This blog was drafted by Allie Maggart, a 2024 J.D./M.A. joint degree candidate at the University of San Diego School of Law and Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, with minimal edits.
As the legislative calendars move towards the end of the 2022 term with the next major deadline being whether bills reach the governor’s desk, the following provides an update on climate and energy legislative trends from the 2021-2022 sessions based on several interrelated topics: housing, wildfire, greenhouse gas emissions, transportation, energy demand response, and utilities regulation. The Legislature will reconvene on August 1, 2022, with August 31st being the last day for each house to pass bills. The Governor will then have until September 30th to sign or veto.
For a full list of active, enacted, and chaptered bills, please refer to our Legislative Tracking website.
FOCUS ON RELIABILITY THROUGH SUPPLY AND ENERGY DEMAND RESPONSE
Energy supply and demand response bills continue to focus on reliability through increasing electricity production and preventing power shortages and blackouts, with a balancing of clean energy production, storage, and maintaining grid reliability through state intervention (e.g., AB 205 (chaptered June 30, 2022)). While many bills on renewables have failed, bills requiring state agencies to assess maximum feasible employment of offshore wind generation and biomass fuel use were chaptered in 2021 such as AB 525 and AB 322, respectively. Additionally, bills incentivizing the use of solar energy in housing and development were chaptered, such as SB 757, which provides increased consumer protections for building owners who install solar energy systems.
Additionally, active bills strengthen mandates on the Public Utilities Commission and electricity corporations to interconnect and increase the reliability and output of electricity by making internal changes and assessments on a consistent basis. These bills include SB 1174 and SB 1376. Despite the burden being on the state and electricity corporations, community sustainability bills also remain active, such as SB 833, the Community Energy Resilience Act. This bill requires the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission to give grants to local governments for the purpose of achieving energy resilience and clean energy goals.
Utility regulation legislation focuses on regulating via state agencies and utility companies, rather than regulating local governments or consumers. Related bills have been signed by the governor or remain active. For example, AB 242, which was chaptered September 23, 2021, requires, among other things, the Public Utilities Commission to frequently report on advancements in smart grid technology and the status of the state’s distribution and transmission grid.
Finally, one of the major changes this session stems from a move away from local power plant siting authority over renewable generation through state preemption of local zoning and permitting under chaptered AB 205. This bill gives the California Energy Commission the sole power to certify construction of various renewable energy power plants, transmission lines, and storage facilities. It also exempts such projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). This means that localities have limited or no power to approve or deny utility construction in their territories and cannot enforce environmental impact complaints. AB 205 also authorizes the California Energy Commission to implement a Distributed Electricity Backup Assets Program for reliability in emergencies, including siting of such projects until July 1, 2027, and authorizes the Department of Water Resources to implement the CEC program through projects, purchases, and contracts. AB 205 also makes changes to residential default rates mandates and fixed charges for investor-owned utility customers.
CLIMATE IMPACTS AND GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
Very broad actions are being taken in this area, with a focus on sea level rise, decarbonization, and air quality. Most bills reserve regulatory power to the state and regional and local program-focused bills have made it through the legislative process (e.g., AB 11, AB 50, AB 51, and SB 359).
Bills on sea level rise, such as SB 1 (chaptered) and SB 1078, legislate assessment and mitigation efforts, including state investment in grants for local and regional plans. Funding is through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, and control is accordingly placed in state agencies for coordination, funding, and permitting.
Bills on decarbonization tend to focus on green building and infrastructure, including electrification, with a small focus on carbon sequestration that complements some of the California Air Resources proposed actions under the 2022 AB 32 Scoping Plan. SB 27, chaptered on September 23, 2021, establishes carbon dioxide removal targets as part of the state climate plan. Further bills emphasize the role of cement and construction in greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions and seek to reduce this impact. SB 596, chaptered September 23, 2021, requires the State Air Resources Board to develop a strategy to achieve net-zero GHG emissions from cement in the state by 2046. SB 1112 would require the state to identify funding opportunities that would allow eligible entities to provide zero-emission, clean energy, or decarbonizing building upgrades. Though sequestration is not the top priority in decarbonization legislation, there are some bills toward this end. For example, the proposed Decarbonized Cement and Geologic Carbon Sequestration Demonstration Act (SB 905) would require the state to evaluate and fund geologic carbon sequestration pilot projects and streamline applications for such projects.
Air quality and emissions bills tend to revolve around transportation and air pollutants and generally did not move forward this session. AB 1147, a bill requiring localities to meet certain planning and reporting requirements regarding GHG emissions targets related to the California Transportation Plan and sustainable communities strategies was vetoed. AB 1324, which would have established the Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Funding Program with the intent to reduce GHG emissions by increasing use of public transit, became inactive as of January 31, 2022.
Transportation legislation largely focuses on zero emission vehicles – primarily electric vehicles (“EVs”) – and non-automobile transit, including legislation on program support, infrastructure, and funding. For example, SB 932 would require cities and counties to include traffic-calming plans by increasing access for pedestrians and bikes. AB 1909, a bicycle omnibus bill, would expand access to biking as a mode of transportation by increasing lanes in which certain bikes can be used, increasing road safety for bikers, and removing licensing requirements.
The majority of zero-emission legislation concerns assessment and planning of programs and incentives, and these bills often move through the legislative deadlines. SB 372 (chaptered October 7, 2021), SB 542, and AB 2622 adopt or propose tax exemptions for the purchase and use of medium- and heavy-duty EVs, while AB 2350 proposes a rebate program for owners who convert their existing vehicle into zero-emission vehicle. All remaining active bills have the purpose of encouraging consumer use of zero-emission vehicles in a wide range of circumstances such that they may become the dominant vehicle type used in California. SB 643, chaptered on October 7, 2021, requires the California Energy Commission, the State Air Resources Board, and the Public Utilities Commission complete a statewide assessment of the infrastructure needed to adopt the use of certain zero-emissions vehicles in high numbers.
Housing, as it relates to GHG emission from land use decisions and to climate impacts, has become a significant focal point of our legislative tracking. The questions of how to build enough units, where they are built, and what the impacts occur have become important areas of analysis from the climate and energy point of view in California.
There are ample housing bills this session that focus on quantity and affordability of housing, which will affect climate and energy use. SB 6, for example, would allow housing development on parcels zoned for commercial use and the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, which was chaptered on September 16, 2021, is designed to make California housing more accessible and affordable. The increase in housing units, densification, and intensification of land use is a growing trend in state housing policy.
Many of these bills are sweeping in their intent as a “matter of statewide concern” that limits or preempts local land use authority, though some bills provide limited local authority. SB 9 expands the type of residential development that would be considered ministerially by a local agency if the proposed development meets certain conditions. This bill, which was chaptered on September 16, 2021, places limits on what local agencies can do when approving these housing developments. However, bills that made very specific demands of local governments failed, such as AB 115.
Environmental interests are taking a backseat to the intense need for more housing. Bills like SB 499, a housing land use bill that sought to protect environmental interests during development, have a high failure rate. Additionally, exemptions to CEQA and the California Coastal Act are becoming more common.
The trend in wildfire bills is largely preventative, focusing on preparation and mitigation as the state grapples with climate change impacts that cause more intense and prolonged fires. Legislation from this session places the burden mostly on utility companies and local governments. AB 2889 would place greater responsibilities on electrical corporations to take internal actions to mitigate wildfires caused by electricity infrastructure and increase utility hardening. SB 12 would require cities and counties to reduce the risk of property destruction by wildfire using local zoning laws and would prohibit localities from constructing residential developments in high fire risk zones, as well as creating some specifications for home hardening during construction. Most other efforts at prohibiting development in high fire risk areas have failed (e.g., SB 55).