Environmental Wins (and Losses) from the California Legislature in 2021
2021 was a turning point for environmental legislation in California.
Following a legislative season of major challenges for the environment during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, our assemblymembers and senators were able to push through some exciting new laws and regulations this year to tackle plastic pollution, water quality, and climate change. Despite some successes, there is much more work to be done. Our team of scientists and advocates breaks it down for you below so you can stay in the know.
A Big Win for Water Quality: AB 1066 (Bloom)
This year, Heal the Bay sponsored Assembly Bill 1066 which passed with flying colors through the legislature. We firmly believe that inland water recreation areas, where people swim, boat, and wade in the water, should have the same health protections as coastal areas. AB 1066 takes the first steps toward addressing water quality monitoring disparities between ocean and freshwater sites by requiring that the California Water Quality Monitoring Council develop recommendations for a uniform statewide freshwater monitoring program. Learn more about this bill and what it means for freshwater quality monitoring.
The California Circular Economy Package: Wins for Fighting Plastic Pollution
This year, a suite of bills dubbed the California Circular Economy Package was introduced by a variety of California decision-makers. While not all of the bills made it through the harrowing process to become law, these five did, and they mark some major wins for tackling plastic pollution and toxins in California.
✅ SB 343 (Allen) expands on California’s truthful labeling law and limits the use of the “chasing arrows” symbol to products and packaging that are actually recycled in California, reducing consumer confusion and recycling contamination.
✅ AB 881 (L. Gonzalez) reclassifies mixed plastic exports as disposal instead of recycling while still allowing for truly recyclable plastics to be counted towards our state’s recycling goals.
✅ AB 1276 (Carrillo) requires foodware accessories to only be given to customers upon their explicit request, reducing the waste of “zero-use” plastics like utensils and condiment packets.
✅ AB 1201 (Ting) also requires truthful labeling for compostable products, only allowing the word “compostable” to be used on products and packaging that are truly compostable in California, increasing effective composting and reducing toxic chemicals in packaging materials.
✅ AB 962 (Kamlager) paves the way for refill systems in California by allowing reusable glass bottles to be returned, refilled, and reused as part of California’s Beverage Container Recycling Program.
Climate Wins (and losses)
The climate crisis is here. In 2021, numerous extreme weather events across the world brought increased urgency to the issue along with the realization that these “extreme” events will become increasingly more common and will affect each and every one of us. Let’s take a look at the big wins of 2021.
✅ SB 1 (Atkins) formally recognizes sea level rise as an urgent need to be addressed by the California Coastal Commission, establishes cross-agency coordination to tackle sea level rise, and establishes a $100 million grant program for local governments to prepare for rising seas.
✅ Climate Resilience Package included in this year’s state budget invests $15 billion – the largest investment to date – in addressing an array of climate change concerns, including wildfires & forest resilience, rising heat, and sea level rise.
California is leading the charge for addressing climate change in many ways, but still has a long way to go. Let’s take a look at the places where California fell short on addressing the climate crisis.
❌ SB 467 (Limon and Weiner) would have banned oil and gas production across California and required a 2,500-foot buffer between drilling sites and sensitive receptors such as homes and schools. We were devastated to see this bill die in the Senate this year but are working closely with environmental justice groups across the state to tackle this issue with creative solutions.
❌ AB 1395 (Muratsuchi and C. Garcia), also referred to as the California Climate Crisis Act would have set ambitious climate goals for the state, including strict emissions standards and accelerated efforts to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.
Other Environmental Wins of 2021
Plastics and Climate Change aren’t the only challenges our communities and environment face. The legislature had a few other successes this year in tackling pollution.
✅ AJR2 (O’Donnell) calls on Congress and the United States Environmental Protection Agency to take action on the recently uncovered dumping of DDT and other waste into the deep ocean between the coast of Los Angeles and Catalina Island. This resolution is a great first step and Heal the Bay looks forward to continued work in 2022 on securing state funding for work on DDT and pushing for a community oversight committee on the issue to ensure transparency and accountability.
✅ SB 433 (Allen) expands the authority of the California Coastal Commission to enforce the 1976 Coastal Act through fines. Previously, the Coastal Commission could only levy fines for violations related to public access but now, with SB 433, the Commission can impose fines for violations related to impacts to wetlands, beaches, and coastal wildlife and waters. Coming on the heels of the devastating oil spill in Orange County, we are thrilled to see increased accountability for those who cause damage to our precious coastal resources.
✅ AB 818 (Bloom) requires clear and conspicuous labeling on disposable wipes that states “DO NOT FLUSH”. All too often, disposable wipes that are not intended to be flushed end up down toilets and in municipal wastewater treatment facilities where they can wreak havoc and cause blockage and spills. Especially after the disastrous sewage spill at the Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Center in Los Angeles earlier this year, legislation like this is important to both reduce consumer confusion and protect our local water bodies and wastewater treatment workers from harm.
Looking Forward: 2022
As we plan for the year ahead, we are hoping for a much stronger and more progressive year in passing regulations to tackle the climate crisis and water pollution issues, and we already know some items on the table. Heal the Bay will be strongly supporting these measures:
- SB 54 (Allen) is a bill you have heard us mention before – a massive plastic pollution reduction bill that would comprehensively tackle plastics through reduction measures and recycling reform. Next year will be the 4th year this bill is attempting to make its way through and we are committed to supporting it.
- The California Plastic Waste Reduction Regulations Initiative is an initiative eligible for the November 8, 2022 ballot that would enact a massive plastic pollution reduction program, including a “pollution reduction fee” holding producers financially accountable for the pollution they create. Keep an eye out for it on your ballot next year!
With the COVID-19 pandemic still creating a massive public health crisis in California and globally this year, environmental legislation once again struggled to make significant progress. Heal the Bay is prepared and ready to help make up for lost time next year by pushing as hard as we can to pass regulations and laws that reduce production and pollution of plastics, end oil and gas drilling both onshore and on land, and protect our communities, waters, and watersheds from the climate crisis. Stay tuned for how YOU can help us get there.