Air Quality and Climate Action: In Review and Yet to Come

On December 11, 2015, the Cleaner Air Partnership met for its final quarterly luncheon of the year. The program featured three panelists (Brendan Twohig, Twohig Consulting; Dominic Bulone, California Air Resources Board, Legislative Office; and Bill Magavern, Coalition for Clean Air) who provided a review of air quality and climate policy in 2015 and hinted at what might be expected this year.

Much success was seen in 2015 in regards to clean air and climate change policy getting passed into law and/or receiving global attention on the importance of advocating for environmental rights. Of all the bills that received worthy attention, the most influential and significant were the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015 (SB 350, De Leon) which was signed into law, and an amendment to the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (SB 32, Pavely), which was held as a 2-year bill that will see further legislative action in 2016.

Mr. Twohig provided an overview of changes that occurred within the California Legislature in 2015. The most impactful changes being related to changes in term limits, the increasing influence of moderate democrats, and Governor Brown prioritizing environmental issues and clean air legislation.

 With an election year approaching, a significant round of changes will take place in the California Legislature with the turn-over of about 19 seats held by the remaining representatives elected under more narrow term limits enacted in the late 90s (limited members to three two-year terms in the assembly or two four-year terms in the state senate). As these members are termed out, members elected to fill their seats can serve up to 12 years in the legislature. This is due to changes in term limits enacted in 2012. These changes are expected to bring more stability to the state legislature. Significant leadership changes include the selection of Anthony Rendon as the next Assembly Speaker.

The most essential topic of 2015, which is expected to continue this year, was Governor Brown’s initiative to prioritize climate change and establish mid-term greenhouse gas (GHG) targets, creating statewide action plans to accomplish the GHG reduction goals. 2015 saw the increase of influence in the legislature of business-friendly moderate democrats, which helped thwart the passage of SB 32 and nix the inclusion of the goal of a 50% reduction in petroleum use as part of the passage of SB 350.

Mr. Bulone with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) provided a legislative review of the air quality and climate change bills tracked by CARB’s legislative office in 2015. Last year, members introduce about 2,400 bills of which 808 were signed into law by Governor Brown. The CARB legislative office tracked 359 of these bills and resolutions, of which 97 were signed into law. SB 350 was the defining bill of the year. Its objectives were to increase renewable energy use from 33% to 50%, double energy efficiently in existing buildings, and reduce petroleum use by 50%. Although the 50% petroleum reduction measure was not included in the final bill, CARB expects to accomplish this objective by 2030 through its regulatory authority.

Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds were a huge area of debate in the legislature in 2015. A total of 42 bills on how to spend auction proceeds were proposed. As of January 2015, $992 million in auction proceeds was available in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) for appropriation through the budget process by the legislature, and an additional $1.25 billion was available by the end of the year. While 60% of the auction proceeds is continuously appropriated (designating 25% for high speed rail, 20% for affordable housing, 10% for transit and intercity rail programs, and 5% for low carbon transportation), debate continues over how to invest the remaining 40% of funds.

 Mr. Magavern with the Coalition for Clean Air provided an update on upcoming climate policy actions expected in 2016. These include the submission of the three-year “Investment Plan” for Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds to the state legislature this month. The Investment Plan provides guidance on priority climate investments to support budgetary decisions by the legislature. Also expected is the 2030 Target Scoping Plan, which will define measures for meeting the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. This target was established by Governor Brown through Executive Order B-30-15. An additional climate initiative in 2016 is the Sustainable Freight Action Plan, which seeks to help California transition to low-carbon goods movement system and improve the competitiveness of California’s freight industry.

Finally, Magavern stressed the importance of reducing short-lived climate pollutants within our atmosphere. Bill stressed the need to reduce these short-lived pollutants and how doing so would “buy” us some time in the fight against climate change. Short-lived climate pollutants are another area being tackled by CARB and the state legislature in 2016.

The Cleaner Air Partnership looks forward to tracking and reporting on these and other efforts to improve air quality in 2016. We hope you will join the discussion at one of many events and forums planned throughout the year!

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