Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed three California Chamber of Commerce-supported bills: one will extend the availability of workshare programs; one will expand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) academies to underrepresented pupils; and the last bill will help reduce waste and increase recycling.
• AB 1854 (Boerner Horvath; D-Encinitas) extends availability of workshare programs to allow employers the option of taking advantage of the program when attempting to reduce workforce while minimizing salary loss for employees.
The bill repeals the sunset for the Employment Development Department (EDD) Work Sharing online application. The COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of facilitating such a program in economic hard times, as it helps allow access to unemployment benefits for those who otherwise would either face reduced hours but no unemployment or lose their jobs entirely.
• AB 1923 (Mathis; R-Visalia) reprioritizes existing STEM grant funding to prioritize education for pupils that are underrepresented in STEM, including rural populations, economically disadvantaged populations, as well as other populations.
STEM education is good for both workers and for California’s economy. California’s rapidly growing technology sector will need more workers in the coming decades than our present pipeline produces. Without increases to STEM education, Californians will miss out on these high-quality jobs and California’s economy will be slowed by the lack of available qualified candidates. Existing law recognizes this reality, and the state has attempted to improve STEM education through a variety of means over the past decade.
The CalChamber views AB 1923 as a solution that improves equity concerns across California, and simultaneously will help ensure that California’s economy can continue to grow based on the skills of California’s youth.
• AB 2101 (Flora; R-Ripon) adds whole orchard recycling projects (WOR) to the list of eligible Carbon Capture Sequestration Registry projects that are eligible to seek funding from state agencies or private entities.
WOR is a practice that includes the chipping of woody perennial crops at the end of their agronomic lifecycle and then using those wood chips in the soil of the fields where trees previously stood, allowing for the prior trees to be recycled into future crops. Models have predicted a range of 4.24 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration per hectare for 14 tons of dry wood chips per acre in prune crops with a life cycle of 10–15 years, and 8.16 tons for 30 tons of wood chips from almond crops with an estimated life cycle of 25 years.
This allows for crops to secure CO2 from reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, stabilizing carbon, which mitigates negative climate impacts. Carbon sequestered by WOR projects is not currently recognized as being eligible for the efforts undertaken to offset carbon emissions in California. The cost of WOR is incredibly high relative to other practices, such as surface mulch and bioenergy production as orchard disposal practices. While WOR is a beneficial practice for the sake of sequestering CO2 and helping California reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs), it is one of the more costly measures crop owners can take. These up-front costs can range from $125 to $810 an acre.
The CalChamber supports AB 2101 because it will pave the path for WOR projects to be eligible to receive the credits necessary to ensure it is a viable model for sequestering carbon while avoiding burdensome costs. AB 2101 will ensure that WOR projects are acknowledged for their carbon sequestration, and their importance in helping the state reach its GHG reduction goals.