Environmentalists find few victories this year in Sacramento
Posted: 09/10/2011 06:49:24 PM PDT
The environmental movement bumped into a bad economy in Sacramento this year, and there's little doubt who came up on the short end.
"For the environment, this is probably the least productive year in a decade," said Warner Chabot, executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters.
With unemployment at 12 percent, the state facing continued deficits and a national climate hostile to many new government regulations, the political will in Sacramento -- even among Democrats -- for broad new conservation measures was largely drowned out this year.
As California's 2011 legislative session wound down at midnight Friday, environmentalists who had hoped a year ago that the election of Democrat Jerry Brown as governor might bring a wave of new green laws were instead left to consider a few small victories, and plenty of disappointment.
Among the modest results: A ban on shark fin soup. A penny per-barrel increase on the fee oil companies pay to fund California's oil spill programs. And a prohibition on a controversial chemical used in baby bottles.
"The economy has eliminated doing almost anything that involves money," Chabot said, "and there is a sensitivity to new regulations."
Sacramento's experience is part of a wider trend. On the national stage, regulation has become an even dirtier word. With job creation taking center stage in the 2012 campaign, Republican presidential contenders are questioning the now well-established science behind global warming, and even President Barack Obama irked environmentalists last week when he failed to beef up national smog standards.
Winners and losers
Now, all eyes are on Brown, who has 30 days to sign or veto the bills the Legislature sent him.Among the main environmental bills on his desk are:
For every victory, however, there were many more losses for environmentalists:
Business groups say it is only right that eco-measures were kept in check this year."The key for employers is certainty, and over-regulation is the single biggest cause of uncertainty in the California business climate," said Loren Kaye, president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, an arm of the California Chamber of Commerce.
Republicans almost universally voted this year against new environmental laws, as they have for much of the past decade.
Huffman, who is chairman of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, said that newly drawn districts and term limits, along with the tight economy, had many lawmakers particularly cautious of doing anything this year that might come back and be used in next November's elections.
"Everybody is looking over their shoulder left and right and not wanting to do things that upset industry supporters," he said.
Many environmental groups said the biggest victory of the year came in April when the governor signed SB 2X, a measure by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, to require the state's utilities to produce 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
That bill passed in a special session on jobs.
"I was in some ways fortunate that the issue got teed up earlier in the year and didn't get caught up in the larger push and shove that always happens at the end of the year," Simitian said.