California Legislature Leaves Climate Solutions on the Table

Healthy Soils Initiative Delayed

California’s 2015 legislative session ended on September 11th with some big disappointments on climate policy. Among the setbacks was a delay in allocating $1.7 billion in cap-and-trade funds for a number of climate change programs, including the Governor’s proposed Healthy Soils Initiative.

Two ambitious climate policy bills were among the big issues facing legislators during the last few weeks of the session. SB 350, authored by Senate Pro Tem Kevin DeLeón, ran into fierce opposition from oil lobbyists and business interests. The bill passed but only after removing a key provision to require a 50% reduction in petroleum by 2030. SB 350 mandates a target of 50% renewable energy for the state and a doubling of the energy efficiency in buildings by the year 2030.

Another bill, authored by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica), would have set a greenhouse gas reduction goal of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. However, this bill failed to get sufficient support in the Assembly from moderate Democrats.

A casualty of these political fights was the question of how to allocate $1.7 billion in cap-and-trade revenue in the 2015-16 budget year that could be used to fund greenhouse gas reduction activities in many California communities. With many competing ideas and interests, the legislature was unable to come to a comprehensive agreement on dividing up the funds.

The legislature approved $250 million in cap-and-trade funding, along with funding for “continuously appropriated” programs. The agriculture and climate change programs that will receive funds include the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, coordinated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which provides grants for improved irrigation efficiencies and other water savings strategies on farms and ranches. The program’s funding will increase to $40 million, up from $10 million; this brings the total funds allocated to SWEEP since 2014 to nearly $60 million. The Strategic Growth Council received a little over $400 million for its climate change programs, including the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC). The Council will have to determine how much of the SGC funds will go towards the SALC program, which funds agricultural land conservation activities aimed at stopping sprawl development.

Among the programs that was not funded because of a lack of legislative consensus on new programs was the Healthy Soils Initiative. Proposed by Governor Brown, the Healthy Soils Initiative is an effort aimed at supporting on-farm practices that increase carbon sequestration, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil health overall. This important initiative will provide technical support and financial incentives for growers and ranchers to adopt innovative practices that reduce their overall carbon footprint while providing other benefits like greater resilience to climate change impacts.

Additionally, the dairy digester and biofuels programs at CDFA did not receive funding in this round of cap and trade allocations.

CalCAN, along with our coalition partner CAFF, co-sponsored a bill this session (SB 367) that would have created a climate change focus for the Environmental Farming Program at CDFA, including new members of the Advisory Panel who have expertise in climate change and agriculture issues. SB 367 also proposed up to $40 million for farmland conservation and $25 million for on-farm practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon. The bill was authored by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis), an ardent champion for climate-friendly farming. The proposal gained almost unanimous bipartisan votes from both parties at every step of the legislative process, as well as support from environmental and conventional agriculture organizations. However, in the end, the legislature did not move forward on either SB 367 or any of the other bills that allocated cap-and-trade dollars.

This is not the end of the effort, however. The legislature will return in January, and climate change will surely be back on the agenda, including future cap-and-trade allocations. CalCAN will continue to represent the interests of farmers and ranchers around the state who are eager to play a constructive role in providing climate solutions.

Stay tuned! We will need your ongoing engagement and support.

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