California Legislature Considers Bill to Codify Climate Action Team

Assembly Bill 2329, currently pending in the State Senate, would establish coordinated climate change efforts among state agencies through two main provisions. The first would require the California Natural Resources Agency to issue and periodically update a Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation Plan, which would cover strategies for responding to the effects of climate change. The second provision would codify certain responsibilities for the Climate Action Team (CAT), a group made up of representatives from several state agencies. AB 2329 would make the CAT an official central hub for climate change policy in California.

In June 2005, the secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal EPA) created CAT to help achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. After California passed AB 32 the following year, the CAT acquired a central role in coordinating efforts to reach that law’s goal of reducing the state’s GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In 2008, the CAT was further tasked with helping to develop a strategy for responding to the effects of climate change. However, also in 2008, the governor vetoed Senate Bill 1760. This bill codified the CAT, but it also directed the CAT to conduct strategic research, and to release a climate change impact adaptation and protection plan every two years. In his veto message, the governor stated that the CAT’s focus should remain on activities such as implementing AB 32, and that it would frustrate this focus to add such a substantial research mandate.

AB 2329 contains two main provisions, the first being the California Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation Plan of 2010. As the name suggests, this would require the Resources Agency to prepare a Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation Plan. This plan would be created in coordination with other agencies for the purpose of identifying and prioritizing research, policies, planning, best management practices, and anything else that would help the state adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Beyond a mere policy paper, the plan would further serve as California’s climate change adaptation planning document as required by any federal law that makes federal funding contingent on such a plan. The first plan would be due to the governor on or before June 1, 2012, and a revised plan would be due every three years thereafter.

AB 2329’s second provision, the State Climate Change Action Team Act of 2010, would codify the CAT and delineate its official makeup and responsibilities. The CAT would be chaired by the secretary of Cal EPA and would consist of members from several other entities in the state government, such as the Resources Agency and ARB. The CAT’s purposes would be to coordinate state efforts to meet the GHG reduction targets in AB 32, and to serve as the central organization for developing state climate policy more generally. To achieve these purposes, AB 2329 directs the CAT to identify and review relevant activities and programs; recommend policies, investment strategies, and priorities; and provide information to local governments and regional groups.

Debate on AB 2329 does not appear focused on whether climate change poses a danger to California, but on the best mechanisms for responding to that danger. Critics have claimed that codifying coordination roles in a statute will only make the state’s approach to climate change policy less flexible, more costly, and more confusing. Rather than codifying the CAT, and thereby creating a new permanent body, some people advocate relying on an existing legislative committee to coordinate state action. This committee could “keep abreast of agency actions, hosting informational hearings and passing specific legislation to reorganize government if necessary to align staff and leadership around important state issues.”

Proponents contend that the scope of the problem renders the current system inadequate. As the Coalition for Clean Air has stated in support of AB 2329, responding to climate change requires a “tremendous collaborative, multi-stakeholder effort.” As one of the bill’s author’s argues, nothing in existing law requires climate change policy to be coordinated across agencies, and there is no requirement to develop strategies for dealing with climate change impacts. AB 2329 would change that, putting greater weight behind the State’s response.