Ezra David Romero, CapRadio
Wildfires and smoke have ravaged large parts of California, sea level rise is threatening the golden coast’s viability and drought is looming in the future.
“We're in a race against the clock when it comes to climate change,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. “This is not a problem that we can take our time and solve little step by little step. We are in a race against the clock, in terms of what the future of this planet is going to be.”
But for the first time in four years action on climate change is gaining momentum on the federal level — President Joe Biden signed multiple executive orders related to the crisis in his first week in office. Meanwhile California has held ground on climate policies as the Trump Administration rolled back environmental rules and regulations.
“President Biden has delivered on his promises to restore science as the guide for sound decisions, and to take action on climate change,” UC Berkeley climate scientist Patrick Gonzalez said.
This renewed vigor is emboldening California lawmakers to dream up big ideas around how to further adapt to warming temperatures because the effects of climate change aren’t just theoretical in the state. The state has big climate goals including getting 5 million zero-emission vehicles on roads by 2030 and reaching economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045.
To face the climate crisis head-on, lawmakers are proposing a slough of bills this legislative session. That includes creating a partnership with a Chinese university to curb climate change, bonds to help find solutions, and ways to mitigate sea level rise.
Here's a closer look at some of the proposals lawmakers have to address different aspects of the climate crisis in California:
- Sea Level Rise
- Emissions And Energy
Climate change solutions demand local, state and global strategies, and California lawmakers have proposed bills creating partnerships with communities, counties and other countries.
On the state level, SB 45 would create a $5.5 billion bond for wildfire prevention, safe drinking water, drought preparation and flood protection.
On the regional level, two bills — AB 11 and AB 51 — would create planning groups or authorities to find climate adaptation strategies for each part of the state. The goal is to hold the state accountable for developing climate adaptation plans while setting specific regional priorities, said Asm. Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.
“The effects of the climate crisis will not respect city or county boundaries,” said Quirk. “While some regional collaborative efforts have begun, these initiatives are still in their infancy … This bill will support and expand upon ongoing local efforts with the goal of ensuring regional planning for climate adaptation statewide.”
Taking this idea of partnership to the next level, Asm. Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, through AB 39, wants to create a partnership between California and a Chinese university on climate change strategies. The California-China Climate Institute would be housed at UC Berkeley and the goal would be to advance policy laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement and create high level dialogue on climate issues.
Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, wants big business to be accountable for how much they pollute. He introduced the Climate Corporate Accountability Act, or SB 260, which would force businesses with revenues over a billion dollars to disclose their complete carbon emissions in their supply chain from direct and indirect sources.
“If you want to do business in California, the public has a right to know what your carbon footprint is,” he said.
Wiener says this will impact the majority of the country’s largest corporations, which almost all do business in California.
“There's no silver bullet,” he said. “But we need to be clear that our business community and particularly our largest corporations, are having a real impact on carbon emissions, and are in a position to take bold action to reduce their carbon footprint and help us to meet this existential threat.”
The building sector contributes around 40% of all carbon emissions globally. A few bills — SB 30, 31, 32 and AB 33 — deal with making building carbon neutral in California.
The bills would do a number of things, including prohibiting the state from designing or building facilities run by natural gas. Instead they would need to be powered by renewable resources like wind and solar. A similar law could be created for municipalities. They would also mandate the state to divest from projects that aren’t zero emission by 2023 and require the state to come up with a decarbonization plan so all state-owned buildings would be carbon neutral by 2035.
AB 33 would stop school or public buildings from having natural gas connections when built.
Two bills focus on creating a more resilient food system in the state. At the moment, AB 125 doesn’t have a lot to it, but Asm. Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, says the goal is to create a bond that will help the state’s food and farming system deal with shocks from the climate crisis and COVID-19.
The other idea would require the state to establish carbon sequestration goals — the act of pulling carbon out of air and placing it into soils through natural processes — by July 2022. State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, says the goal of AB 284 is to maximize nature’s ability to store climate-changing carbon in natural lands and to explore cutting-edge technology to mimic this natural process.
California’s wildfire crisis has resulted from humans who have caused more than a century of fire suppression in the West, economies around the globe that are causing warming temperatures and because so many people live in California. When a blaze ignites anywhere in California, there’s often so much immediate risk to human health, property and livelihoods.
Because of the severity of the crisis, lawmakers have introduced more than a dozen bills so far that help provide a framework for creating wildfire prevention strategies. They also include big ideas like banning all new development in areas of the state prone to wildfires.
Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles, says too often there’s a disconnect between what Californinans are experiencing and lawmakers who are creating policies to help residents.
“[Wildfires] are not just seen as sort of a rural issue or a hillsides issue, or suburban privileged issue, but as an equity issue,” he said. “I think the public is there ... It's more getting the politics of Sacramento straight. I think we're having trouble with that. People are ready.”
Sea Level Rise
Adapting to rising seas is a big focus in legislation this year. At least six bills have been introduced so far on the issue. They deal with everything from permitting coastal adaptation projects to providing science and expertise to coastal communities to providing loans for places dealing with the cirisis.
- AB 50: This bill would create the Climate Adaptation Center and Regional Support Network within the existing Ocean Protection Council. The goal is to provide local governments facing sea level rise with information and scientific expertise necessary to mitigate it. Although it would have to be voted on in the 2022 statewide general election if passed.
- AB 72: This bill would require the Natural Resources Agency to create a more coordinated and efficient regulatory review and permitting process for coastal adaptation projects. It would require the agency to submit a report with suggestions to the legislature by July 2023.
- AB 66: This bill would give $2,500,000 general fund dollars to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the UC San Diego for research on coastal cliff landslides and erosion in San Diego County. It requires the institution to provide a report to the Legislature with recommendations for developing a coastal cliff landslide and erosion early warning system based on that research by March 2024.
- AB 67: This bill would require state agencies to take into account the current and future impacts of sea level rise when planning or building infrastructure in the coastal zone. By March 2022 it would require the Ocean Protection Council and the Office of Planning and Research, to establish a multi agency working group to come up with recommended policies, resolutions, projects, and other actions to address sea level rise.
- SB 83: This bill would create a low-interest loan program so cities and counties can buy coastal properties vulnerable to sea level rise.
- SB 1: This bill would also expand the duties of the California Coastal Commission to adopt recommendations and guidelines for the minimization and mitigation of sea level rise across its programs. It would also create the California Sea Level Rise State and Regional Support Collaborative to aid in helping coastal communities deal with the crisis. It would also require the newly established collaborative to spend no more than $100 million yearly on grants to local governments for updating land use plans that take into account sea level rise.
Emissions & Energy
To help meet the state's 2045 carbon neutrality goal lawmakers have also introduced bills that would encourage people to drive cars or ride bikes that don’t emit climate warming pollutants. Here are a couple:
- SB 18: This bill would require the state to prepare a strategic plan by the end of 2022 for accelerating the production and use of green hydrogen in California. The goal is to understand how using alternative fuels could help meet the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.
- AB-117: The bill would require the state to establish a pilot project to provide rebates for purchases of electric bicycles. It would appropriate $10,000,000 from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for the project.
- SB 67: This bill calls for a 24/7 Clean Energy Standard to ensure that more of California’s electricity comes from renewable or other zero-carbon sources as the state transitions to 100% clean-sourced electricity.