This year saw considerable legislative action on issues relevant to climate change and agriculture in California. Here is a quick legislative round-up from 2014:
Assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman (Stockton) authored the Farmland Conservation Strategy Act (AB 1961), which CalCAN co-sponsored with CAFF and the American Farmland Trust along with support from Farm Bureau, land trusts and conservation organizations. The bill would have required counties with significant farmland resources to inventory their agricultural lands and describe their goals/policies to retain farmland and mitigate for its loss. AB 1961 passed through the Assembly Local Government and Agriculture Committees, but was held over in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in May 2014, after seeing intense opposition from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA).
Despite this, California is moving forward with addressing farmland conservation and climate change issues. The Strategic Growth Council in partnership with the Resources Agency has proposed draft guidelines for a new agricultural lands conservation program [pdf] aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with sprawl development.
As California weathers the most severe drought in its history, there has been a tremendous amount of interest amongst lawmakers in how to prepare the state for future water scarcity.
One proposed method is through massive investment to shore up the state’s water system: a new water bond measure (AB 1471) was passed and signed by the Governor in mid-August. It will appear on the November 4th ballot as ‘Proposition 1’. The $7.5 billion water bond is intended to bolster the state’s systems for water supply and quality through a combination of infrastructure projects, restoration efforts, flood management, and conservation initiatives. CalCAN and CAFF worked to include $100 million for water use efficiency projects in agricultural and urban areas. Previous water bonds had failed to adequately include on-farm water use efficiency projects, but funds from a water bond could help achieve important water savings while keeping farmers on the land. Proposition 1 is strongly supported by many members of the agricultural community and is expected to pass on November 4th.
The water bond would also provide funds to assist with the implementation of the state’s historic package of groundwater regulations (SB 1168, SB 1319, and AB 1739). While groundwater overdraft and contamination have been an issue in the state for decades, the drought has made it difficult to put off action any longer: in some areas, drilling for much-needed groundwater has become an ‘arms race’ favoring those who can drill the deepest wells, fastest. This status quo is particularly bad for the least-resourced farmers, who often cannot afford to invest in expensive new wells. CalCAN joined CAFF in supporting the sensible package of groundwater bills, which for the first time require local governments to monitor and regulate groundwater usage.
Two bills passed late in the legislative session, AB 1826 and AB 1594, could eventually increase the amount of compost produced from food and yard wastes in California. The two bills require that local governments divert organic waste streams from landfills, providing an input for compost production and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases created by organics decomposing in landfills. AB 1826 (Chesbro) requires businesses that produce a lot of food waste or yard trimmings to arrange for recycling this material. AB 1594 (Williams) closes a loophole that allowed some yard trimmings to be used as ‘landfill cover’ instead of being recycled. Both bills were sponsored by Californians Against Waste (CAW) and supported by CalCAN.
On the renewable energy front, CalCAN opposed a measure that would have made it more difficult to establish Community Choice Aggregations (CCAs) as alternative electricity suppliers. CCAs, which already serve Marin and Sonoma counties, allow residents and businesses to source a higher percentage of their electrical power from cleaner renewable energy sources than would be provided by their utility. Because of their goal to support local clean energy generation, Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power offer more competitive rates to farm energy producers than PG&E does, for example. CalCAN joined a broad coalition in opposing AB 2145, which died on the Senate floor without a vote.
Conservation on Private Lands
The Legislature also acted to make it easier for landowners, government agencies, and conservation organizations to take on ‘small-scale, voluntary habitat restoration projects’. Previously, a lengthy permitting process discouraged many landowners from taking on important land stewardship efforts. AB 2193 (Gordon), The Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Act, simplifies the permitting process through the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Our partners, California’s Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), which work with agricultural landowners to implement restoration and conservation projects, worked with Sustainable Conservation, sponsor of the legislation, to support the bill.