Lots of New Environmental Laws in California

The state capitol in Sacramento. | Photo: Jeffery Turner/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Climate change policy and a ban on sales of ivory in the state of California are the environmental stars of the last session in the California legislature, but the Governor has been using up the ink in his pen signing a whole host of other bills with environmental impacts as well. From a ban on plastic microbeads in personal care products to a measure intended to make public transit less annoying, here's a quick rundown on some of the new environmental laws taking effect in California.

The Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015, a.k.a. Senate Bill 350, may well be the most sweeping of the environmental bills to become law this month. Signed by Governor Brown on October 7, S.B. 350 bumps the state's targets for renewable energy on the electrical grid -- the so-called "renewable portfolio standard" -- to require California gets half its electrical power from renewable sources by the end of 2030. The new law also requires that Californians double energy efficiency savings for electricity and natural gas over the same time period.

Climate activists had high hopes for a section of the original bill that would have required the state to cut its vehicle fleet's use of fossil fuels in half by 2030. That provision was dropped from the bill after intense lobbying by fossil fuel interests, who were poised to kill the bill as written. But dropping the provision may not be that big a win for the oil companies: S.B. 350 also makes it the state's official policy to get as many Californians as possible out of gas-burners and into electric vehicles.


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Divesting from coal: S.B.185, signed by Brown October 8, is another climate-change-related new law. Introduced to the Senate by East LA's Senator (and Senate President pro tem) Kevin de León, S.B. 185 requires the state's two largest public employees' pension funds -- the California Public Employees's Retirement System (CalPERS) and the State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) to divest from the coal industry by the end of 2017.


Ivory: The ivory ban bill (A.B. 96), which Redefine covered extensively as it made its way through the Legislature, was signed into law October 4, closing a gigantic loophole in the general ban on ivory. A.B. 96 thus makes it a lot harder to sell ivory in two of the substance's three largest markets outside China: San Francisco and Los Angeles. The law takes effect July 1, 2016. Experts estimate that 72 African elephants are killed each day by poachers seeking to sell their tusks on the black market, and it's luxury markets like those in Los Angeles and San Francisco that drive that illicit trade.

Marijuana regulation: A trio of bills -- A.B. 266 and A.B. 243 from the Assembly, and S.B. 643 from the State Senate -- promise to remake the state's burgeoning and inconsistently legal marijuana industry. among other things, the bills direct the state's environmental law enforcement and policy agencies to craft regulations for pot growers.

That's intended to address many of the environmental impacts attributed to the industry, including diversion of water from dwindling streams, improper use of pesticides including anticoagulant rodenticides, and fertilizer use.

Plastic microbeads: This one was a squeaker: A.B. 888, Santa Monica Assembly member Richard Bloom's bill to ban tiny, non-degradable plastic beads from personal care products in the state, failed to pass the State Senate on its first try in September. An unusual motion to reconsider an amended version of the bill won it a last-minute 26-12 victory. The last-minute change? Legislators struck a clause that would have required any microbead replacements be made of "natural substances" such as walnut shells. That leaves the door open for alternative, theoretically biodegradable plastics to take microbeads' place on store shelves at some point in the future. Manufacturers have until 2020 to come up with those alternatives: that's when current microbeads must be off the market, now that Governor Brown signed the bill on October 8.

Antibiotic abuse: It's going to get a little harder to breed antibiotic-resistant superbacteria in California. S.B. 27, signed into law by Governor Brown this past weekend, bans the routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock in California, a practice that many public health experts charge is responsible for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." Under S.B. 27, any antibiotic getting fed to livestock in California must be prescribed for the individual animal by a veterinarian. S.B. 770 regulates the use of other drugs in livestock feed, and S.B. 361 requires that practicing veterinarians take part in continuing education to keep up on current best practices for antibiotic use.

Public transit: It's a little bit of a stretch, but we figure anything that makes it less stressful to take public transit is a good thing for the environment. S.B. 413, written by Bay Area State Senator Bob Wieckowski, should please quite a few Californians for this alone:

Those of us Californians who can't tell the kids to get off our lawns anymore, seeing as we don't have lawns, due to the drought, can thank Senator Wieckowski for giving us another avenue for our curmudgeonry.

The bill also allows transit agencies to make it an infraction-level crime to refuse to reserve specified seats for elderly or disabled people.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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