California Lawmakers Pushing Bills Addressing Drought And Climate Change

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

On Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown and state Democratic leaders announced a $687 million drought-relief bill that addresses a variety of causes and concerns the state has in confronting one of the worst droughts on record. The bill aims to help conserve water, clean up drinking water supplies, expand use of recycled water, and provide money for housing and food to those impacted by the drought and increase penalties for illegal diversions, amongst other measures. About $550 million worth of the money will come from existing bonds approved by voters, with no new taxes or fees proposed.

“There’s many ways we can better use the water we have,” Brown said at a news conference announcing the plan. “You can’t manufacture water.”

Brown stood with State Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), who both expect the bill to pass the Democratic-controlled Legislature within a few weeks.

Republican Assembly leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare) and Frank Bigelow (R–O’Neals), Republican vice chair of the Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, responded in a joint statement, saying “it is good to see the Governor and legislative Democrats step up to the plate with some funding for real needs, but their proposal is just a drop in the bucket. It’s clear that their approach won’t make much of a dent in addressing our current drought problem until next year at the earliest, if then.”

While California Republicans gripe about short-term drought measures that align with their primarily agricultural constituents’ immediate needs and political calendars, certain politicians and other stakeholders are taking the opportunity to look to the long-term impacts of climate change on the state and try and make California’s nation-leading efforts even more robust.

Also on Wednesday, California Democratic senators Fran Pavley (D–Agoura Hills) and Ricardo Lara (D–Bell Gardens) announced a bill that would direct the state’s regulators to recommend “a timetable of reduction targets of greenhouse gas emissions and short-lived climate pollutants with high global warming potentials beyond 2020.”

California already has a climate mitigation bill on the books, AB 32, or the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which sets the 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Pavley was the original sponsor of AB 32, which caps the state’s GHG emissions at 1990 levels by 2020. The new bill is designed to establish emissions targets over the next 30 years, with a likely goal of 80 percent GHG reductions from 1990 levels by 2050, a target initially established by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The plan also considers strengthening the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, lowering costs for distributed energy such as solar to connect to the grid, and further addressing emissions of GHGs like black carbon and methane, which also impact air quality and have put some California communities out of compliance with the Clean Air Act. The plan will get a hearing at the California Air Resources Board on Feb. 20 and then will be voted on in final form later in the spring.

“This bill looks to the future, sending a clear signal that California intends to continue its climate leadership, which has already created hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in clean technology investment,” Pavley said of the bill, SB 1125. “But as we look forward, we can’t shy away from the task at hand — the oil industry’s pollution must be capped if we are going to achieve our AB 32 goals for 2020.”

In another nod to the importance of reducing oil-related emissions in the state, senate President Steinberg is expected to hold a press conference proposing a carbon tax on gasoline and other transportation fuels Thursday. According to ClimateWire, “it would come in place of forcing the sector next year to comply with the state’s cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions.”

While the language of the bill is yet to be revealed, “the carbon tax would complement the AB 32 scoping plan that relies primarily on direct regulation (about four-fifths) and cap-and-trade (about one-fifth) to meet California’s GHG reduction goals,” according to a Feb. 5 internal memo discussed with ClimateWire. Transportation emissions make up about 38 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. In 2010, Californians consumed over 18 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel, leading to about 200 million metric tons of GHGs.

If the state law isn’t changed, starting in 2015 cap-and-trade will expand to include the transportation sector, and refineries in the state will need to start using emissions allowances to cover fuel sales.

On Wednesday, the Union of Concerned Scientists sent a letter to Gov. Brown and state legislators urging the state to adopt stricter GHG emissions targets after 2020. The letter says, “the state has brought innovative climate policies off the drawing board and into practice, spurring investment, innovation, and jobs in a growing “green technology” sector:”

“Moreover, the state’s progress demonstrates that it is possible for a growing major economy to reduce emissions substantially at very modest cost. California must continue to play a leadership role and to serve as a model for much-needed federal and international action. Maintaining a price on carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants is key, but not sufficient to adequately reduce emissions. Policies that promote renewable energy, low carbon fuels, and cleaner transportation are also critical.”

While the state is on track to meet its target of cutting emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, according to the California Air Resources Board, the more than 100 scientists, researchers and economists who signed the letter think it is tantamount that California continue to be seen as a forward-looking climate leader.


As of Thursday, Feb. 20, 14.62 percent of California is in exceptional drought, the most extreme level of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, up from 9.81 percent a week ago. Nearly 70 percent of the state is in extreme drought and the entire state is abnormally dry.

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