiled.

The omnibus package—which the House passed on Thursday and the Senate approved early Friday—keeps funding for the EPA at the current $8.1 billion, a rejection of the 31 percent funding cut that Trump had sought.

Funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which the White House proposed to cut by 70 percent, will actually see an increase of 12.5 percent to $2.32 billion.

Most of the anti-environmental-policy riders, like those that would have blocked implementation of the Interior Department’s methane venting and flaring rule and endangered species protections, were eliminated.

Also jettisoned was a proposal to open the door to campaign spending by churches—a change in long-standing federal election law that public interest advocates feared would be expanded to other non-profit foundations, paving the way for a new flow of tax-deductible dark money donations to candidates.

What’s Still in the Budget Bill?

But a few provisions to benefit special interests and to fend off campaign finance regulation survived in the final bill.

The legislation does contain a rider that the wood products industry has long sought to encourage the burning of biomass for electricity; advocates for renewable energy have feared such a change could disadvantage solar and wind energy. The final bill also includes a provision barring the EPA from enforcing protections against particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide and mercury from certain incinerators.

“These riders are especially concerning because children and people with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are among the most vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution emitted from incinerators and biomass burning,” Harold Wimmer, president of the American Lung Association, said in a statement.

Dark Money and Other Campaign Finance Issues

The spending bill also would prevent, for the time being, further federal regulation of campaign finance rules. The final omnibus included provisions barring the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring public companies to disclose their political spending, and stopping the Internal Revenue Service from further defining nonprofit political activity.

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at the watchdog group Public Citizen and co-chair of the Clean Budget Coalition, a coalition of 260 groups that were lobbying against the riders, said she was disappointed that Congress aimed to block what she saw as “critically important”

campaign finance disclosure rules. But she praised the package overall, including the decision to allot $307 million more than the Trump administration requested to combat midterm election cyber-meddling, and an additional $380 million for election security grants.

She said the fight over better campaign finance disclosure would be put off for another day. “Toxic riders that hurt our campaign finance system, our environmental safeguards and our financial regulations are inappropriate for an appropriations package,” she said, “and we hope to build on today’s momentum and remove the remaining campaign finance poison pills in the next package.”

Last Big Bill Before Midterm Elections?

That may take some time. Although the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, many political observers believe that the current omnibus appropriations bill will be the last major legislation that Congress considers before the midterm elections this fall.

Congressional leaders negotiating the package faced two competing pressures: include wish-list items that likely would not have another chance for a vote this year, or avoid a government shutdown in a tension-fraught election year.

They dropped the riders and went for the deal.