As Governor Jerry Brown touted California’s environmental initiatives and prodded world leaders in Paris to embrace tougher environmental policies during the United Nations summit on climate change, it was instructive to look back at how one of Brown’s top environmental priorities suffered a major defeat in the California Legislature this year.
That priority was to establish a 50 percent reduction in petroleum usage in cars and trucks by 2030. Brown’s failure to win its passage in an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature clearly illustrates not only the influence of the fossil fuel lobby, but also the continued rise of a new breed of Democrats who are exceedingly attentive to big business, while tone-deaf toward their party’s traditional progressive base.
Petroleum reduction was a key part of a proposed law, introduced as Senate Bill 350, which also called for steps to increase energy efficiency in existing buildings and require that 50 percent of California’s energy come from renewable sources,
Paul Duncan, a battalion chief with California’s state firefighting agency, was at home in Northern California enjoying a day off on September 12 when he got the message: A wildfire was burning on Cobb Mountain, about a dozen miles away from Hidden Valley Lake, where he lived with his wife and two daughters.
Duncan, 46, decided to leave and help knock down the blaze because he knew the fire unit in the area was already short-staffed from putting out on another conflagration. Besides, his nearly 30 years of experience persuaded him there was no way a fire burning on a mountain to the west could burn down to the valley floor and then race eastward to threaten the Duncans’ home.
His optimism was short lived. Upon arriving on Cobb Mountain Duncan got some troubling news. The fire he was fighting was heading toward his family.
Lucy Dunn has a message for Republican lawmakers: Approve new revenue now to fix California’s decaying highway and bridge system or face severe economic consequences that will be felt throughout the state for decades.
Dunn is no big-spending liberal and you won’t find a Proud to Be Union bumper sticker on her car. In fact, she’s president of the influential Orange County Business Council and a card-carrying Republican. But to Dunn, funding long-neglected transportation maintenance and repairs is an existential issue for California’s business community.
“If you can’t move people and goods on safe roads and bridges, you cannot do business in the state,” Dunn tells Capital & Main.
This fundamental lesson was brought to urgent life in July, when a bridge collapsed along Interstate 10 during heavy rains,
Hopes were high among environmentalists when a bill designed to protect California’s drinking water was introduced in the state Assembly earlier this year. After all, California has passed some of the most far-reaching environmental laws and regulations in the nation, and the state legislature is dominated by the Democratic Party, whose members are generally inclined to vote for tougher environmental standards. Moreover, California is in the midst of a massive drought, which gave the bill more urgency. And besides, clean water isn’t a threatened desert flower or endangered minnow – it’s something everyone depends on for existence.
It never had a chance.
The measure, Assembly Bill 356 (Das Williams, D-Carpinteria), was intended to protect underground sources of drinking water from oil and gas wastewater disposal and enhanced oil recovery treatments, and called for monitoring near certain injection wells. That immediately put it in the crosshairs of the most powerful oil interests in California,
Yoel Matute had worked at a Santa Monica car wash for seven years and was upset because he believed he wasn’t being paid for all the hours he worked. So in 2012 he decided to sue in court to recover his wages.
Matute soon got an unwelcome surprise. His employer attempted to enforce an arbitration agreement – an agreement Matute didn’t even know he had signed — preventing him from filing a lawsuit. Instead, the agreement mandated that the dispute be heard in arbitration, an out-of-court process that generally favors employers over workers like Matute.
When he had originally applied for his job Matute was handed what he thought was a work application. Some parts of the document were in Spanish, others in English. Matute, who is from Honduras and can read little Spanish and virtually no English, was given just a few minutes to review it, and he did not understand any of the sections in English.