Capitol Alert

Only environmental bills go down to defeat in California Senate’s hectic week

Hillside homes above Sesnon Blvd. near SoCal Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon storage in December 2015 in Porter Ranch, Calif.
Hillside homes above Sesnon Blvd. near SoCal Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon storage in December 2015 in Porter Ranch, Calif. TNS

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If you’re a Californian stoked about Gov. Jerry Brown’s continued commitment to clean energy and a sustainable future, maybe temper your excitement. Despite all of the bills passed on to the Assembly from the Senate before last week’s deadline, the only three bills lawmakers rejected in the Senate were environmental ones.

The fallen were the Beverage Container Recycling Act of 2017 by Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fullerton,the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act of 2017 by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica and an Aliso Canyon bill by Democratic Sens. Henry Stern and Robert Hertzberg of Los Angeles.

All three faced opposition from Senate Republicans and groups like the California Chamber of Commerce, the Western States Petroleum Association and the California Retailers Association.

After the Senate refused passage to SB 168, Wieckowski sent his iteration of a bottle bill to the inactive file, scrapping his work to overhaul California’s current bottle recycling program and replace it with a new streamlined system that would reduce CalRecycle’s administrative role and require distributors to implement a stewardship program. The plan was unpopular with said distributors, organizations like the California Association of Winegrape Growers and California Beer and Beverage Distributors.

Allen responded to his bill’s defeat similarly, ordering his effort to prohibit food vendors and eventually chain establishments from using polystyrene containers for food distribution to the inactive file. According to Clean Water Action and the language of the bill, the containers pose a huge threat to coastal waters, estuaries and oceans as they constitute a massive component of marine debris. Opponents of the bill included the California Restaurants Association, the Dart Container Corporation of California and the Plastics Industry Association.

Stern, however, retains hope that the Aliso Canyon bill might make it through the Senate because it was not subject to the same deadline as other measures. It would extend an existing moratorium on the use of a gas field in Porter Ranch. That field was the site of the largest methane gas leak in U.S. history, plugged in February 2016, and the bill would continue the moratorium until Brown’s administration completes a “root cause analysis” to determine why the well leaked.

“When you challenge incumbency – the existing power structure – politically, it’s hard,” Stern said. “There’s not a big powerful lobby behind environmental bills, but eventually, we do get things done. A lot of these issues have a way of persisting because of the public attention for it all.”

If the bill remains stuck in the Senate, the facility could be reopened before many Porter Ranch and San Fernando Valley residents feel ready, and before a study is finished and palpable changes are made, Stern said.

“We’re going to keep working at it, no gutting in sight,” Stern said Friday. “We just had two more leaks they found out in Porter Ranch today, so the whole situation in the gas field is developing as we speak…We want to preempt any efforts from the gas company opening that field right away, really try to get the public’s voice heard. It’s hard to get that amplified in the noise of Sacramento.”

TALKING THREATS: Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will be joined by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to speak on national security in an age of highly-publicized terrorism, Russian intervention, Chinese growth, rising populism and risks from cyber threats. At the Sunset Cultural Center in Carmel at 7 p.m., former CIA Director Leon Panetta will ask the speakers how they think the Trump Administration will handle these challenges.

BIGGEST HOUSE ON THE BLOCK: Making up for a six-month delay, the San Diego Superior Court’s new courthouse is a 704,000-sqare-foot, 71-courtroom beast. The dedication ceremony’s today at 1 p.m., featuring big shots like California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, and the courthouse is scheduled to open in a more official capacity July 17.

WORTH REPEATING: “You realize 195 nations are in it. You realize if the climate warms five degrees in the next 50 years, we’re done as a planet.” – U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, speaking on the danger of withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement.

MUST READ: Legislators and educators across California are encouraging undocumented students to seek out financial aid come university application season

VIDEO OF THE DAY: This quick video walks you through the history of the sanctuary movement in the U.S.

CELEBRATE: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, who turns 34 today.