From: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.
Published September 24, 2004 12:00 AM

Blizzard of Bill signings in California Pleases Conservation Groups

Sep. 24—Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday released a tidal wave of environmental laws, signing more than 20 bills that establish significant new policies to reduce diesel soot, ban pollution from cruise ships and require more old cars to get smog checks.


The new laws also would allow hybrid cars with solo drivers into California's carpool lanes, subject to final approval from Congress; create a new Sierra Nevada Conservancy to protect the state's signature mountain range; and require more open records in state land purchases.


Schwarzenegger, who promised a year ago this week while campaigning for governor that he would be a "green" Republican if elected, rebuffed the lobbying of "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno and signed a bill to require that cars from 1976 and later be permanently required to get the biennial smog checks. The bill's author is Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-San Jose.


Thursday's actions established Schwarzenegger as a GOP leader who is winning the respect of conservation groups, much like Gov. George Pataki of New York — even as the nation's top Republican, President Bush, remains their leading enemy.


"Most Californians are pro-environment. This will be a very popular move," said Mark Baldassare of the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco.


To be sure, significant environmental bills remain on Schwarzenegger's desk, such as measures to require water meters on all homes in the state. And Schwarzenegger upset environmentalists in recent weeks by vetoing a bill to require tugboat escorts for chemical ships and by endorsing Proposition 64, a ballot measure to make it harder for environmental and consumer groups to sue businesses.


"Promises made, promises kept. This is our Earth Day six months early," said Terry Tamminen, Schwarzenegger's chief of the state Environmental Protection Agency. "Every one of these things supports the argument that what is good for the environment is good for the economy."


Tamminen, a registered Democrat, worked as an environmental activist in Southern California before taking his current job.


"I used go to the movies and watch the action heroes on the screen," he said. "As a kid, I wished there was one who protected the environment. Now we have one. I'm very proud of the guy."


Environmental and public health organizations reacted favorably to the news.


"He has been very clear that the goal of his administration is to cut air pollution in half," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association. "If he is going to follow through on that goal he has to take some dramatic actions. This is a good first step. These are the kinds of bills he is going to have to sign."


The most high-profile of the bills signed moves owners of hybrid cars, which run on motors powered by gasoline and electric batteries, a step closer to being able to drive in California carpool lanes, regardless of the number of people in the vehicle.


The bill, AB 2628, by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Woodland Hills, allows up to 75,000 hybrid cars in carpool lanes as long as they achieve 45 mpg. The hybrid vehicles now eligible include the Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius. Because carpool lanes require federal funding, the idea still must receive approval from Congress. However, a measure to do just that is pending in a federal highway bill that enjoys wide bipartisan support.


"I think this is great," said Len Whitlock, of San Jose, who owns a silver 2003 Toyota Prius. "These kind of incentives cut down on consumption of gasoline. We Americans suck it up like it is water."


Opponents, however, said the law would only clog carpool lanes. No incentives for hybrids are needed, they added, because there is a waiting list of up to six months for the Toyota Prius, and movie stars have made them a hot trend.


"I know I'm going to sleep better at night knowing Leonardo DiCaprio won't be stuck in traffic on the Santa Monica Freeway," quipped state Sen. Deborah Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, an opponent.


In another major air pollution measure, Schwarzenegger signed a bill that would allow the state's regional air districts to increase by $2 yearly vehicle registration fees to raise money to reduce diesel soot. The law, AB 923, by Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, D-South Gate, would raise up to $80 million a year to buy old diesel school buses and agricultural engines and replace them with new, cleaner ones.


Scientists say diesel soot is among the most harmful of air pollutants.


Childhood asthma bill signed Similarly, Schwarzenegger signed SB 2185, by Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-Glendale, to require health insurance plans to pay for equipment used to treat childhood asthma, including inhaler spacers, nebulizers and peak flow meters.


Thursday saw new laws aimed at protecting the state's oceans, as well.


"The Legislature has adopted the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt by passing a flotilla of bills to restore and protect our oceans," said Warner Chabot, West Coast director of the Ocean Conservancy in San Francisco, in a statement. "This is a legacy for future generations. We appreciate the governor's endorsement of that leadership."


Trawling — a type of fishing in which boats drag heavy nets on the sea floor, often damaging widespread marine life — is restricted in one measure. Another bill, SB 1319 by Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, creates the Ocean Protection Council to coordinate state agencies on oceans.


The governor also signed a bill to ban cruise ships from incinerating garbage while in state waters out to three miles offshore, and banning them from releasing "gray water" from sinks, kitchens and showers in state waters.


At a news conference near Colfax, Schwarzenegger signed a bill Thursday by Assemblymen John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, and Tim Leslie, R-Roseville, creating a Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the ninth such conservancy in California. The agency would oversee grants and loans to fund various projects, including efforts to increase tourism and recreation.


Another Laird bill requires state agencies spending more than $25 million on park purchases to obtain an independent appraisal and have it reviewed by a second expert.


The review of the appraisal and other documents must be made public 30 days before the purchase. The bill follows Mercury News reports about how the state may have overpaid by up to $50 million when it bought 16,500 acres of industrial salt ponds around the bay for wetland restoration.


To see more of the San Jose Mercury News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.mercurynews.com. (c) 2004, San Jose Mercury News, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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