With the passage of AB 32, voter-approved infrastructure bonds, and repeated declarations of a new, bi-partisan reality in Sacramento, California seemed poised to embark on a new approach to planning, transportation, and the environment. By the end of 2007, however, that ideal seems bogged down in the same political problems of the past. The California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) has its hand in many of the year's stiffest legislative battles, and in order to examine the scorecard and prepare for next year's contests, TPR was pleased to speak with CLCV President Tom Adams.
What's the charter mission of the California League of Conservation Voters? How has your mission evolved over the years, and what is it today?
We have a uniquely political mission among the environmental groups. We are thought of as the political arm of the environmental community. We actively support candidates who we think will be good for the environment. We have a scorecard that we keep on the Legislature every year as to how people vote on environmental bills. We do polling, independent expenditures-the kinds of things that a political organization does.
We also have a lobbying function in Sacramento. We tend to support the most important bills that the various environmental organizations put forward.
As the board president of CLCV, what bills have you advocated for, starting with SB 375, which just lost a round in its quest to be adopted by the legislature?
I've been involved in several environmental bills for CLCV, including the bill three or four years ago, SB 288, which prevents California air districts from doing any rollbacks of their standards under regulations promulgated by the Bush Administration.
SB 375 is a CLCV priority, and the entire environmental community in Sacramento recognizes that this bill is of the highest priority. Thirty percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and light trucks. It is the single largest sector of greenhouse gas emissions. A great deal of that contribution comes from the land use patterns that we've seen in California, where we've just been ever-extending the urban footprint outwards. If we can't get emissions from this sector under control, California won't be able to achieve the goals of last year's landmark climate legislation, AB 32.
SB 375 attempts to address this problem in a novel way. We are trying to take advantage of regional blueprints in the Los Angeles region and in the Sacramento region, where development patterns have been identified to achieve conformity with the federal Clean Air Act. Those blueprints have been pretty successful, although their incentives for implementation are a problem. We're building on that experience, asking that each region in the state do what we call a sustainable community strategy-a development pattern that would achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets that would be set for each region by the Air Resources Board, and to the greatest extent possible, avoid encroaching on habitat and significant farmland.
If each of the regions develops a sustainable community strategy, housing would be located closer to employment centers, transportation, and commercial centers. We would use the provisions of existing transportation law-which provide that, in the future, transportation projects have to be consistent with these regional strategies-to allocate the state's $20 billion a year in transportation money in ways that support transportation investments within existing communities. That will help us achieve our climate goals, instead of extending the transportation network ever outward.
If Southern California implemented the regional blueprint, it would reduce vehicle miles traveled, it would reduce congestion, and it would save taxpayers $48 billion in transportation projects. In the Sacramento region, where a similar blueprint exists, it would save the taxpayers in that region $16 billion in transportation costs. We need to do this kind of planning to meet our climate goals, and we need to do it to be fiscally prudent.
Now, another part of the bill is an effort to try to encourage local governments to amend their local general plans and land use plans to implement the sustainable community strategy. The provisions in the California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, should be coordinated to help implement these regional strategies. Projects that would help achieve the strategy by locating housing close to jobs and housing close to transportation would be given a different treatment under CEQA. We would preserve public participation, we would preserve transparency and disclosure, and we would preserve political accountability.
As environmentalists, we have to recognize that if we don't find a way to support the housing projects in the good locations, housing projects are going to happen in bad locations, with impacts on climate policy, air pollution, and petroleum consumption. We need the state's foremost environmental law, CEQA, to help us achieve our climate policy, air quality, and energy conservation goals.
SB 375 made it through the Senate. We had hearings before policy committees. Those policy committees requested some amendments, and Senator Steinberg, the author of the bill, agreed to them. We got through two policy committee hearings in the Assembly, and we were in the Assembly Appropriations committee. Our understanding is that some of the land developers around the state put a lot of pressure on the Assembly leadership, and the bill didn't make it out of Appropriations in order to be voted on by the floor of the Assembly this year.
We will be eligible to take that bill to the floor in January, and we're going to work very hard between now and then to try to build additional support for the bill and get it off the floor. It's a critically important bill for California, and I think we can do it, but it's going to take a lot of work.
Attorney General Jerry Brown recently settled lawsuits with the county of San Bernardino and ConocoPhillips. What role should the state's attorney general play in the promulgation and effectiveness of our environmental laws in this state?
The attorney general got a very excellent settlement in the San Bernardino County case. He's forcing local governments to recognize that land use patterns are a huge contributor to our climate problems, and I think he got their attention.
The ConocoPhillips settlement is also important, but it's different. It's about what we call "stationary sources"-big factories or industrial settings that release enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and other forms of air pollution into the air. The settlement with ConocoPhillips is also trendsetting. He's leading the way toward getting these stationary sources to take early actions to try to address the impacts of their projects on climate.
People have criticized the attorney general, saying, "The Air Resources Board is going to do this." However, the Air Resources Board may not have regulations in place until 2012.
ConocoPhillips planned a huge, new modernization program. The attorney general recognized that our best opportunity to address the climate emissions from an oil refinery is at the time the project is being designed and built so that the most efficient technology can be built into it. I think it's important for him to do that now because the Air Board program is not yet fully ready.
ACA 8, the eminent domain reform bill put forward by Assemblymember Hector De La Torre, recently failed in the Legislature. What is the significance of that failure, and what explains its failure to gain enough votes for passage?
That is an amazing story. Last year, some out-of-state interest groups put Proposition 90 on the ballot, which would have protected people's homes from being taken under eminent domain but also had a bunch of other extraneous provisions that would have prevented regulation of the environment and prevented local governments from being able to say that you can't have a convenience store in the middle of a residential neighborhood or next to a school. It would have exposed taxpayers to tremendous liability. Proposition 90 was narrowly defeated.
So, Assemblymember Hector De La Torre proposed ACA 8 to propose the kind of reform on eminent domain that many people in California want. He would have given protection for owner-occupied homes, duplexes, condominiums, and townhouses, and he would have given protection for churches and small businesses so that a Wal-Mart using the redevelopment process in California can't displace people, which I think many people agree is unfair and inappropriate.
Assemblymember De La Torre and a broad coalition, including the environmental groups, had conversations with several moderate Republicans in the Assembly. A large number of them said that they would support responsible reform. Well, the Howard Jarvis Association is now circulating a measure that would reform eminent domain but would also ban and prohibit rent control, make many procedural protections for tenants in California unconstitutional, prevent the state from identifying and developing new, clean, reliable sources of drinking water for its population, and would also, as Prop 90 would have, make the taxpayers liable any time an agency wanted to take action to protect the environment.
Those views, in my opinion, are extremist. In the end, ideological rigidity trumped pragmatic, sensible reform. We've seen it happen before in California, but seldom so starkly.
Assemblymember De La Torre's provision was very reasonable. To people complaining about the broad scope of eminent domain in our society, he was offering a real solution.
The governor relatively recently appointed Mary Nichols, who has been a member of the CLCV board, to chair CARB. Are you pleased with that selection? What are you expecting from her leadership of CARB?
Mary Nichols was an inspired choice to be the chair of the California Air Resources Board. She has been the chair of that board before; she knows the organization; she knows how it works; she knows its responsibilities. She was a cabinet officer in the Gray Davis administration. She has vast experience with environmental issues in California. I think the circumstances surrounding her appointment are especially important, because the governor essentially fired the previous chair, Bob Sawyer. There's a lot of finger-pointing back and forth about what that was about, but it seems as though he was fired because of industry pressure coming through the governor's office to try to slow the Air Resources Board down.
The appointment of Mary Nichols constitutes a recognition by the governor that he needed to have a very well-respected, capable and independent person in that position. I think the scandal surrounding Sawyer's departure has actually given Mary a degree of independence which is going to be good for California and good for the environment.
Another bill the CLCV has been supporting is SB 974, which would implement a port container fee, but it also was suspended for this year. What is the significance of that bill, and how difficult has it been in all these bills we've talked about for the Democratic majority to get a consensus and pass these pieces of legislation?
SB 974 is a critically important bill; it's basically a public health bill. The ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland are incredible economic hubs for California. But they are also centers of incredible amounts of pollution from ships, from diesel equipment, from trucks, and from railroads. The people who live in the path of this pollution are suffering asthma, cancer, and childhood respiratory problems.
Senator Lowenthal has found a path to create a container fee so that the people who are engaging in this activity are the ones who fund the cleanup. He's worked closely with the ports, he's worked with the mayor's office in Los Angeles, in particular, and he's worked with the businesses that operate in the ports. He now has a bill that doesn't satisfy everybody, but it satisfies a broad cross-section.
Last year, the bill passed the Legislature and the governor vetoed it. I believe that the bill was held this year after conversations with the governor's office, and Senator Lowenthal believes that if he holds the bill and takes the time to have some additional conversations with the governor's office, he'll be able to get this bill out and signed next year. I don't think there's any doubt that SB 974 will get off the Assembly floor. The question is, will the governor veto the bill a second time around?