From saving oft-poisoned honeybees to saving the Earth from global warming, environmentalists will push next year for host of state protections they say are needed to preserve the natural world — and mankind itself — from destructive human activity.
California legislators have already established some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the country. Yet Southern California still has the country’s worst air quality, the coast continues to be littered with plastic that endangers marine life, and mountain lions in the Santa Ana and Santa Monica mountains are headed toward extinction.
These issues are only the beginning. The Southern California News Group surveyed eight major environmental organizations and found that they support more than 20 priorities that should be addressed by state regulators and legislators in the next year. The Sierra Club, The Center for Biological Diversity, and The Nature Conservancy were among the national groups that were surveyed. CALPIRG and Environment California were two examples of state organizations. The Surfrider Foundation, California Coastkeeper Alliance, and the California Coastal Protection Network were some of the organizations that specialized in coastal issues.
Here’s what they’ll be pushing for.
Lions, bees, and Joshua trees
If they don’t have access to new genes from nearby populations, the Santa Ana and Santa Monica mountain lions will likely become extinct locally within 50 years. A huge wildlife bridge that crosses the 101 Freeway will be constructed in Santa Monica Mountains. However, a crossing from Santa Ana Mountains remains in the early stages of planning.
The state Fish and Game Commission gave the animals temporary protection last year. It is currently completing a study that will determine if this status should be made permanent. This would allow for protections and help with crossing projects. The Center for Biological Diversity is one of those advocating for this determination.
The center is also calling on the legislature to protect and promote wildlife corridors throughout the state. It is also asking the commission to approve a measure that would threaten the western Joshua tree. “That would be the first time a species was protected under (state law) due primarily to the threat of climate change,” said Brendan Cummings, the center’s conservation director.
The center is joined by Environment California in pushing for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, a widely used agricultural insecticide that’s deadly to bees and other pollinators, as well as 38 protected species of amphibians. Last year, a bill calling for such an interdiction was introduced but failed to move.
A comprehensive 2021 bill which would require single-use packaging and foodware that could be composted or recycled was stalled after it was challenged by the California Chamber of Commerce as well as the plastics and packaging industry. Frustrated activists have submitted a citizens initiative that meets the same requirements as the November 2022 ballot. However the Legislature still has time to pass it. Environmentalists support the measure.
A revival of Assembly Bill 1371 would go a long way in packaging. Although it was not voted on last year, it was cited by three of the groups that were surveyed by Southern California News Group. The measure would prohibit online retailers shipping products in or to California from “using single-use plastic packaging that consists of shipping envelopes, cushioning, or void fill to package or transport the products.”
CALPIRG State Director Jenn Engelstrom applauds plans by Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) for a bill which would make it easier and more cost-effective to repair and reuse cell phones. “Californians dispose of approximately 46,000 cell phones per day, and only 15 to 20 percent of electronic waste is recycled,” she said. “California should adopt ‘right to repair’ reforms, which would allow consumers and small businesses to fix their property and devices in order to reduce waste and save money.”
Climate change, air quality
There are no bigger environmental issues in the state than the overlapping challenges of climate change, greenhouse gases and air pollution — especially when you consider the the climate-change consequences of sea-level rise, heat waves, more extreme drought and worsening wildfires.
“With a projected surplus and federal investments coming from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we have an opportunity to make some important investments in the resilient clean energy grid of the future and in tackling our air pollution problem,” said Laura Deehan, state director of Environment California. “We are asking for record investment in both of these areas.”
The state has set a goal of producing carbon-free electricity by 2045, but has had to delay the planned closures of gas-fired power plants due to insufficient energy supplies. Environmentalists also want bolder steps to phase out natural gas furnaces and hot water heaters in buildings, and they say the state isn’t doing enough to meet its goal of 100% zero-emission new car sales by 2035.
Then there’s the scheduled Jan. 27 vote in which the Public Utilities Commission is expected to reduce incentives for residential solar power, in part so that non-solar users — particularly low-income electric customers — aren’t subsidizing a program that technology has made increasingly affordable to solar users, who tend to have higher incomes. While the Natural Resources Defense Council supports the change, many environmental groups — including Environment California — oppose the proposal and say it would result in fewer homeowners installing rooftop solar.
Sea and shore
A proposed revolving loan fund would allow coastal communities to purchase coastal homes that are at risk from sea-level rise, and then rent them out to repay the loans until they become uninhabitable. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the legislation last year, but Surfrider as well as the Coastal Protection Network want to revive the effort. “(It) was a good first step in assisting landowners with vulnerable properties and should be expanding,” said network Executive Director Susan Jordan.
Jordan, along with Heal the Bay, would also like to see at least $5.6 million in state funds to match proposed federal spending to clean up DDT-waste — possibly hundreds of thousands of barrels — dumped off the coast of Los Angeles decades ago.
Additionally, Jordan is opposing bills that would make it easier to build seawalls and to launch sea farms by diminishing the Coastal Commission’s regulatory oversight.
Finally, several state legislators listened to environmentalists’ long-standing call to end offshore oil operations after the October oil spillage off Huntington Beach. However, given the existing leases of oil operators, it’s unclear how that would be accomplished.
More for environmental justice
Concerns about low-income communities being disproportionately affected by environmental degradation have often been centered on those who live near the pollution.
Nearby freeways, ports, and refineries. However, impacts can go beyond air quality. Among proposals for 2022 is a pitch from the California Coastkeeper Alliance ensuring that water projects don’t disproportionately hurt those neighborhoods.
While the above list touches on major issues of concerns, environmentalists’ list of issues also includes calls for better stormwater management, cleaner water, more aggressive drought resilience and water recycling efforts, and wildfire prevention.