What is in this article?:
- Unsustainable: The problem with Californiaâ€™s green regulations
- Growing chorus of critics
- Conflicts, errors and controversy
- Diesel emissions
- Questioning the air board
- Strict emissions guidelines
- Recycling contamination?
- Riparian buffers
- Infeasible standards
- A heavy cost to agriculture
- The roots of the problem
- Insufficient evaluation of regulations
- Moving forward
- Sensible proposals?
- In December 2010, the California State Board of Food and Agriculture released a report, “California Agricultural Vision: Strategies for Sustainability,” detailing ways the state could improve agricultural policies. Not surprising, it advocated more “green” practices be adopted. But one part of the report wasn’t so predictable - a section criticizing California regulations, including environmental rules, as often “duplicative,” “conflicting,” “uncoordinated,” and “needlessly burdensome.”
Ron Koetsier, a dairyman in Tulare County, Calif., had to shut down his methane digester in 2008 because the local air district passed a rule requiring expensive modifications to the machine’s generators, which produce electricity by burning methane gas produced by cow manure.
Growing chorus of critics
It’s typically businesses in California that complain about the state’s green policies; California has some of the strictest environmental laws in the nation, from its ambitious 2006 law to combat global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions –AB 32- to its stringent air pollution rules.
But concern about California’s environmental regulations isn’t only being voiced by business interests. In addition to issues raised by Sustainable Conservation and the State Board of Food and Agriculture, the California Roundtable for Ag and the Environment in December of 2010 released a report identifying the state’s own permitting processes as obstacles to environmental improvement of farms. The “Little Hoover Commission,” a state agency that examines state policies and offers recommendations on how they can be improved, late last year began working on a report for fall of 2011 to detail ways California’s overall regulatory system can be improved. Stuart Drown, executive director of Little Hoover, said its hearings on the matter in late 2010 and earlier this year had included testimony regarding California’s environmental policies.
“(Environmental regulation) has been a perennial complaint of business in California,” he said.
Built-up frustration with California’s regulatory climate has also resulted in business interests in the state coordinating with mainly Republican legislators to push for more lenient regulations, including environmental rules. Business lobbies ranging from agriculture to manufacturing have used anxiety over the state’s economy -California’s unemployment rate was over 12 percent in January- to urge lawmakers in Sacramento to support legislation they argue would make the state more business-friendly.
Dorothy Rothrock with the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, a lobby for California technology companies, has been a coordinator of that coalition. Regarding environmental rules, she said a chief complaint among businesses was that California implements policies that are unnecessarily strict.
“California has some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the world,” Rothrock said. “What we oppose and have trouble with is when we think the efforts on the environmental front go forward without the science backing it up and the economics understood.”
Concern over the cost of regulation to the economy has grown to the point where even some environmentally minded Democrats in the Golden State have even taken action. For example, earlier this year Senator Fran Pavley, who co-authored AB 32, joined fellow state senate Democrats Darrell Steinberg and Ron Calderon in co-authoring a bill -SB 366- to require a broad review and consolidation of state regulations.
Environmental organizations worry that an anti-regulatory backlash could threaten environmental goals. Bill McGavern of Sierra Club California said many reform bills backed by business interests this year had been blatant attempts to roll back environmental initiatives.
“There’s a bill ... SB 591, ‘The California Smart Regulation Act,’” McGavern said. “Before it was amended, it said every agency shall reduce the total number of regulations by 33 percent. Just gave a completely arbitrary number. That’s the opposite of smart regulation.”
After decades of fighting against business interests to advance environmental causes, many environmentalists are less than sympathetic to complaints by industries such as agriculture that the state’s rules are burdensome or too costly.
“There’s really not much credible evidence that the regulatory system - at least when it comes to the environment - is doing any damage to the economy,” McGavern said.
Boren was also critical of many of the recent legislative attempts to revise the state’s regulatory processes. But she said problems with regulation needed to be addressed.
“There’s room for improvement there that will lead to better environmental outcomes,” she said.