Of the hundreds of bills that arrived on the Governor’s desk this year, we were interested in three because of their relevance to climate change and agriculture. The dealt with the Williamson Act (AB 2530), a climate change Community Benefits Fund (AB 1405) and climate rules pertaining to forestry (AB 1504).
AB 2530 — Signed
The Governor signed into law AB 2530, keeping the Williamson Act on life support for a few more years. The Williamson Act is the state’s primary program for protecting farmland and open space from development. Landowners who enter into Williamson Act contacts agree to maintain their land in farming, ranching or open space and in return receive reductions in their property taxes. For more than 30 years the state has reimbursed counties for the loss of property taxes from Williamson Act lands, but budget cuts in 2008/09 suspended these reimbursements.
AB 2530 creates a temporary four-year program authorizing counties to renew Williamson Act contracts for 10% shorter periods of time if they receive less than half of their forgone general fund property tax revenue. Protecting the gains realized under Williamson is essential — 16 million acres of the state’s 29 million acres of farm and rangeland are enrolled in the program. These protected areas provide food and fiber, and have climate benefits such as carbon sequestration in soils and woody plants and limiting urban sprawl and the associated transportation-related GHG emissions. Even stronger farmland preservation programs are needed, and AB 2530 buys some time to put them in place.
AB 1405 — Vetoed
AB 1405 was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. It would have created a Community Benefits Fund and directed at least 10% of the revenues generated through the implementation of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, to fund activities that reduce GHG emissions or mitigate the direct health or environmental impacts of climate change in the most disadvantaged communities.
Establishing a Community Benefits Fund is good policy. Revenue from AB 32 could provide investment dollars for disadvantaged communities to cope with a changing climate, along with green job training and renewable energy research and deployment.
We believe that a portion of AB 32 revenue should also be directed towards research, technical assistance and financial incentives for farming systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing other environmental benefits, like improved air and water quality and wildlife habitat. CalCAN sponsored SB 1241, authored by Senator Lois Wolk, which would have done just that. Though SB 1241 did not pass through the legislature this year, CalCAN will continue to push for resources for California agriculture to address climate change. .
AB 1504 — Signed
The Governor signed AB 1504 that requires the state Board of Forestry to guarantee that all its regulations governing commercial timber harvesting take into account the capacity of forests to sequester carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. It also requires the California Department of Forestry, in consultation with the California Air Resources Board, to determine to what extent existing forestry regulations and programs are meeting AB 32 greenhouse gas emissions targets. The bill allows that some portion of AB 32 funds could be made available for research and analyses.
We are interested in this bill because, like forestry, agriculture has the potential to sequester carbon by using sustainable management practices. And, like forestry, agriculture is vulnerable to the effects of climate change.