New environmental laws coming to California

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Gov. Gavin Newsom gained widespread attention Saturday for signing a first-in-the-nation law to require corporations doing business in California to add up how many tons of greenhouse gases they emit each year, and make the information public.

The new law will affect roughly 5,300 businesses with more than $1 billion a year in sales — including companies like McDonald’s, Walmart, Chevron and Home Depot. The law is expected to put pressure on businesses to reduce pollution when researchers, advocacy groups, media outlets and others issue “biggest polluter” lists showing which companies emit the most chemicals that are warming the planet.

But with less fanfare, Newsom also signed more than a dozen other significant environmental bills over the weekend that lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature had sent to his desk. In doing so, he won accolades from environmental groups, and disappointment from some industries, including oil and agriculture.

The main new environmental laws coming to California:

1) Electric school buses: (AB 579, Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco). Starting in 2035, all of California’s public school districts will be required to choose zero-emission school buses when purchasing new ones. The majority of school buses in California currently run on diesel fuel, which emits significant amounts of black soot, greenhouse gases and other pollution, particularly from older models.

Electric buses cost roughly twice as much as new diesel school buses. But supporters of the measure say the price tag is coming down, and they note that studies show districts save money over the life of the vehicles on maintenance and fuel costs.

Newsom already had approved rules last year requiring all new passenger vehicles sold in California starting in 2035 to be zero-emission.

2) Pesticides and bees: (AB 363, Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-San Ramon). A common class of chemicals called neonic pesticides will be illegal to sell at garden shops and other stores starting in 2025. Studies have found the pesticides are particularly harmful to bees and other pollinators, whose numbers have been in decline worldwide. California becomes the 10th state to allow the sale of the chemicals only to trained professionals.

The bill, which was opposed by the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association and supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups, had Democrats in favor and Republicans voting against.

3) Battery safety: (SB 38, Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz). Last fall, a fire broke out at the Elkhorn Battery Storage Facility in Moss Landing. The blaze triggered a 12-hour shelter-in-place warning for Monterey County residents over fear that the large number of lithium-ion batteries there could explode or release dangerous fumes. This new law requires industrial battery facilities, which are essentially power plants that store electricity from solar farms and other renewable energy sources to be used at night, to draw up emergency response and community notification plans and submit them to the counties in which they are located.

“Increasing the state’s battery storage is essential to reaching our clean energy goals,” Laird said. “But we also have to ensure that these facilities have safety systems in place to protect the health and well-being of workers and surrounding communities.”

4) Water rights (SB 389, Sen. Ben Allen, D-Redondo Beach). Under California’s complex water rights rules, landowners who have rights that were granted before 1914 to take water from rivers and streams have been exempt from many state rules.

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