A Culmination of Action: The California Legislative Session Wrap Up
Late Friday night, California lawmakers passed a number of bills of regional interest, wrapping up a two-year Legislative Session that will be remembered for contentious debates on catastrophic wildfire preparedness and response, renewable energy targets, and climate change policies. Nearly all of these policies will have significant impacts for Sierra Nevada natural resources and communities.
In addition to those high-profile issues, the Legislature passed several bills with direct implications for recreation, restoration, and forest management in the Sierra. Below, I’ll provide a short overview of policies affecting the region and a future piece will explore the impacts of major legislation aimed at preparing for and responding to wildfire and utility liability. All of the bills in this post currently await the Governor’s signature or veto by September 30th.
Wildfire Preparedness and Response (SB 901)
An hour before Friday’s midnight deadline, the Legislature passed sweeping legislation in response to the devastating wildfires of the last two years and to prepare for the future. Key provisions include:
- Allocating $1 billion in cap and trade revenue over the next five years for forest health, fuel thinning, prescribed fire, and research on adaptation to climate change;
- Creating a process for electrical utilities to seek approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to recoup costs from ratepayers for 2017 and future wildfires;
- Requiring electrical utilities to create and implement wildfire mitigation plans;
- Directing the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to quantify greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from fuel thinning and wildfires;
- Changing timber harvest rules to help private landowners reduce wildfire risk on their lands;
- Extending power-purchase contracts for biomass facilities that meet certain requirements. The extension applies to several bioenergy facilities located in the Sierra Nevada.
If SB 901 is signed by the Governor, SBC will explore the full extent of this landmark legislation’s impact on the Sierra Nevada region in a future piece.
Increasing the Pace and Scale of Restoration in the Sierra (AB 2849)
For the first time ever, SBC served as a proactive bill sponsor, in this case for legislation to formally recognize the Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s Watershed Improvement Program (WIP) in state law. The WIP brings together federal, state, local, tribal, and nonprofit partners in a coordinated effort to increase the pace and scale of forest and watershed restoration in the Sierra Nevada. Recently, the WIP has been identified in multiple state plans and bonds as a model for effective large-landscape restoration efforts yet it currently has no formal recognition in state law.
In a true bi-partisan effort between joint authors Assembly Member Mark Stone (D-Santa Cruz) and Assembly Republican Leader Brian Dahle (R-Redding), the bill received unanimous support in both the Senate and Assembly and now awaits the Governor’s signature.
Elevating Sustainable Outdoor Recreation in California (AB 1918)
AB 1918 (Asm. Eduardo Garcia) establishes the Office of Sustainable Outdoor Recreation to build collaboration between community-based organizations offering outdoor programs, outdoor product companies, public agencies, and educators. Similar offices have been created in at least 10 states in an effort to better coordinate and recognize the benefits of outdoor recreation for all communities.
In California, the outdoor industry supports over 690,000 California jobs and generates $6.2 billion in state and local taxes, making this new office an important leader in increasing the overall economic sustainability of recreation-based communities, including many in the Sierra.
100% Renewable Energy by 2045 (SB 100)
In a historic vote, the California Legislature approved SB 100 (Sen. De Leon), which would require California electrical utilities to procure 60% renewable power by 2030 and 100% from renewable sources by 2045. If signed, this bill would make California the second state in the U.S. with a 100% renewable mandate (Hawaii being the first) and would mark a major victory in the effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.
As described in “SB 100: Climate Action’s California Dream” the biomass industry, a renewable resource responsible for hundreds of Sierra Nevada jobs, will benefit greatly from SB 100. In addition, SB 100 reaffirms the early actions of towns like Nevada City, Truckee, and South Lake Tahoe that have already committed to 100% renewable goals.
Creating an Innovative Forest Products Industry in California (AB 2518)
California’s dramatically overstocked forests are a major reason why wildfire seasons continue getting worse and worse. Unfortunately, the problem is too massive to rely only on public funds to restore forests to more natural conditions. Mobilizing private dollars to sustainably remove small-diameter trees in overly dense areas is essential for long-term forest health and wildfire prevention. In addition, helping wood products manufacturing facilities start and grow can help create needed jobs throughout the region.
AB 2518 directs several state agencies and task forces to work with investors, private industry, and stakeholders to investigate what the state can do to encourage the development of an innovative forest products industry in California. It’s a good first step in an effort to jumpstart this industry in California, which can help to increase activities that will make our forests healthier and more resistant to large, damaging wildfires.
We’re happy to say that overall this was a successful year for the advocacy efforts of SBC and our many partners across the region. We look forward to building on this year’s experience to continue increasing our role as proactive advocates for the region in future legislative sessions and, as always, keeping you up to date on the legislative items that most affect our region.