PCL Insider – March 2023

PCL’s 2023 Assembly Leads to Legislative Action 

For over two decades, PCL has convened an assembly of experts, activists, policymakers, and the environmental community to address challenges faced by California. Our most recent assembly held virtually in January and February focused on measures to reduce the impacts and adapt to the extreme times we face. The multi-tiered challenges of climate change: more intense cycles of drought and flood, longer heat waves, massive wildfires, and our need to dramatically reduce our emissions of greenhouse gasses have set the stage for needed reforms and advances in law and policy. While PCL convenes the assembly – it is the attendees, panelists, and moderators that lead the way in advancing a livable, inclusive, and prosperous California. Below are three examples of this year’s assembly panel discussions that are helping shape legislation being drafted now.

Wildfire Evacuation Planning and Project Citing and Design: The scope, quality, and effectiveness of evacuation planning for projects in High Risk and Very High-Risk Fire Hazard severity zones has varied widely around the State. Inadequate plans and the lack of clear and meaningful performance criteria has often prevented lead agencies from making informed decisions on project citing, design, and wildfire-related mitigation measures, including the number of ingress and egress roads needed to safely evacuate residents.

The same deficient plans have led to developments that, when needed to be evacuated, have new residents interfering with or slowing down evacuations from surrounding communities. Developers have often failed to identify and plan for the use of temporary safe refuge areas in the event residents can’t be evacuated in a timely manner, including as a result of constricted traffic flow in roadways serving the development and surrounding areas.

A panel of respected fire experts, all participating on a PCL Working Group on the subject matter discussed a specific legislative proposal developed to correct these and other deficiencies in the planning and approval process for projects in high-risk wildfire-prone areas. The panel and its proposal have led to discussions aimed at introducing legislation at this session.

You can learn more about the panel, read panelist’s bios, and see the details of the proposal in the chat from the session on PCL’s website, or you can watch the wildfire evacuation panel on YouTube at https://youtu.be/bHXk9Sg3w6Y. Read the latest version of the legislation: SB 571 by Senator Ben Allen.

Creating Paths from Dams to Aquifers:  Climate Change has brought with it new weather patterns, increasing the likelihood of both droughts and floods. In 2014, CA legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  This was shortly followed by university research that revealed that the capacity for storing water under the ground far exceeds that of dams and reservoirs and at a vastly reduced cost. Water utilities, environmentalists, and flood control managers have begun demonstrating the multiple benefits of restoring flood plains as natural delivery systems for collecting and sending water to the aquifer. More recently, they have begun to employ imagir technologies, developed several years ago, to pinpoint areas where water can be absorbed from the surface and quickly flow to the aquifer.

Several key challenges and opportunities were identified by the panelists and session attendees which have informed legislative and policymaker discussions on how to remove the barriers and improve investments in groundwater recharge.

Again, you can learn more about the panel and see the presentations on PCL’s website (www/pcl.org/assembly), or watch it on PCL’s YouTube Channel at: https://youtu.be/iQhoqfyoHD8

How Do We Make Massive Methane Emission Reductions Now: California with its expansive agricultural industry; widespread oil and gas production; historic and expanding waste facilities; utilities; housing and other major methane sources is a major contributor to this ongoing destructive process for the planet. The panel examined what can be done in the short and long term in California to help slow this catastrophic trend and how our state can lead the way for the rest of the country and the world in reducing Methane emissions.

California imports 90% of its methane gas from Colorado, New Mexico, Canada, and other North American producers. Gas leakage rates associated with extraction, processing, transportation, and storage of the gas varies amongst suppliers and can be as high as 66%, sending massive amounts of Methane into the atmosphere on an ongoing basis. Can California manage this problem by procuring independently certified low-methane natural gas from non-profit agents? By leading the creation of an “A-grade” certified gas buyers’ alliance, can California accelerate methane mitigation industry-wide and on a global scale?

Natural gas imports in California also vary widely in composition, methane comprises 70-90% of “natural gas” the rest is made up of toxic air contaminants and other miscellaneous gases. If the state were to require widespread gas composition data collection and reporting, including what is held in various gas reservoirs around the state, how will this influence both regulatory and utility decision-making? How would such decisions affect public health in disadvantaged communities?

Every ton of methane that is rapidly reduced is worth 135 tons of CO2. As California ramps up satellite and other airborne measurements regarding methane leakage, should the state establish a methane data center that purchases data and makes it public on a near real-time basis with the goal of vastly improving both the coordination of measurement and informed climate action?

Learn more about the panel at pcl.org/assembly or watch the panel on PCL’s YouTube channel at:  https://youtu.be/od8ojhqC18Q. Read the proposed legislation: SB 781 by Senator Henry Stern.

Updating California Water Laws in the Face of Droughts and Climate Change: California’s current system of water laws is ill-equipped to respond to long-term droughts/climate change. Already one million Californians do not have safe drinking water. California’s aquatic ecosystems are in crisis, and users are confronting increasingly scarce and unpredictable water supplies.

In 2021, PCL began assembling a group of eight top California water law and policy experts who pledged their time to help develop what resulted in 11 new recommendations to reform water law taking into account the unprecedented conditions facing 21st-century California. Three of these recommendations became legislation in 2022 and 2023 may see 3 more legislative reforms advance.

Learn more about the panel at pcl.org/assembly or watch the panel on PCL’s YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/5ZbYd8YdmvA

Two proposals for legislation are available to read now: AB 460 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan to clarify the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) emergency powers over curtailments and SB 389 by Senator Ben Allen to address the permit verification process for pre-1914 water rights.

Stay tuned for PCL’s next Capitol Insider in April with details on these bills and many more!