Gov. Gavin Newsom, in the midst of fighting back a recall effort, is pushing through various forms of legislation with the support of a vast state budget surplus.
The latest bill — AB 148, aka the “budget trailer” bill — is designed to “implement important drought response programs” and includes the spending of $5.1 billion over four years for drought relief, preparedness and long-term water resilience, and $2.2 billion on wildfire resilience and emergency preparedness, according to release from Newsom’s office.
The bill’s provisions would expedite the state’s response to severe drought conditions, outline guidelines for the state’s program to pay down past-due water and wastewater bills, increase oversight of the state’s critical infrastructure, protect the environment from oil spills and increase access to California State Parks and reduce park fees for disadvantaged groups, the release stated.
“As California and the West contend with the ravages of this global climate emergency — from catastrophic wildfires to severe drought to record high temperatures – our state is leading the nation with bold solutions to protect people and the environment,” Newsom said.
Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-39th District), who represents the San Fernando Valley, witnessed Newsom signing the bill on July 22 along with state Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth, and state Water Resources Control Board Chair Joaquin Esquivel.
The quartet had toured the Folsom Lake reservoir and visited the North Fork American River Shaded Fuel Break in Northern California’s Placer County. They were joined by new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell for a closer view of the impacts from climate change, including drought, heat waves and wildfires.
“With this trailer bill, California makes significant strides on protecting our most cherished natural resources, combatting wildfires and droughts, and delivering water debt relief to Californians in need,” Rivas said.
“AB 148 ensures our state is prepared to meet future environmental and climate challenges head-on.”
Newsom added his thanks to Criswill “for taking the opportunity to see firsthand just how dire this crisis is in the western states, and how we’re responding to the new climate reality.”
Among the multiple provisions in the bill:
· Establishing the California Water and Wastewater Arrearage Payment Program, which provides customers with water debt relief for any arrearages accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic.
· Allowing California agencies to implement drought relief through grants and direct expenditures when a drought emergency is declared.
· Creating the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety to better regulate energy companies and prevent utility-caused wildfires.
· Expanding the collections of the Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fee to ensure the state can prevent and respond to oil spills.
· And providing $3 million to the CalConserve Fund to provide loans for water conservation and water use efficiency projects.