The California Chamber of Commerce actively engaged in environmental legislation this year, positioning on dozens of bills related to hazardous waste permitting, Proposition 65, consumer product regulation, and oil and gas development.
Hazardous Waste Permitting
In response to the troubled Exide Battery Plant in Vernon, California, which was shut down earlier this year in part due to local air quality violations and an impending federal prosecution, the California Legislature proposed three significant pieces of legislation to reform the state’s hazardous waste permitting program.
Job Killer Delayed
The most problematic proposal, SB 654 (de León; D-Los Angeles), which the CalChamber labeled a job killer, would have shut down hazardous waste facilities if the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) failed to take final action on a hazardous waste permit renewal application within a specified timeframe.
Facing significant opposition from the business community, the author elected not to bring the bill to the floor of the second house; however, it can still be revived next year.
Opposed Bills Amended
Another bill, SB 673 (Lara; D-Bell Gardens), establishes new permitting criteria that DTSC must consider when issuing or denying hazardous waste permits.
Finally, AB 1075 (Alejo; D-Salinas) attempts to crack down on serious and repeat hazardous waste violators.
After mounting significant opposition to both bills, CalChamber removed opposition when the authors accepted favorable amendments.
The original version of SB 673 required DTSC to adopt new and potentially problematic permitting criteria, while the amended version makes establishing the specified criteria voluntary only.
As for AB 1075, the original version gave DTSC the authority to revoke or suspend a hazardous waste permit for minor or mere paperwork violations, while the amended version, among other things, would give DTSC such authority only for serious repeat violations.
The Governor signed both bills into law.
In light of recent statistics released by the Attorney General demonstrating that Proposition 65 is abused by unscrupulous lawyers who sue under the law for reasons unrelated to protecting public health, the CalChamber supported two reform proposals aimed at reducing the number of Proposition 65 warnings and curbing litigation abuse.
A CalChamber supported bill, AB 543 (Quirk; D-Hayward), would have helped to address the “overwarning” problem by stating that a business need not provide a warning when the business has conducted an exposure assessment by a qualified scientist which concludes that no warning is required.
Another bill, AB 1252 (Jones; R-Santee), would have helped protect small businesses from unwarranted lawsuits related to alleged missing or inadequate signage.
Despite significant support from the business community, neither bill made it for a vote in their respective policy committees.
Consumer Products Regulation
This year, CalChamber opposed three bills seeking to impose new labeling requirements on certain consumer products, and to ban others outright.
• AB 708 (Jones-Sawyer; D-South Los Angeles) sought to stifle innovation and exacerbate the “overwarning” problem by requiring manufacturers of certain consumer products to disclose the 20 most prevalent ingredients contained in the product by posting that information on the product label without providing any confidential business information protections.
AB 708 was never taken up for a vote by the full Assembly, but can be expected to reappear next year.
• SB 763 (Leno; D-San Francisco) sought to unnecessarily alarm consumers by requiring manufacturers of certain juvenile products to provide an on-product label regarding the presence of flame retardants, even if the product did not contain flame retardants.
The author decided not to pursue the bill when an Assembly committee sought an amendment eliminating the requirement to provide a label when the product does not contain flame retardants.
• AB 888 (Bloom; D-Santa Monica) prohibits the sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads and, in doing so, bans the use of naturally derived or nature identifiable alternatives that pose no risk to the environment or public health. The Governor signed AB 888 into law.
Oil and Gas Development
The CalChamber opposed numerous bills aimed at limiting or shutting down in-state energy development, including several proposals to undermine the state’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program and impose a de facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Fortunately, none of these proposals made it to the Governor.
CalChamber opposed as a job killer AB 356 (Williams; D-Carpinteria), which could have shut down certain in-state oil production operations by redefining critical components of the UIC program.
These new definitions would have compromised oil production without providing any additional environmental or groundwater protections beyond those already proposed by state regulators.
Finally, CalChamber succeeded in stopping job killer AB 1490 (Rendon; D-Lakewood), which would have driven up fuel processing and energy prices by halting all hydraulic fracturing activities after an earthquake of a magnitude 2.0 or higher.
Given the high frequency of such small magnitude earthquakes, this bill amounted to a de facto moratorium on all hydraulic fracturing activities.