Fran Pavley back on greenhouse gas patrol

The author of California’s landmark law to curb greenhouse gas emissions has launched a two-year effort to expand the law’s reach into other operations, including logging, and shape the market place governing potentially billions of dollars worth of emissions credits.

As the Legislature turns its focus from the state budget to legislation, dozens of ambitious new environmental proposals are emerging. But a bill by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, could be among the biggest pieces of environmental legislation this year.

Pavley is best known as the author of AB 32, California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Pavley, who authored the bill during her time in the Assembly, is back after a two-year hiatus due to term limits. But she seems to be picking up right where she left off.

Several bills this year will be outgrowths of AB 32 and SB 375, a 2008 bill regulating greenhouse gases in transportation. These include Pavley’s SB 31, which would add numerous requirements to the way the state spends the money it collects under AB 32. Pavley characterized the bill as a “placeholder” for a two-year effort to give the state a say on how to spend any money the Air Resources Board collects under AB 32—for instance, via auctioning of carbon offsets, an idea she supports.

“It sends the right sort of market signal,” Pavley said. “If you listen to President Obama and the direction the federal government is going, they seem to be aggressively moving toward that policy.”

Another goal of SB 31, she said, was to help expand AB 32’s reach into other areas of policy. For instance, she said, her SB 565 is a bill on water recycling. But that also makes it a global warming bill, since about 18 percent of California’s energy is used in moving and treating water.

Pavley has also introduced SB 144. This bill would amend the Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practice Act of 1973 to make it the policy of the state to enhance the ability of forests to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. It would require the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to consult with the Air Resources Board and the Department of Fish and Game to develop regulation for mitigating “forest land conversions.”

To put this another way, or the first time, timber harvesters would be forced to mitigate the carbon footprint of their tree cutting operations, including that contained in the trees they cut down.

Over in the other chamber, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, was given the gavel at the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. Among her bills is AB 1504, a proposal that is very similar to Pavley’s bill.

The ability of the state’s forest to sequester carbon at current levels is in doubt. Last June, those forests gave up huge amounts of the greenhouse gas when lighting sparked hundreds of wildfires that burned tens of thousands of acres. Pavley said SB 144 came partially in response to those and other recent wildfires and the need for the state to maintain it’s forestsin the wake of environmental change. She cited figures showing that 20 percent of worldwide carbon emissions come from the cutting and burning of the world’s forests.

Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, has introduced the aptly-named AB 666. This bill would strengthen requirements for building in high risk fire areas, including demands for defensible space and the ability for firefighters to have road access to an area. Senator Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, has introduced a similar bill, SB 505.

These measures concern Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Riverside. That’s why he’s introduced AB 149. As currently drafted, the bill would abolish the Board of Forestry and turn over its power to Cal Fire. However, he said he is actually amending the bill to include two more members, each appointed by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC). The board currently includes five public members, one from the livestock industry and three from the forestry industry.

Jeffries, who served as a volunteer firefighter for 29 years, said the bill is a response to measures like AB 606 and SB 505, which expands the state’s control over rural areas.

“The majority party is eventually going to be successful in expanding the scope and power of the Board of Forestry,” Jeffries said. “It seemed the best thing to do was make sure that those who will be affected by it will have a seat at the table.

The concept of local control is also behind another bill Jeffries has introduced. AB 397 calls for a similar changes to South Coast Air Quality Management District, which currently has 10 members appointed by elected officials cities and counties in its jurisdiction, as well as one each appointed by the Governor, Speaker and Pro Tem.

Instead, the bill would divide the district into 13 divisions, with the board members elected directly by voters starting in 2012. He said this would make the board more sensitive to the concerns, especially economic ones, of local people. But he conceded that both bills face an uphill climb.

“Some people, for some reason, feel threatened whenever you try to introduce a new level of public accountability or addition stakeholders,” Jeffries said.

The California Chamber of Commerce, which is perhaps the leading voice opposing environmental bills they think will be onerous on business, is still putting together their annual list of “job killer” bills. But one bill that has already made their radar is SB 42 from Senator Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, which would place severe limits on building or expanding power plants that use seawater. In a March 18 letter to members of the Senate Resources Committee, the Chamber said the bill “puts the state in an extremely vulnerable situation in terms of the reliability of our energy grid.”

Another Skinner bill, AB 758, would require the Energy Commission to create regulations and a comprehensive program to make the state’s housing stock more energy efficient. The bill would also give the Public Utilities Commission far greater powers to provide programs and financing to their customers to make their homes more efficient.

It is almost certain to be widely opposed by the power utility industry, as is her AB 560. This would take on the controversial area of “net metering.” This is the practice of allowing homes or businesses that have their own power supplies, usually solar panels, to sell power back to utilities. Utilities have traditionally placed limits on how much power customers could sell back and at what rates—practices that would be limited under the bill.

Bills to ban particular allegedly-harmful chemicals appear to be off the table as the Governor’s Green Chemistry initiative moves towards what environmentalists hope will be a more comprehensive solution. If last year’s model holds, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is likely to veto most “chemical-by-chemical” bans that reach his desk. He did sign AB 1108 in 2007, a bill from Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, to ban chemicals called phthalates from children’s toys.

But don’t tell that to Pavley. She’s carrying one of several such bans this year. She’s carrying SB 797, which would ban Bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles and other products that touch children’s food. Some researchers say they’ve linked BPA to hormone disruption, cancer and other problems.

Pavley said the bill was partially an attempt to keep the pressure on manufacturers, who are already moving away from BPA due to public perception. She also noted that SB 797, like AB 1108, is focused on the health of childr
en, and therefore may stand a better change on the governor’s desk.

“There is such a preponderance of scientific evidence on the problem with BPA, I think it calls for us to act on this sooner than later,” Pavley said. She added, “They [children] don’t have the luxury of waiting several years while we develop a very thoughtful Green Chemistry program.

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