Environmental Mandates Flame Out in California Legislature

Published October 4, 2010

Environmental activist groups suffered two stinging defeats in California as the state legislature ended its 2010 session without passing two major environmental bills supported by the activists. AB 1998 would have banned plastic shopping bags and imposed a 5 cent fee on paper bags, and SB 722 would have imposed a 33 percent renewable power mandate on the state’s electricity consumers.

Plastic Bag Ban Defeated
The Senate decisively defeated AB 1998, which would have made California the first state to ban single-use plastic shopping bags, by a vote of 21 to 14 on August 31.

Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), who sponsored the bill, called it a sad day for California communities.

“Communities across the state were waiting for the state to adopt a uniform, statewide ban on single-use bags before they adopt their own ordinances. The state failed them. But this is an environmental movement that won’t be stopped, even by big-money interests like the American Chemistry Council. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when consumers bring their own bags and become good stewards of the environment,” said Brownley in a press statement.

Four California cities—San Francisco, Palo Alto, Fairfax, and Malibu—have already banned plastic shopping bags.

No Agreement on Renewable Mandates
The clock ran out on SB 722 as a diverse group of special interests supporting the bill couldn’t agree on the finer points of the legislation before the legislative session ended. The bill’s author, Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), said he was disappointed the Senate did not pass the bill, but he vowed to bring it up again in the future.

Although the legislature did not enact a mandate, the California Air Resources Board is considering an end run around the legislature by using its own powers to impose a 33 percent renewable power mandate.

Ulterior Motives Doom Bill
Tom Tanton, president of the energy consulting firm T2 & Associates, said ulterior motives doomed the renewable energy bill.

“The renewable electricity bill failed primarily because the unions in California got a bit too greedy.

They demanded that too large of a percentage of the renewable electricity requirements originate in California, and theoretically would therefore create jobs in California. Of course, it was never about the environment; and given the history of mandated and subsidized ‘green jobs’ such as in Spain and Italy, it is likely to never actually be about jobs either,” said Tanton.

“I hope that after the elections in November the Legislature and [new] administration will see the harm such increasingly burdensome laws impose. We should focus on cost-effectively achieving the already stringent 20 percent requirement before setting another unachievable and unhelpful requirement,” said Tanton.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.