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Gov. Schwarzenegger's environmental limbo

September 5, 2008 |  5:33 pm

Los Angeles port

California's multibillion-dollar budget impasse is holding up more than funding for state agencies and programs. Some 870 bills, passed by both houses of the Legislature, are in limbo, including landmark environmental legislation that would have major economic impact and health effects. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he will not sign any bills until the Legislature, stymied by partisan conflict, can come up with a budget.

The Planning and Conservation League, a Sacramento-based nonprofit, has compiled a list of 15 top-priority bills yet to be signed by the governor.

One key initiative, the Clean Ports Investment Act, would alleviate air pollution that causes asthma and cancer in neighborhoods around the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland by imposing a fee on every cargo container. The $400 million-plus a year would be used to improve infrastructure and air quality. Freight movement through the three ports generates 30% of the statewide emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides and 75%  of lung-scarring diesel particulates. However, community groups fear the governor will veto the bill, SB 974, because its author, Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) has refused to amend it to spread the money around areas far from the ports.

Another major bill, SB 375, would be the first law in the nation to control planet-heating greenhouse gases by curbing sprawl. Transportation accounts for nearly a third of the state's carbon dioxide emissions, and reducing the amount of driving is essential if the state is to meet its goal to slash its carbon footprint.  Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), regional planning and transportation agencies would develop plans to reduce global warming effects. Projects that meet greenhouse gas goals would get priority for some $18 billion to $20 billion in annual transportation funds. Some environmental groups oppose the bill because it relieves the building industry from certain environmental review rules, but the governor is expected to sign it.

Another measure, AB 1879, would require the state to identify potentially toxic chemicals in consumer  products, evaluate alternatives and adopt rules to protect public health. A fourth bill addresses heightened concern during the current drought: SB X2 1 would direct bond funds toward stabilizing the Bay Delta Estuary and increasing reliable water supplies throughout the state.

"These bills represent the kind of collaborative legislative work that the governor has championed," said Thomas Adams, board president of the California League of Conservation Voters. "On bills like these, the governor should declare victory."

There is little chance of that, however, so long as legislators are unable to compromise on a budget. Meanwhile, the bills are piling up and no one seems to know if they will die on Sept. 30, the usual deadline for signature, or whether they could be signed as late as Nov. 30, and take effect a year later. As the Sacramento paper, Capitol Weekly, reports: "Confusion deepens." And so, critical measures dealing with ground water, wildfires, air pollution, transportation, housing, food safety, lead poisoning, and neighborhood parks remain in suspension.

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Port of Long Beach: a fee averaging $60 per container would be levied to help control air pollution and smooth freight transportation under a bill that is opposed by industry. Credit: Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times

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