California Enacts Important Climate Change Legislation

Sacramento_Capitol_Building After a long legislative session, Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a handful of important climate change mitigation and adaptation bills, proving once again that California leads the nation in addressing the challenges of global warming. These bills are critical to continuing the state’s landmark climate policy to cap harmful greenhouse gas emissions that threaten the health of our communities and our natural resources, from San Francisco Bay to the scorched deserts in the east and south. Senate Bill (SB) 32 directs the State Air Resources Board (ARB) to set emissions limits that reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Current law requires the ARB to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. As our state is ravaged by raging wildfires, continued drought, and rising sea levels, with more extreme storms expected in the coming months, SB 32 is the aggressive approach we need to further reduce the fossil fuel emissions that contribute to these conditions. Questions still remain, however, over the fate of the state’s cap-and-trade program, which is the means of achieving greenhouse gas reductions under the emissions cap. Each company that emits greenhouse gases is required to obtain emissions permits, which can be bought or traded with other companies. If a company reduces its emissions below the cap, it can sell its permits, thereby incentivizing the development of cleaner energy technology. The cap is then reduced gradually each year in order to meet the overall target. Despite the passage of SB 32, the program is currently being challenged in court, and recent rounds of carbon credit sales have failed to raise the anticipated sums of revenue, with both developments making its future uncertain. Assembly Bill (AB) 197 creates legislative oversight of the ARB, adding two Members of the Legislature to the board as nonvoting members, staggering voting members’ terms, and requiring the agency to prioritize emissions reductions rules and regulations that result in direct emissions reductions at the source – large stationary sources such as refineries and power plants, and mobile sources such as cars and trucks. Critics of the ARB have said the agency does not do enough to reduce these direct-source emissions where they have a disproportionate impact on the communities around them, many of which are low-income communities and communities of color. Assembly Bill 1550 aims to address this disproportionate impact by ensuring that disadvantaged communities, as defined by the state, are guaranteed 25 percent of the funds in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which encompasses the revenues from the state’s cap-and-trade permits auction. In addition, at least five percent of the funds must go to projects that benefit low-income communities adjacent to disadvantaged communities, and an additional minimum five percent must go to projects that benefit low-income households anywhere in the state, regardless of their proximity to disadvantaged communities. These provisions guarantee that those communities most negatively impacted by greenhouse gas emissions will get priority funding to help mitigate those impacts. Save The Bay was proud to support this important legislation, that places environmental justice at the very center of climate change policy. Our climate is changing, and we must adapt to a “new normal.” That is one reason why we worked hard to pass Measure AA in June: to create a steady stream of funding for important wetland restoration projects along the Bay shoreline that will not only make the Bay cleaner and healthier, but in many places create a natural, cost-effective flood barrier to help protect low-lying communities and critical infrastructure. We must also couple those adaptation efforts with mitigation policies that reduce harmful emissions at the source, throughout the state. Passage of SB 32, AB 197, and AB 1550 is a significant step in the right direction, and we were proud to support these bills. As we look ahead to the next legislative session, we will work to support policies that build on them and ensure the success of our state’s climate programs.