2021–2022 California Legislative Session: The Good, Not So Good, and A Path Forward

In the wee hours on Thursday morning, the California Legislature concluded its 2021–2022 legislative session, including finalizing a months-long process of adopting the final details of the state budget and a weeks-long process of passing expansive climate policies.

In the wee hours on Thursday morning, the California Legislature concluded its 2021–2022 legislative session, including finalizing a months-long process of adopting the final details of the state budget and a weeks-long process of passing expansive climate policies.

As with the close of most legislative sessions, there are some outcomes to celebrate, some to despair, and so many that have potential to do great things, if implemented with the complementary goals of environmental justice, environmental integrity, and economic justice at the forefront.   

Climate action

Responding to the climate crisis requires courage and a sincere commitment to right the wrongs for a better future for frontline communities. We thank and congratulate community leaders and advocacy organizations who fearlessly fought to secure passage of SB 1137 which, when signed, will establish health protective setbacks from oil and gas extraction sites. We are grateful for legislative leaders like Senators Lena Gonzalez and Monique Limon and Assemblymember Isaac Bryan who joined efforts with frontline communities to get this across the finish line.

California must go big on climate. But how we do so matters. A week ago, we called on legislative leaders and the administration to go big on climate and to do so in a way that leads with climate justice — to prioritize direct emission reductions at the source; avoid perpetuating or exacerbating air and water pollution in environmentally-burdened communities through climate programs; shift away from pollution trading schemes that hurt Californians; not lean into unproven and potentially harmful technologies like Carbon Capture Utilization and Sequestration; and get polluting fuels and feedstocks out of our energy portfolios.

With the obvious exception of the bill establishing health protective setbacks from oil and gas extraction, the legislation that made up what has been referred to as the climate package falls short of moving all Californians toward climate resilience and, instead, reinforces a dangerous path forward that fails to ensure requisite protection and benefits for the communities that continue to bear the brunt of air pollution, water pollution, and climate change. 

While we owe it to ourselves and future generations to establish state policies that truly protect all of us from the threats of climate change and the policies designed to stem it, that is unfortunately not the California we find ourselves in today. And so we will continue to fight alongside community leaders and allies day by day, agency by agency, and vote by vote to establish and implement programs and policies that reject sacrifice zones and convert the rhetoric of environmental justice into practice.  

Drinking water access and affordability

In a monumental victory, the legislature established a low income rate assistance program for drinking water through SB 222, authored by Senator Bill Dodd. The next step will be to secure funding to move this critical program from concept to implementation. 

“Clean” energy?

Factory farm gas — wet livestock manure converted into gas — damages communities throughout the state and degrades the environment. Still the state continues to invest in subsidies and programs that incentivize the creation of factory farm gas. Not only did the state invest another $30+ million in taxpayer dollars for dairy digesters, but there was also massive investment in a hydrogen program that could provide additional subsidies and incentives for creation and deployment of factory farm gas. These programs and investments are directly and aggressively contrary to our state’s promise of furthering environmental justice alongside climate mitigation.

Budget

The final budget reflected some enormous steps forward while illuminating gaps that remain. 

In an important advancement for climate resilience, the state housing agency will develop recommendations for policies designed to ensure that residential dwelling units can maintain healthy and safe temperatures. Current law requires that dwelling units can stay warm enough to protect human health, but not that they can maintain cool enough temperatures to do the same. With temperatures once again surpassing 100 degrees this weekend, this life-saving policy change cannot happen soon enough. We are grateful to Assemblymembers Luz Rivas and Richard Bloom for their legislative leadership.

We are happy to see targeted investments in appliances and home upgrades to help lower income Californians transition to clean, affordable energy. We can’t reach our climate goals, we can’t reach our economic justice goals, and we can’t meet our public health goals without supporting lower income households and communities in clean energy appliances and upgrades in lower income communities and homes. We look forward to working with local and statewide partners to implement a robust and equitable housing focused decarbonization program. We are also pleased with continued investment in community resilience centers. Community resilience centers will lead to resilient communities which will lead to a resilient California. 

We thank the Governor’s office and legislative leaders who worked hard all session to secure the funding for these critical programs and to shape the policy to ensure effective implementation.

We appreciate continued consideration of the economic impacts of COVID on so many Californians and appreciate continued investment in alleviating debt burden for families saddled with utility debt. We continue to ask that funding be available to extend these supports for undocumented households struggling with water debt. 

We look forward to working with community leaders from throughout the San Joaquin and Eastern Coachella Valleys over the next weeks, months, and years to implement the good, fix the bad, and continue on a path toward one fair and just California.

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