The California Legislature wrapped up the first year of a two-year legislative session in the early morning hours of September 14th. Governor Newsom had until October 13 to decide whether to approve or veto these bills. With the legislative session over and the bill signing deadline passed, the following is a summary of the outcomes of what Defenders was tracking and prioritizing for wildlife.
Defenders worked hard this year to advance our wildlife conservation agenda by supporting bills that benefited wildlife, “sponsoring” a few key bills that would have an important benefit for wildlife and opposing bills that would be harmful to wildlife. We worked on many bills, including efforts to curb plastic pollution, defend against Trump administration rollbacks to federal environmental protections, reduce the impacts of climate change, promote environmental education, and sustain critical finding for wildlife conservation.
This legislative session ended with some great successes and some disappointments, and some issues left unresolved until January 2020 when the Legislature returns for the second year of the legislative session.
Overall, the California Legislature did a good job of passing some strong bills benefiting wildlife, but left some important issues unresolved. Governor Newsom’s record for this year started off strong with the continuation of important wildlife funding in the state budget and the signing of Senate Bill (SB) 307, a bill to protect wildlife in the Cadiz Valley, but he deeply disappointed wildlife advocates when he vetoed the most important environmental bill of this session.
We Secured $300 Million Over the Next Decade for Wildlife and Habitat: Defenders rallied the support of more than 50 organizations to advocate for the extension of the Habitat Conservation Fund for another decade. Our efforts paid off when the Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom agreed in the 2019-20 State Budget to extend the Habitat Conservation Fund for another 10 years, providing $300 million of new funding for wildlife conservation.
We Protected Desert Wildlife from the Cadiz Groundwater Mining Project: After the Trump administration reversed federal policy that would have required a massive groundwater extraction project to go through an environmental review, Senate Bill (SB) 307, which was introduced by Senator Richard Roth and sponsored by Defenders, was enacted into law. The Cadiz Project cannot move forward if the state determines that the project will have an adverse effect on critical springs and seeps (on which bighorn sheep, desert kit foxes and desert tortoises depend).
We Helped Protect Migratory Birds: Assembly Bill (AB) 454, introduced by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, was enacted into law, ensuring that existing California law will continue to protect native and migratory birds regardless of actions taken by the federal government to weaken oversight and protections for birds under federal law.
We Helped Wildlife in the Face of Climate Change: AB 65, authored by Assemblymember Petrie-Norris, and SB 576, authored by Senator Umberg, were enacted into law, providing important tools to help wildlife adapt to the impacts of climate change through the use of “green” infrastructure (which means they look and pay for more natural solutions to sea level rise, flooding, and other impacts instead of paying for seawalls, more levees and other kinds of destructive infrastructure) and directing state agencies to develop resiliency plans for California.
We Helped Improve Access to Nature for Underserved Communities: California faces a serious issue of inequity in the environmental and outdoor access space. With ever increasing threats to our wildlife and wildlands, it is essential for all California residents to be engaged in the conservation of our natural landscapes. AB 209, authored by Assemblymember Monique Limón, was enacted, creating a grant program to increase the ability of underserved and at-risk populations to participate in outdoor environmental educational experiences at state parks and other public lands.
We Defeated a Bill that Threatened Joshua Tree National Park and Desert Wildlife: We opposed Senate Bill 772, authored by Senator Steven Bradford, because it promoted the sale of expensive energy from the Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project. This project has been shown through groundwater studies commissioned by the National Park Service that it “would cause damaging overdraft conditions” by pumping thousands of acre feet of water from the desert aquifer that underlies Joshua Tree National Park, causing devastating impacts on desert wildlife such as desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. The bill was defeated in the Senate.
Governor Newsom Vetoed SB 1, the “Trump Defense Bill”: As a bill sponsor, Defenders worked with California Senate President Pro Tempore, Senator Toni Atkins, to pass SB 1 out of the legislature despite strong opposition from industry. SB 1 was intended to be an important tool to defend California’s clean air and water, wildlife, and a healthy environment for all from the reckless attempts by the Trump administration to derail key environmental protections. This bill would have adopted common-sense measures that would allow state agencies to use existing state laws to protect against these rollbacks. Unfortunately, one of the key parts of SB 1 would have made it harder for the Trump administration to export hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water out of the Bay Delta to corporate agribusinesses with ties to Interior Secretary Bernhardt. After significant pressure from Big Agriculture, Governor Newsom vetoed SB 1, leaving Defenders and others questioning the strength of Governor Newsom’s commitment to wildlife conservation. Is Governor Newsom willing to fight for fish and wildlife in the face of strong opposition from those who make a lot of money from destroying wildlife and habitat? For more about this story, read my op-ed: https://calmatters.org/commentary/senate-bill-1-veto/
Wildlife Issues Left for Next Year:
Protecting Wildlife from Plastic Pollution: Despite a big push to pass legislation to reduce single-use plastic packaging, the Legislature failed to pass two important bills, AB 1080 (Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez) and SB 54 (Senator Ben Allen), that would have reduced the amount of waste that burdens taxpayers and local governments, plagues human health, and pollutes our natural environment by decreasing single-use packaging and products sold in California and ensuring the remaining items are effectively composted and recycled. Instead, the Legislature made these bills “two-year” bills to be acted upon when the Legislature returns in January 2020.
Marine Wildlife Conservation: SB 69 (Senator Allen) stalled in the Legislature this year. This bill would have strengthened protections for keystone species health (such as salmon and whales).
Critical Funding for Climate Resiliency: SB 45 (Senator Allen) also stalled in the Legislature this year. This bill aims to put a several billion-dollar bond on the November 2020 ballot to fund important climate resiliency projects, including wildlife connectivity, habitat protection, and green infrastructure.
Defenders will be working on these bills next year along with other important priorities benefiting California’s most imperiled species such as wolves, sea otters, and desert tortoise. We will also be watching Governor Newsom to see if he is willing to stand up for fish and wildlife when it counts the most.
To read more detailed descriptions of any of the bills mentioned above, please visit: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/ and type in the exact bill number.