Sunday, November 21, 1999 ©1999 San Francisco Chronicle
Gov. Davis Working to Find Commonsense Solutions
More protections for California's environment coming online
Mary Nichols, Winston Hickox
MOST MAINSTREAM environmentalists, weary after 16 years of political
roadblocks and rejection by administrations with little commitment to the
environment, were eager to back Gov. Gray Davis in his 1999
state-of-the-state pledge to bring renewed commitment to protecting
California's precious environment.
And with only minor exceptions among the extreme in the environmental
movement, we believe Californians strongly support the governor's
pro-environment agenda and his record of finding commonsense solutions to
environmental issues. As leaders in California's environmental movement and
members of Gov. Davis' cabinet, we can say without equivocation that the
commitment of this administration to the environment stands in stark
contrast to the past 16 years. From day one, the mantra of this governor
has been less talk and more action.
As one of his first official acts as governor, Davis used the power of his
office to close the deal on purchasing the Headwaters Forest to protect
thousands of acres of ancient redwoods from logging -- including putting in
place stringent habitat conservation protections for hundreds of thousands
of acres. This past week, Gov. Davis filed a lawsuit against the federal
government to block further oil drilling off of California's coast.
Environmental organizations from the Sierra Club to the Trust for Public
Lands, the Planning and Conservation League and the Federation of
Conservation Voter Leagues have found Gov. Davis' environmental stands to
be light-years ahead of those of the past two governors. In just 10 months,
Gov. Davis has:
-- Signed the toughest water quality enforcement law in the state's
history, requiring mandatory penalties for repeat polluters.
-- Strengthened California's Superfund Law for cleaning hazardous waste sites.
-- Authorized $150 million in current budget to acquire critical coastal
lands, wildlife habitat and other open-space.
-- Added $20 million to the California Environmental Protection Agency's
current budget to strengthen enforcement of California's environmental laws.
-- Signed tough new laws that will allow the state to clean up illegal tire
piles in order to avoid pollution-causing fires like those in Tracy (San
Joaquin County) and Westley (Stanislaus County).
-- Signed a major expansion of the state's beverage-container recycling law.
Some of this legislation had been bottled up for years. Others bills were
vetoed repeatedly. Today they are law. This is the power of the pen in the
hands of a governor committed to protecting the environment.
In addition to legislation, there are other issues where leadership in the
governor's office has made the crucial difference, including:
--Appointments -- The governor is making considered selections among the
best and brightest candidates for the state's environmental posts. In all,
the governor has made 36 appointments to top environmental agency and
department positions and to environmental boards and commissions. Last
week, the governor made appointments to the Los Angeles and San Diego
regional water quality control boards and appointed directors for the
California Conservation Corps and the Department of Conservation. The
governor has already appointed three members to the Board of Forestry.
Though two remain vacant, the board has a quorum and is conducting business.
-- MTBE -- In March, Gov. Davis ordered the groundwater contaminant MTBE to
be removed from all California gasoline by the end of 2002 and in September
he acted prudently in refusing to sign legislation until after it was
reworded to change the deadline for removing MTBE from California gasoline
to ``the earliest possible date'' from Dec. 31, 2002. His end-of-2002 goal
for the removal of MTBE has not changed but the governor wants flexibility
to protect California consumers rather than a legal deadline that was
likely to be achieved by reduced gasoline production and its attendant
shortages and skyrocketing prices. He persuaded many major gasoline
producers to voluntarily remove MTBE immediately from products in the most
sensitive areas, such as Lake Tahoe, and statewide well before the 2002
date. Within weeks, 85 percent of gasoline sold in the Tahoe basin was
Claims that some Lake Tahoe area gas stations are still selling
MTBE-tainted gasoline relied on test results that were found to be faulty.
This misinformation does a great disservice to the companies that are doing
their best to comply, despite high costs and federal constraints. This past
week, BP-Amoco announced that, at the governor's request, it will have
eliminated MTBE from all of its California products by 2001. That is an
example of the kind of commonsense environmental leadership that balances
all the needs of Californians, and is what Californians expect from Gov.
-- Water -- Gov. Davis helped draft, and is single-handedly responsible for
breaking a legislative impasse to successfully place, a $1.97 billion water
bond measure on the March 2000 ballot. There is probably no more important
or divisive issue in California today than management of our most precious
resource -- water. Battles between environmentalists, farmers, and growing
cities over how to provide enough water to each have paralyzed political
leaders for decades, if not the last century. This crucial water bond will
provide clean water for consumers, water for fish and habitat restoration,
enhanced flood protection, and more than a million acre feet of additional
storage capacity to stabilize water supplies for farmers. Without Gov.
Davis' leadership there would be no water bond. And he has vowed to
continue to use his leadership to ensure passage of this measure by the
Equally important, Gov. Davis has stood firm in making sure we protect the
environment in ways that do not injure other vital aspects of California's
economic and social life. The federal govern ment has unveiled a fish
restoration plan that could result in a 50 percent reduction in water
allocation to some California water users. Without efforts to mitigate such
a huge loss, this plan, if enacted, would create a severe hardship on
farmers and cities. Gov. Davis is working to stabilize water supplies for
all California water users -- fish, agriculture and people.
-- Coho salmon -- The governor has put forward an eight-point Coastal
Salmon Recovery Program, responding to the priorities identified by the
fishing and environmental communities. The program will produce much needed
scientific watershed assessments and provide a $1.2 million dollar program
to monitor steelhead populations.
-- Forestry -- After years of fiscal starvation, California's environmental
enforcement agencies, the Departments of Forestry, Fish and Game and the
State Water Resources Control Board, added more than 50 new enforcement
staff and Gov. Davis signed legislation creating new civil penalties of up
to $10,000 per violation of the state's timber harvesting laws.
-- Healthy Schools -- The Healthy Schools Act, which the governor vetoed,
was a laudable but seriously flawed effort to deal with school
environmental safety. Instead, added during the special education
legislative session, was money in the 1999-2000 budget for major funding
increases for school renovation and safety projects. High on this list is
ensuring that there are no toxics in our schools, especially the issue of
pesticide use. It would have required not only that schools notify parents
of real environmental hazards but also that schools issue totally
unnecessary warnings about routine use of common insecticides, such as
Raid. The bill would have cost local school districts millions to comply.
In his budget, the governor earmarked $1 million for a comprehensive review
of air quality in portable classrooms and will work to ensure that unsafe
conditions are identified and promptly fixed.
This is the power of the office occupied by a governor committed to
protecting the environment. As Gov. Davis has often said, judge us by our
actions. It has been a remarkable first year in office, and it is only the
Mary Nichols is secretary of the California Resources Agency. Winston
Hickox is secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
©1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page 9
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