Legislative Update

August, 22, 2016

Brian White, FLC Legislative Advocate
KP Public Affairs

With only two weeks remaining in the 2015-16 legislative session, the California Legislature will begin around-the-clock sessions to try and pass a number of bills before the August 31 deadline. In typical fashion, the second year of a two-year session is usually quite busy and this year has been no different with the Legislature continuing to debate the merits of hundreds of bills leftover from last year, while also trying to dispense with hundreds of new bills introduced this year.

Last week sifted out several bills that were on "suspense" since any bill that did not pass the August 12 fiscal committee deadline is essentially dead for the year. However, some bills get revived through the so-called "gut-and-amend" process, which usually pop up in the last week of session with minimal public input or analysis. Needless to say, the process is messy but a pending ballot initiative, if approved by the voters, will likely put an end to last-minute bill introductions. The difference this year is that several legislators who are termed out under the old law are in their last year and may push last minute bills to try and cement their legacies. At the same time, a new crop of legislators recently elected under the new 12-year terms have begun flexing their influence and they have demonstrated an unwillingness to rush substantial new policies down to the governor's desk.

Governor Brown has been pushing bills throughout the year pertaining to the environment, transportation, climate change, water and natural resources but several remain in flux with various Republican legislators and Moderate Democrat raising concerns about potential impacts to constituents just before the November elections. These issues include the following:

Climate Change / Cap-and-Trade Issues:

The biggest unresolved issue is whether the Legislature will extend the state's climate change law (AB 32). The law sunsets in 2020, and there are growing concerns from Governor Brown, some Democrats and environmental groups who believe a bill (SB 32 - Pavley) is needed to keep the law alive post 2020, and to demonstrate to the renewable energy industry that the state's law will remain intact. A contingent issue is whether the Legislature will be able to appropriate a substantial portion of revenues generated under the state's cap-and-trade program. A pending lawsuit brought by business groups has challenged whether the revenues collected for the program should have been done under a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. This has created concern and uncertainty about cap-and-trade expenditures regardless of whether certain programs such as biomass could actually help solve climate change and reduce forest fires. Another related climate change issue is legislation (SB 1383 - Lara), which seeks to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, including a 40% reduction in methane and a 50% reduction in black carbon by 2030. Both SB 32 and SB 1383 await full votes on the Assembly Floor but they face stiff opposition from business groups, the agriculture industry and several Moderate Democrats.

Resource Budget Trailer Bills:

Meanwhile, even though the Legislature has already approved an overall state budget plan in July, which provided funding for general government issues, several so-called "budget trailer bills" seeking to implement various policies linked to the overall budget have not been approved yet. These bills must get concurrence votes in the Legislature before moving to the governor's desk but they are expected to pass. This includes resource budget trailer bills that do the following:

  • AB 1611 and SB 839 - would exempt "licensed cannabis cultivation" operations, as determined by Department of Food and Agriculture, from requirements to obtain a streambed alteration agreement with the Department of Fish and Wildlife (1600 permit).
  • AB 1612 and SB 840 - would expedite transmission interconnections for specified bioenergy or biomass projects in order to give them first priority to commence operations over other renewable energy resources.
  • AB 1613 - would spend $1.2 billion in cap-and-trade dollars (SB 1613) for various programs, including $20 million for healthy forest and fuels treatment.

Other Forestry-related Issues:

FLC-supported AB 2029 (Dahle), which seeks to expand and extend the La Malfa exemption, passed Senate Appropriations and now heads to the Senate Floor. However, there has been a lot of consternation from CALFIRE and the Department of Finance about the bill (they had concerns with language allowing the construction of temporary roads). Several amendments were offered by the author to address those concerns, including a requirement that a registered professional forester to mark and map the roads; prohibit roads in unstable areas; and require the registered professional forester to confirm the necessity of the road for safety or to provide access to the harvested area. But the Senate Appropriations Committee included additional amendments that removed all of the language from the bill allowing for construction of temporary roads, and also inserted a new 2021 sunset date instead of the 2023 sunset. While the California Forestry Association was not happy with the amendment, they have indicated the bill still has value. The bill awaits a full vote of the Senate and Assembly.

Other forestry bills that remain alive and await full votes in the Senate and Assembly include the following:

  • AB 1923 (Wood) - would require the CPUC to direct the electrical corporations to authorize a bioenergy electric generation facility with a nameplate generating capacity of up to 5 megawatts to participate in the bioenergy feed-in tariff.
  • AB 1958 (Wood) - would create an exemption for the restoration of oak woodlands that would allow landowners to remove conifer trees that are crowding out oaks provided various restrictions; would also require CALFIRE to report on the effectiveness of existing exemptions in the Forest Practices Act.
  • AB 2480 (Bloom) - would declare state policy to recognize and define source watersheds as integral components of California's water system, and eligible for financing on an equivalent basis with other water infrastructure projects.
  • SB 1386 (Wolk) - would declare state policy that the protection and management of natural and working lands is an important strategy in meeting the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals, including a requirement that all state agencies, departments, boards and commissions consider this policy when revising, adopting or establishing policies, regulations or expenditures to protect and manage natural and working lands.