Climate and Agriculture Bills to Watch in 2016

California State Capitol Building. (Source: PeteBobb, WikiMedia)
California State Capitol Building. (Source: PeteBobb)

It’s that time of year when CalCAN reviews legislation that may help, or hinder, farmers and ranchers in addressing climate change. We are pleased to support a slate of sensible policy measures that will each in their own way help to unlock sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change.

Senate Bill 1350 (Wolk): Healthy Soils

SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENTS

As we noted in our recent blog, Senator Lois Wolk (D –Davis) has introduced a new bill that would create a Healthy Soils program at the California Department of Food and Agriculture. This bill follows in the footsteps of last year’s CalCAN and CAFF-sponsored SB 367, as well as years of other legislative efforts to promote farming practices with proven climate benefits. We are currently in conversation with CDFA and Senator Wolk’s office to strengthen and clarify some aspects of the bill, but hope to fully support this important legislation as it moves forward. Read more here…

SB 1350 was heard in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on April 6th, where it passed with a vote of 6 – 0. It will next be heard in the Senate Agriculture Committee on April 19th.

Senate Bill 1386 (Wolk): Natural and Working Lands

SUPPORT

Last January, Governor Brown declared natural and working lands, including farms and ranches, to be a key ‘pillar’ in the state’s efforts to battle climate change. His administration has made strides to invest climate change funds in strategies that capitalize on the protection, restoration, and improved management of natural and working lands for their climate benefits. This timely bill would make it the policy of the state of California that “the protection and management of natural and working lands are a key strategy in meeting the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals”. By embedding this in statute, the bill will ensure that future Governors have an obligation to consider strategies like farmland protection and improved farm management practices as viable, multi-benefit climate mitigation and adaptation activities. SB 1386 is sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife, one of our partners in the Natural and Working Lands Coalition.

SB 1386 was heard in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on April 6th, where it passed with a vote of 6 – 0. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senate Bill 1247 (Jackson): Agricultural Innovation Zones

SUPPORT

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’s (D – Santa Barbara) bill would create Agricultural Innovation Zones and a voluntary incentive program to support climate-smart agricultural farming practices on fields located near sensitive areas, such as schools and childcare centers. It would build upon the Healthy Soils Initiative by promoting practices such as cover cropping, compost application, mulch, drip irrigation, and reduced fossil fuel inputs, providing multiple benefits to our farms and our communities.

SB 1247 has been referred to the Senate Environmental Quality and Agriculture Committees. It will be heard in the Agriculture committee on April 19th.

Senate Bill 1317 (Wolk): Aquifer Protection Act

SUPPORT

Many of California’s aquifers are in a crisis. With the extended severe drought, farmers have heavily relied upon their local groundwater supplies, but have often been forced to draw on this important underground ‘savings account’ in unsustainable ways. In 2014, CalCAN supported the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which will for the first time begin to regulate groundwater use in the state and ensure the long-term health of our aquifers. But as SGMA goes into effect, in some regions of the state wells continue to be drilled with little oversight or strategic planning, threatening water supplies of nearby farmers and residents. Senator Wolk’s SB 1317 will tighten the local issuance of well permits, providing a sensible follow-up to SGMA in the near-term. Without adequate regulation of groundwater resources, less-resourced growers will be unable to keep up with the drilling bonanza (particularly during drought years) and groundwater supplies will be severely impacted.

SB 1317 will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on April 12th.

Assembly Bill 1826 (Stone): Organic Food & Farming Act

SUPPORT

This bill, sponsored by CalCAN coalition member California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), is intended to help the state’s organic producers by streamlining paperwork and reducing fees associated with the State Organic Program. Additionally, it would update the role of the Organic Program to focus on education and outreach as well as support for organic transition. Scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated that agricultural systems like organic farming that rely on reduced synthetic inputs and biological management offer some of the best solutions to climate change. Supporting a reformed State Organic Program that better meets the needs of the state’s organic producers is an important way to expand sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change.

AB 1826 will be heard in the Assembly Agriculture Committee on April 13th.

Assembly Bill 2725 (Chiu): Food Waste

SUPPORT

Every year, uneaten food and other organic waste rotting in landfills contribute about twenty percent of California’s methane emissions. As CDFA Board President Craig McNamara emphasized in his keynote at the 2015 CalCAN Summit [click to listen], the issue of food waste has a strong (and often overlooked) climate change connection. This bill, sponsored by Californians Against Waste and the Natural Resources Defense Council, would standardize food date labels to reduce consumer confusion and prevent the unnecessary and premature disposal of many food products.

AB 2725 will be heard in the Assembly Agriculture Committee on April 13th.

Assembly Bill 1815 (Alejo): Technical Assistance to Disadvantaged Communities

SUPPORT

Through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), California is investing billions in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make our communities more resilient to a changing climate. However: without technical assistance, many of the benefits of GGGRF programs will pass by some of our urban and rural communities because they do not have the resources to develop projects and successfully apply for these funds. CalCAN has noted that small-scale, limited resourced farmers in low-income communities may be unable to access programs like CDFA’s State Water Enhancement and Efficiency Program (SWEEP) because they cannot afford to work with expensive irrigation consultants to apply for the program, as many farm operations currently do, or may simply be unaware of the program. By making available technical assistance funds to work with potential GGRF recipients in disadvantaged communities, we help level the playing field and achieve the multiple benefits of GGRF investment throughout our communities.

AB 1815 passed out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on April 4th with a vote of 7 – 2. It will be heard next in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Assembly Bill 2715 (Garcia E., Dodd, Alejo): Energy Efficiency in Farmworker Housing

SUPPORT

This bill would create a new program to improve the energy efficiency of farmworker housing, provide related energy savings, and foster greater resilience to heat waves and other extreme weather events. The money would come from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. In our 2015 Recommendations to Governor Brown, CalCAN highlighted the need for programs that help farmworker communities prepare for the impacts of climate change. AB 2715 would take an important step in that direction.

AB 2715 has been referred to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, but a date for its first hearing has not yet been set.

Assembly Bill 2339 (Irwin and Low): Net Energy Metering

SUPPORT

This bill will allow more farmers and ranchers to generate on-farm renewable energy by expanding access to the Net Energy Metering (NEM) program within irrigation districts and other publicly-owned utility (POU) territories. California farmers already generate more on-farm renewable energy than their counterparts in any other state, but there is still tremendous untapped potential for solar, wind, and biogas technologies. However, irrigation districts and other POUs have been operating under a different set of rules than the large investor-owned utilities, allowing them to prematurely refuse NEM service to their customers. AB 2339 simply extends the same definition of a NEM cap to POUs, allowing additional customers to generate grid-tied renewable energy and reduce their carbon footprint.

AB 2339 was heard in the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee, but faced significant opposition. A vote has yet to be taken on the measure.

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