On Friday, a bill that would have required the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and other state agencies to find a climate goal for California natural and working lands failed to advance to a Senate vote.
AB 2954 fails to advance out of Senate Appropriations Committee
Assembly Bill 2954, authored by Assemblyman Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), would have had CARB and other state agencies identify a goal for carbon and greenhouse gas reductions for natural and working lands, as well as identify possible practices and policies to reach the goal, by January 1, 2023. An extension of AB 32, also known as the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, the AB 2954’s goal would have ultimately covered roughly 90% of the land in California.
The bill had been a very polarizing piece of legislation, with the Assembly barely passing the bill 43-23 with 13 abstentions in June. Many Democrats either joined Republicans in opposing the bill or abstained from voting during the Assembly vote.
Many supporters, such as land trust groups and climate organizations, wanted a goal in place due to climate change in California and to combat that effect of carbon levels and climate change across rural areas of California.
However, a growing segment of Republicans and Democrats opposed the bill, noting that a carbon sequestration goal of the magnitude AB 2954 proposed is too big for CARB, and that the new broad goal would give too much regulatory power to a single agency. Issues over farming, especially such a goal posing an unfair advantage to larger-scale farmers for handling carbon levels, also alienated many Republican Senators.
A non-urgent bill during a shortened session that heavily focuses on urgent and emergency bills
While supporters countered these claims, pointing out that the bill would help achieve California’s over plan for carbon neutrality, recent events turned out to be the bills doom. Republicans, led by Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), noted that nearly all bills this session needed to be urgent if they were not related to COVID-19 due to the session being pared down by two months earlier this year, and again by a few more weeks last month due to COVID-19 outbreaks. In the process, many non-urgent bills had been either pulled or delayed until next year.
The non-urgency of the bill brought it to the suspense file earlier this week despite being passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee only days before. That led to the same Committee ultimately not advancing the bill forward, effectively making it dead this session.
“I am disappointed that this urgently needed legislation to address climate change solutions did not advance out of the Senate Appropriations Committee,” said Assemblyman Rivas on Friday. “We need only look at this week’s extreme heatwave and hundreds of fires to recognize that this issue cannot wait. Using natural and working lands to sequester and capture carbon is a necessary way to meaningfully counter greenhouse gas emissions in this economically challenging time.”
“It’s estimated that our natural and working lands have the potential to contribute up to 17% of California’s greenhouse gas reduction goal, as well as providing additional benefits such as improved water and air quality, food production, land conservation, and the prevention of extreme heat and wildfires.”
“The extreme heatwave and wildfires make clear that the pandemic has not put a pause on our other crises. I will continue to fight for a safe environment for all residents, including our low-income and disadvantaged communities.”
Praise for AB 2954’s suspension and a possible return next session
Supporters praised the Senate Committee’s decision to suspend AB 2954, noting that COVID-19 related bills are more important at this time.
“The environment is important, no denying that, but we need to focus on the coronavirus, and wildfires, and the economy and other really important issues right now,” explained Gerald Davidson, a Butte County farmer who worked with other farmers in neighboring counties against any detrimental farming bills this session, to the Globe. “We wrote letters. We wrote e-mails. We offered to go down to Sacramento to talk with people about it. And, since the coronavirus, we said that the last thing they wanted to do was put farmers in stranglehold in this state since we were needed now more than ever.”
“I know that we didn’t do too much in the grand scheme of things, but it feels good to see government work to protect your livelihood and be a tiny part of that at the same time.”
AB 2954 may return the next session in January barring any more emergency delays or legislative emergency focus on certain bills.