Newsom to sign corporate climate accountability bills
California’s governor doesn’t typically comment on legislation — something he reiterated during a talk on stage at Climate Week NYC on Sunday. Except when he does.
At the summit, Gavin Newsom commented in a very public way that he will sign two landmark climate accountability bills that the Legislature sent to his desk last week: Senate Bills 253 and 261, authored by Democratic Sens. Scott Wiener and Henry Stern, respectively.
The bills, which were approved by the Legislature last week, require 5,300 companies that do business in California and have revenues exceeding $1 billion to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and their financial risks from climate change. CalMatters climate reporter Alejandro Lazo reported in June that the legislation would force the companies — from Amazon to Bank of America to WalMart — to reveal their complete carbon footprint, even emissions from their suppliers and the consumers who use their products.
- Newsom: “What we love about California … it’s not just a state of dreamers and doers, of entrepreneurs and innovators, but it’s a state that has long prided itself on being on the leading and cutting edge. The future happens in California first.”
- Wiener, in a statement: “When business leaders, investors, consumers, and analysts have full visibility into large corporations’ carbon emissions, they have the tools and incentives to turbocharge their decarbonization efforts.”
The governor made the announcement during a discussion about a civil lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of the state, which seeks to hold ‘Big Oil’ accountable financially for contributing to “climate change-related harms in California,” including extreme drought, wildfires and storms, and lying about it and deceiving the public for decades.
The lawsuit names Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, as well as Exxon Mobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, BP and the industry’s trade association, the American Petroleum Institute.
The state’s demands: Oil companies paying their fair share for recovery efforts from superstorms and wildfires, protecting people from extreme heat, managing water supplies and fortifying infrastructure and homes against sea level rise and flooding.
California isn’t the first government entity to try to tackle climate accountability through the courts. The state has filed briefs in support of lawsuits by cities, counties and other states, including Honolulu, Maui, Baltimore, Rhode Island, Minnesota and the District of Columbia. Newsom said during the talk, given the size of California’s economy, the state’s filing may help move the needle.
Environmental groups praised the move, and likened the lawsuit to those against tobacco and opioid companies.
- Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity: “As similar cases proceed toward trial, California’s move is an unmistakable sign that the wave of climate lawsuits against Big Oil will keep growing and that these polluters’ days of escaping accountability for their lies are numbered.”
But progress on the governor’s climate goals hasn’t been linear. State approvals for new oil and gas wells have dropped off this year, but permits to improve or repair existing wells were up nearly 50% to 1,650 in the first half of this year, Reuters reported. In June, 100 scientists sent a letter to the administration, urging a complete halt to new approvals, particularly near homes and schools. Environmentalists say the state should make oil companies plug unproductive wells rather than continuing to grant them permits to improve them.
The governor also expressed his disappointment at one effort that fell short as the legislative session wrapped up last Thursday: a deal to allow insurance companies to revise their risk modeling and rate-setting. Companies have been dropping customers — or, in State Farm Insurance’s case, stopped issuing new policies in California, because they say the cost of doing business in the state is too high.
- Newsom at the summit: “This is a red flag, not a yellow flag. And we are not going to be waiting till January, the next legislative session to address it. And so in real time, we will be moving with some creative ideas — watch this space.”
For the record: An item in Friday’s WhatMatters gave the incorrect timing for ACA 13, which would require any ballot measure to raise the approval threshold to pass by that same level of support. ACA 13 will be on the November 2024 ballot.
CalMatters honors: Julie Cart has won another prize for her groundbreaking series on the mental health crisis among California firefighters. “Trial by Fire” won the 2023 Covering Climate Now Journalism Award in the long-form writing category. Read more from our engagement team. Julie is also set to appear Wednesday on NBC’s “Morning News Now” to talk about her series.
Keep up with wildfire season with the CalMatters tracker, which is now using data by Watch Duty, a nonprofit responsible for tracking and alerting all wildfire and firefighting efforts in real-time throughout the American West, to provide more accurate and timely wildfire data.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 The fight over homelessness money
From CalMatters homelessness policy reporter Jeanne Kuang:
Cities, counties and homeless service providers hoping California would commit to continuous funding — rather than one-time aid — to address homelessness won’t be getting their wish this year.
In the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers quietly pulled a bill that would have nudged the state in that direction. Supporters said Assembly Bill 799 didn’t have the support of Gov. Newsom’s administration. Spokespersons for the administration have not yet responded to a request for comment.
Newsom and lawmakers have repeatedly called for more accountability and transparency from local governments and service providers on how they’re spending billions of dollars in state funding. The governor even briefly froze $1 billion in grants last fall when he said the plans that cities and other funding recipients submitted weren’t ambitious enough in reducing homelessness.
The recipients, meanwhile, have complained that the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention program gives out money in one-time grants that cities and providers must apply for every year. The program has given out nearly $3 billion in grants since 2019 and is now on its fifth round of funding.
Without guaranteed ongoing funding, they’ve argued, it’s hard to sustain local programs to make long-term dents in homelessness. And the rules change year-to-year, so sometimes certain populations who were served one year aren’t eligible in the next. Cities this year asked the state for $3 billion a year in ongoing funding to address homelessness.
The bill, sponsored by a coalition of advocacy groups and authored by Arleta Democratic Assemblymember Luz Rivas, initially would have made the grant program ongoing and added more rules to clarify how cities can spend the money and to require recipients to create regional plans that divvy up responsibilities between cities, counties and various other groups providing services. With the $30 billion-plus state budget deficit, lawmakers and the administration opted for another $1 billion round of one-time funding, writing many of those rules for recipients into the budget.
But advocates said accountability should run both ways, and turned the bill toward the state. The amended legislation would have required the state to come up with its own goals for reducing homelessness statewide — which could include reducing racial disparities — and to write a financing plan accounting for all the state, local and federal dollars that it would take to end homelessness in 12 years.
Sharon Rapport, California state policy director for the Corporation for Supportive Housing, which co-sponsored the bill, said it was important for the state to come up with that calculation, “to be real about what the need is and what the costs are. Because otherwise, it seems like the state is not really planning for the future and there’s not really any time there’s not really a way to get us on a path to solve homelessness.”
She acknowledged the idea was “politically fragile.”
The administration signaled its opposition, and Rivas pulled the bill days before the end of the legislative session. She said the state wouldn’t engage on the issue.
“It’s just been difficult to see what homeless policy reforms the administration is okay with and which ones they aren’t,” Rivas said. “I’ve never received a clear indication from them.”
2 Taking stock of the session
The 2023 legislative session is over, so it’s time for the post-mortems.
The Sacramento Bee’s Maggie Angst’s takeaways: Newsom and Big Tech had success, but climate took a back seat. Los Angeles Times Sacramento bureau chief (and former CalMatters reporter) Laurel Rosenhall writes that new Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas demonstrated political agility and that labor showed its clout. Politico’s Dustin Gardiner and Lara Korte picked Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, SEIU California and YIMBYs among the winners — and the insurance industry, the California Business Roundtable and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer among the losers.
Fellow state Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff and I also focused on the big wins for labor. (The California Labor Federation says 13 bills it sponsored passed, including four labeled “job killers” by the California Chamber of Commerce, making this one of its most productive sessions ever.)
While the homeless money bill failed, lawmakers raced through a ton of others before adjourning just before midnight last Thursday. WhatMatters listed many of them each day: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
About 900 bills are now on Newsom’s desk for his decisions, with an Oct. 14 deadline. And remember, we’re keeping track of key bills. Bookmark this page for updates. Here are some other interesting ones that snuck in under the wire:
- AB 92, by Assemblymember Damon Connolly, to make it a misdemeanor for a person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm to own body armor.
- AB 436, by Assemblymembers David Alvarez, James Ramos and Luz Rivas, to ban most local prohibitions on cruising.
- AB 524, by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, to prohibit employment discrimination based on family caregiver status
- AB 1286, by Assemblymember Matt Haney, to require pharmacies to report prescription errors.
- SB 362, by Sen. Josh Becker, would allow consumers, with a single request, to have every data broker delete their personal information, but not until 2026.
- SB 541, by Sen. Caroline Menjivar, to require public high schools to provide free condoms.
- SB 673, by Sen. Steven Bradford, to allow law enforcement agencies to seek an “Ebony Alert” for missing and at-risk Black youth.
- SB 686, by Sen. María Elena Durazo, to make California the first state to include housekeepers and nannies in workplace health and safety protections.
- SB 815, by Sen. Richard Roth, to require state Medical Board investigators to interview patients or their families before closing a complaint.
3 Medi-Cal eligibility checks: What to know
The state has resumed checking people’s eligibility for Medi-Cal after a pause during the pandemic — which has led to tens of thousands of Californians losing health insurance every month, reports CalMatters health care news intern Shreya Agrawal.
Since July, more than 300,000 Californians have lost their eligibility, mostly due to procedural reasons like not sending in renewal forms or incorrect information, according to state data. Others have lost coverage because of changes in their personal lives, such as starting a job with higher pay.
- Cary Sanders, senior policy director at the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network: “It’s because it’s been such a long period where folks have not had to renew their health coverage. There could be up to 2 to 3 million Californians who could lose their health coverage just by virtue of this change, because there would be people who wouldn’t know what to do.”
In total, about 16 million people in California will be evaluated for eligibility until May 2024. How will you know if you’ve been disenrolled? How can you appeal if you were? What are your other options if you’re no longer eligible? We answer some of the common questions.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Of three bills to overhaul state oversight of water use, the two most important died.
CalMatters events: The next event is scheduled for Tuesday, on Gov. Newsom’s push for rehabilitation over incarceration. Register here to attend in person at our Sacramento offices or online.
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