Memo to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Sen. Don Perata: The ocean didn’t get us into the state budget mess, but you’re using the debacle to make a mess of the ocean. Citing cost or politics as the rationale for killing strong ocean protection legislation and programs, as both of these men have recently done, is short sighted and devastating to marine life and human health.
Money was the Guv’s recent excuse to eliminate state funding for beach water quality monitoring, and yesterday, state finances were cited in his veto of SB 899, a negligible cost bill that would have required the commercial fishing industry to report lost fishing gear. The data for the gear locations would then be mapped so volunteer pickups could be more effective. The state’s Ocean Protection Council, which is not in dire financial straits, would have worked with UC Davis to manage the bulk of reporting and data management responsibilities.
The horrendous consequences of derelict fishing gear on marine, from sharks to sea turtles and porpoises to pinnipeds, have been well documented. Yet this bipartisan bill, supported by marine conservation groups and the fishing industry, fell victim to the severely mismanaged budget crisis.
What’s more galling is that the governor recently joined with other Western state governors to sign a progressive agreement on the oceans that included marine debris reduction recommendations. And guess what? He vetoes his first chance at enacting that part of the agreement.
The governor’s vetoes of beach monitoring funding and the derelict fishing gear bill severely disappointed our organization, but Perata’s recent actions to kill bag-fee bill AB 2058 a month ago are off the charts. To refresh your memory, despite the million dollar opposition campaign by the American Chemistry Council (any bets on the length of time before the word “green” creeps into its moniker?), three assembly authors, Los Angeles County, the environmental community, the grocers and the retailers all had agreed on a bag fee bill.
The essence of the bill was that everyone would have to pay a quarter for a plastic or paper bag at grocery stores and large retail establishments. The premise, based on the successful European bag fee model, was that the significant fees would act as a deterrent to consumers and they would bring their own bags. After an enormous amount of negotiations, bill language was agreed upon that included a split of the fees that went to local government to clean up litter from streets, rivers and beaches, to stores to implement the program, and to the state to administer the program and work on litter pollution abatement.
Cal-EPA even got last-second language changes that would have ensured that the funds couldn’t be raided for any uses other cleaning up trash and marine debris, especially plastic bags. In other words, during a year when the state had and continues to have the worst budget crisis in history, the bag fee bill would have provided about $300 million a year to help stop California’s marine debris and stormwater pollution problems, yet the bill was killed.
With all of this going for it, why did AB 2058 die? I’ve talked to at least 50 Sacto insiders and outsiders and all fingers point to Perata. It is no secret that bill co-author Lloyd Levine and Perata don’t get along very well. Both electeds are on their way out and both are beyond stubborn. Without getting into the details of the sausage-making that passes for the legislative process, Perata had the bill frozen in Senate appropriations despite the fact the bill made the state money.
Then Levine pulled off a hostile gut-and- amend of another bill, which led to Perata showing everyone that he’s the boss by trumping Levine’s move with a gut-and-amend of his own. At this point, all of the political clout of L.A. County officials, the environmental community, Perata friends and donors, Californians Against Waste, and numerous powerful electeds couldn’t put the bag bill back together again. I’m sure Perata believed that he proved his point to Levine (shades of Yertle the Turtle), but in the end the big loser was the coast of California and the Northern Pacific. The big winner, yet again, was the American Chemistry Council.
Is there hope yet for California to break its addiction to single-use plastic packaging and start tackling our share of the global marine debris crisis? We’ll see. Next up will be the Ocean Protection Council’s vote on the marine debris action plan developed by the Schwarzenegger administration. The vote is scheduled for November. My bet is that the OPC will approve the far-reaching plan, but the question of state leadership to implement the plan will remain unanswered until the 2009 legislative session.