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The 2014 California Environmental Legislative Recap: An Election Year Drought

By Mr. Gary A. Lucks

Get the latest expert analysis on California's new environmental and land use laws. This article summarizes legislation passed during the 2014-2015 California Legislative Session, including bills addressing water supply, hazardous waste, solid waste, cimate change, air quality, energy and natural resources, and much more. The article appears as the Lead Article to the April 2015 issue of CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL LAW REPORTER (Matthew Bender).


The 2014-2015 California Legislative Session yielded 930 new laws amid the back drop of an extended three-year drought and a low key, off-year election. California's Governor Jerry Brown sailed to an unprecedented fourth term. He staked his low-key reelection strategy backing a statewide water bond and an expanded rainy day fund, both of which were approved overwhelmingly. The rainy day funding formula was reconfigured to earmark revenues from the state's general fund to strengthen the reserve and pay down state debt.

Water supply and water quality policies dominated the legislative session with the Legislature crafting a first-ever comprehensive groundwater management program for the state. Governor Brown was less willing to sign legislation crafting other new programs. Rather, the Governor was more apt to approve adjustments to existing programs that are designed to optimize program performance. Nonetheless, Governor Brown approved a balanced and wide-ranging collection of new environmental, health, and safety laws addressing public safety at manufacturing facilities, pipelines on the rail lines. He also championed a controversial law banning single-use plastic bags while also eliminating a hazardous waste exemption for auto shredder waste.

Other notable legislation includes policies to expand affordable housing, a mandate for businesses to compost, and another set of significant reforms affecting Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) and Hazardous Materials Business plans (HMBPs). Additional new laws were enacted to modify the Underground Storage Tank (UST) program, increase regulatory controls on pesticide, strengthen Bottle Bill enforcement, add a new category of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), facilitate solar energy, and modify forest practices. Most of these laws took effect on January 1, 2015, except for urgency laws which took effect upon the Governor's signature.

Water Quality and Water Supply

This Legislative session was dominated by the unrelenting three year drought and capped by the approval of a refashioned $7.545 billion water bond for water supply and quality infrastructure programs and other water-related programs. The Legislature made two previous attempts to deliver an $11.14 billion water bond to the voters. These measures were originally passed during the Extraordinary Session called by then-Governor Schwarzenegger to address water-related issues in 2009. Voting on that bond was delayed in 2010 and again in 2012 over fears that the sluggish economy made approval unlikely. The viability of the water bond changed when the state's fiscal picture improved and California entered its third year of drought. In order to garner the 2/3rds majority of both houses necessary to send the revised water bond to the Governor and garner his signature in time for the November 2014 ballot, Democrats trimmed the bond ceiling but left in the $2.7 billion for surface water and groundwater storage projects Central Valley Democrats and Republicans demanded.

The final and ultimately successful version of the water bond earned broad support from a divergent collection of often hostile interest groups by reducing the overall debt load, achieving "neutrality" with regard to any Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta issues, including deleting any references to the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan, and maintaining strong sideboards for accountability and transparency, such as prohibiting legislative appropriations for specific projects.


Gary A. Lucks JD CPEA is a partner who co-leads the Environmental, Health, and Safety Performance and Assurance Practice of ERM West in northern California. He advises clients on environmental regulatory compliance, auditing, and sustainability. He is a certified professional environmental auditor and regular instructor at the University of California (U.C.) Berkeley and U.C. Davis Extension Program where he teaches courses on environmental law, legislation, auditing, compliance, and sustainability. He recently served as an advisor to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and now serves on the Board of Directors of the California State Bar Environmental Law Section. He also chairs the West Coast Auditing Roundtable. Mr. Lucks has published numerous articles and newsletters addressing environmental legislation and policy. He is the coauthor of a book entitled: California Environmental Law and Policy: A Practical Guide.

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