Split Vote for the Environment

California voters sent mixed messages on environment.

Election races outside of California yesterday either ignored environmental issues or focused on the scary specter of regulating greenhouse gases. In California, the oil industry’s efforts to overturn AB 32 failed in a landslide as voters embraced the potential of a green economy and bristled at the thought of Big Oil reversing environmental law.

Unfortunately, the environment suffered two big losses yesterday in the state: passage of Prop. 26 and the defeat of Prop 21. California voters made it clear that they don’t want any new taxes or fees.

Although voters smartly eliminated the state budget gridlock by moving to a simple majority approval, they made raising fees a lot harder with Prop 26. In essence, the Prop. 218 super-majority approach will be needed to raise nearly all fees.

Do oil companies dump millions on a campaign to prevent fees for environmental services like trash pickup and recycling, toxics pickup and recycling fees, and oil extraction regulation?  People do!

Thank you Chevron for providing even more government gridlock, less recycling, and more pollution. While the other oil companies tried to torpedo AB 32, Chevron bankrolled Prop. 26 and pulled it off.

Under the initiative, plastic bag fees like one now being considered by Santa Monica will need a two-thirds vote of the public if a portion of the funds go to government for program implementation or enforcement. This will change the Santa Monica fee-based approach (about three and a half cents of a 20-cent paper bag fee was going to go to the city) into an AB 1998 approach that bans plastic and paper bags and allows retailers to sell bags for a cost of no less than a nickel, dime or some other value.

And then there was Prop. 21, the $18 per-vehicle license fee that would have provided $250 million a year to operate and maintain our highly degraded and sometimes dilapidated State Park system. It went down in flames.
As a result, California’s green infrastructure will continue to fall apart with no hope in sight.

Some $20 million a year from Prop. 21 would have gone to the state’s Ocean Protection Council for implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act. (The only environmental agency in worse shape than State Parks is Fish and Game, which does not bode well for MPA compliance programs.)

The Ocean Protection Council also sought $2 million a year to implement California’s beach monitoring program. Ever since Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed program funding, water quality monitoring efforts have been severely reduced. The State Water Board has used water bond and ARRA funds to backfill. This effort has proven helpful in protecting public health, but it is not sustainable.

Yesterday the State Water Board voted unanimously to provide $984,000 to subsidize 2011 beach monitoring programs, but the funds aren’t adequate for a strong statewide program and they only last through next year.

A new sustainable funding mechanism is sorely needed. Additional federal funding (currently $500,000 annually) certainly won’t increase in the near future.

Perhaps the legislature will work with Gov.-elect Brown to restore budget funding. Clean beaches have proven to be a solid economic and public health investment. Our beaches and the health of surfers and swimmers are too important to be left in limbo from year to year.

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