Last month our staff here at PSR-LA was hard at work both at home in Los Angeles and up in Sacramento for the end of California’s 2014 Legislative Session. That’s why for this month’s Science & Policy Update, we bring you PSR-LA’s legislative year in review — a look at the bills that passed successfully through the legislature and what they mean for the evironment and your health. Enjoy!

Science and Policy In Action: PSR-LA Legislative Victories

ca-capitolAnother legislative year has passed, with another round of bills making their way to the Governor’s desk. Compared to last year, which was characterized by late night bill amendments and rushed hearings, this year was relatively calm in the last hours of the legislative session. While policy topics such as CEQA flew under the radar (in comparison to last year’s CEQA reform uproar), there were a number of bills proposed by legislators that addressed important health and environmental factors facing communities. Some of these bills are currently awaiting the Governor’s signature, while others have already been signed.

Overall, it was a good year for bills addressing the health impacts of climate change and air pollution. Senate Bill 605, introduced by Senator Pavley and Lara, calls upon the California Air Resources Board to develop targets for reducing short-lived climate pollutants beyond 2020. While current climate policy focuses heavily on targets reducing carbon emissions, this bill incorporates the regulation of certain toxic air pollutants that both warm the planet faster and harm our health (check out PSR-LA’s infographic on short-lived climate pollutants here). The sources of these air pollutants include freeways and highways (they emit Particulate Matter 2.5) and the ports (hydrofluorocarbons are used in refrigerants). Setting targets for short-lived climate pollutants puts Los Angeles – and California – on a path to improve our communities’ health, save health care dollars, and cool the planet faster. On Sunday September 21st, Governor Brown signed SB 605 into law.

Governor Brown has already signed into law another bill that hones in on a specific co-pollutant – methane. Senate Bill 1371 (Leno) directs the California Public Utilities Commission to develop and implement a comprehensive statewide strategy to identify and repair leaks in our natural gas pipeline system. The urgent need to identify and repair leaks has been a priority for California since the 2010 explosion in San Bruno revealed serious deficiencies in operation and maintenance practices. Leaky pipes not only impact the safety of workers maintaining the pipeline infrastructure, but also residents in close proximity to the leaks. Furthermore, methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Another hot topic in the climate debate is moving away from fossil based transportation options to cleaner alternatives. California already has more electric vehicles on the road than any other state. However, these ‘clean’ cars are often out of reach for low-income brackets of the population. The Charge Ahead California Initiative was formed to support Senate Bill 1275, authored by incoming Senate President pro Tem-elect Kevin de Leon. The bill proposed putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road—about ten times the current number. Once the program is operational, it will provide incentives for trading in old gas-guzzling clunkers for new or used electric vehicles potentially worth up to $9,500 for low-income drivers in specific disadvantaged communities. The California Air Resources Board is forming work groups for the design of the EV programs in disadvantaged communities. SB 1275 was signed by Governor Brown on September 21st.

On Monday July 8th, the Governor also signed into law Senate Bill 1167, co-sponsored by PSR-LA, the Regional Asthma Management Program and California Association of Code Enforcement Officers. The bill addresses the underlying structural housing conditions that create pest infestations such as cracks and holes in walls and flooring and leaky plumbing. These conditions provide entry, food, water, and harborage for pests allowing them to thrive in our homes. Exterminating the pests via toxic chemicals alone is an ineffective long-term solution and also harmful to those exposed to the chemicals. The bill promotes the use of integrated pest management in housing by ensuring that code enforcement departments site landlords and owners for repairing the underlying housing conditions, as opposed to forcing landlords to use toxic methods that are not effective in the long term.

Los Angeles has some of the worst air quality in the city, if not the state. LA communities are surrounded by freeways, have residential homes bordering industrial sites, and lack the enforcement to divert truck routes away from residential neighborhoods. An aging housing stock possess serious maintenance and habitability issues. The recently released CalEPA screening tool(CalEnviroScreen 2.0) identified 54% of census tracks in Los Angeles County as the top 20% most burdened in California by environmental and social inequities. Data released in the 2013 Los Angeles Health Atlas confirms this reality. The interplay between place and health is undeniable and increasingly well documented in scientific literature. Bills such as SB 605, SB 1371, SB 1275 and SB 1167 make significant strides towards addressing these inequitable health realities. By advocating for responsible legislation grounded in health equity, we can start taking small steps towards improving the health and wellbeing of residents in Los Angeles.

To learn more about these bills, or the policy advocacy work that PSR-LA does, contact Monika Shankar at mshankar@psr-la.org.