Will legislators revive efforts to reform California Coastal Commission?
STATEWIDE — The eyes of the world might be on Pres. Donald J. Trump as he assumes his new role as Commander-in-Chief and White House resident, but the wheels of the 2017 policymaking season began moving well before Inauguration Day.
Assembly members and State Senators elected to represent California’s regional districts are already in Sacramento putting together bill proposals, hoping their legislation churns through both houses and makes their respective way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for signature this summer.
One of the hottest legislative topics in 2016 was whether legislators would approve a bill by State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson to eliminate ex parte communications from the California Coastal Commission.
Senate Bill 1190 died in the final days of the previous legislative session, falling short of reaching Brown’s desk for final consideration. The question is whether Jackson – or any other legislator, for that matter – would revisit the ex parte communication ban.
In 2015 a proposal was introduced in the State Senate to reform the way California issues recreational fishing license. Senate Bill 345 ultimately died in committee and never made it to the legislative floor for a full vote.
The proposal aimed to increase California’s angling participation by making sportfishing license purchases valid for 12 consecutive months. Currently sportfishing licenses are only valid for a calendar year, meaning it expires by Dec. 31 of the year purchased regardless of when it was bought.
Could fishing advocacy groups convince a state senator or assembly member to revisit the Sportfishing Stimulus Act of 2015?
Meanwhile there are already some interesting bills on the docket for the current legislative session. The Log introduced some of these proposals in its first issue of 2017. Whether these bills make it the governor’s desk – and eventually into the law books – could be directly influenced by boater input during the next few months.
Of course ethanol reform dominates the federal legislative scene, with groups such as BoatUS, Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) and National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) all urging recreational boaters to challenge the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and avoid filling their vessels with gasoline containing 15 percent (or more) ethanol.
Here is a look at what boaters should do to urge their legislative representatives to realize some proposals into law (or help prevent others from moving forward altogether).
Ex Parte Communications and the California Coastal Commission
Legislators, the press and community groups closely scrutinized the Coastal Commission throughout most of 2016 after commissioners voted to ouster its executive director, Charles Lester. The ouster spawned a few bills to be introduced in the State Senate and Assembly, including Jackson’s SB 1190.
Jackson hoped to permanently ban ex parte communications from the Coastal Commission in an effort to make the agency’s dealings more transparent.
Ex parte communications allow commissioners to discuss pending projects with third parties in a private setting. If a commissioner partakes in an ex parte communication, they are under obligation to report details of the meeting within a prescribed time period.
Currently seven of the 12 non-alternate commissioners accept ex parte communications: Effie Turnbull-Sanders, Mark Vargas, Martha McClure, Steve Kinsey, Erik Howell, Roberto Uranga and Gregory Cox.
As ex parte communications occur in a non-public forum setting there has been concern the practice allows for interested parties to exercise undue influence over commissioners. The commission was accused of caving into developer interests when Lester was fired as executive director.
Legislators ultimately rejected SB 1190 and ex parte communications continues to be practiced by some commissioners. No legislators have introduced a similar bill in the current legislative session.
Perhaps momentum for banning ex parte communications from the Coastal Commission has died down as almost one year has passed since Lester was fired. Perhaps the proposal could find its way on the docket if local representatives hear from their constituents.
Sportfishing Licenses in California
Momentum for fishing participation reform slowed when state legislators did not support a proposal to change the way California issued annual licenses to anglers.
SB 345 was, according to the California Sportfishing League, “gutted” by legislators in 2015, ending efforts to increase recreational fishing participation. Supporters of SB 345 hoped a change in the way fishing licenses are issued – from calendar year to 12-month timeline regardless of when purchased – would help reverse a reported trend of dwindling license sales and overall angling participation.
After SB 345 was killed in 2015, angling groups and lobbyists hoped the bill would be revisited in 2016. Attempts to revive the California Sportfishing Stimulus Act of 2015 last summer were unsuccessful.
Like SB 1190 there are not any overtures of legislators re-introducing a bill similar to SB 345, though groups such as the California Sportfishing League will certainly be advocating for fishing license reform. Anyone who wants to see the legislature consider the 12-month license proposal again are urged to contact California Sportfishing League staff, State Sen. Tom Berryhill (author of SB 345) or your local state senator or assembly member.
Ethanol Reform and the RFS
BoatUS reportedly delivered more than 24,000 comments to the Environmental Protection Agency as part of a campaign to limit the amount of ethanol available nationwide.
The comments from recreational boaters urged the federal agency to prevent E15 – fuel with 15 percent ethanol – blends or higher from being added to the national fuel supply.
Groups such as RBOC, NMMA and BoatUS say fuel blends with 15 percent ethanol or greater are harmful to boat engines. Increasing ethanol levels in the national fuel supply, according to an RBOC Call to Action published Jan. 13, is currently part of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) policy.
“Gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol has been shown to damage boat engines. A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory conclusively demonstrated that E15 damages boat engines. As the RFS forces E15 and higher blends into the market, the chance of harming your boat’s engine increases,” the RBOC Call to Action stated.
“E15 and higher ethanol blends can now be found in at least 23 states, often at the very same roadside gas pumps dispensing E10 fuel. With only the one warning label, boaters have to be extra vigilant to prevent misfueling with engine damaging ethanol blends,” the Call to Action continued.
Those in favor of increasing ethanol amounts in our national fuel supply, however, say blends of E15 or higher are not at all harmful to recreational boating engines.
A comment, published in The Log’s Jan. 13-26 issue in regards to a story of a petition urging boaters to sign an ethanol reform petition, stated ethanol is actually beneficial to boat engines.
“Actually ethanol moves the water through the system, not letting it stagnate and cause problems. This is the same anti-ethanol argument for the last 40 years,” a reader commented on The Log’s article, ‘Boaters urged to sign ethanol reform petition.’
Campaigns to increase and decrease the RFS ethanol mandate will continue strong into 2017. Reach out to your federal representatives or EPA officials and chime in on whether ethanol levels should be increased or reduced.