Ten new environmental laws in California

David Jiang via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

The environmental community continued to achieve victories in the state legislature despite another unusual year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a recall election for governor. We have successfully navigated video meetings and remote testimonials to advance climate and health policies with the help of coalition partners, environmental champions in the legislature and an engaged governor. . We were also faced with disappointing results and fierce lobbying of powerful interests trying to thwart progress. As the climate crisis progresses, the NRDC and its partners will continue to push state leaders to adopt bold policies that can become models for other jurisdictions. There is always more work to be done, but it is also important to reflect and mark the progress we have made. Below are ten key bills that were passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Newsom in 2021. Most of these new laws come into force in January 2022, unless otherwise specified.


SB 596 (Becker) requires the California Air Resources Board to develop a comprehensive strategy by July 1, 2023 to reduce the carbon intensity of cement use by 40% from 2019 levels by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality in this sector by 2045 at the latest. Read more.

AB 525 (Chiu) advances responsibly developed offshore wind power. The bill will revive California’s process of building offshore wind power as part of the state’s clean electricity mix in a way that does not harm fragile marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Read more.

SB 339 (Wiener) establishes a pilot program to test road user charges which will be adjusted according to vehicle efficiency instead of a flat rate. By promoting vehicle efficiency, this program can become a key strategy to reduce emissions from global warming and dangerous air pollution. Recommendations for the design of the pilot program must be sent to the Transportation Agency by July 1, 2023. Read more.

Protect communities from pollution

Most microwave popcorn bags on store shelves are made with PFAS chemicals

AB 1200 (Ting), the Safer Food Packaging and Cookware Act, will protect our food, health and environment by banning the use of toxic PFAS chemicals “forever” in paper-based food packaging and will require disclosure. chemicals like PFAS and bisphenols in cookware. The ban takes effect on January 1, 2023. Read more.

SB 47 (Limon) helps clean up abandoned oil and gas wells that pose significant risks to public health and the environment. Read more.

Reduce single-use plastics

AB 1276 (Carrillo) – expands state law on on-demand straws to include other single-use food accessories such as utensils and condiment packets.

SB 343 (Allen) – prohibits the use of the “arrow hunting” symbol on plastic products unless they are truly recyclable. The provisions of the bill are expected to come into force by January 1, 2024. SB 343 will help consumers make informed choices about the products and packaging they buy. Read more.

Racial justice

Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of the original owners of Bruce’s Beach, owns SB 796 after Governor Gavin Newsom promulgated it on September 30, 2021.

SB 796 (Bradford) – allows Los Angeles County to return land in Manhattan Beach, known as Bruce’s Beach, to the living descendants of owners who were illegally taken that land in the 1920s simply because of their race. Read more.

Safe and climate-friendly streets

AB 43 (Friedman) – demands that cities take into account the presence of vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, the homeless and people with disabilities when setting speed limits, and allow cities to reduce speed limits on streets with a history of traffic safety issues.

AB 773 (Nazarian) – helps limit cars to local streets and create safe outdoor spaces for recreation by permanently allowing “slow streets”. Read more.

Look ahead

As we prepare for the return of lawmakers to Sacramento on January 3, our team and other environmental and public health advocates are working on a number of unfinished jobs from 2021 and developing new plans for State budget law and proposals, in particular:

  • Add concrete to the state’s Buy Clean program to better account for its greenhouse gas emissions, offer incentives for the most climate-friendly products and align state purchases with our climate goals (SB 778, Becker)
  • Require California corporations, financial institutions, and insurers to assess and report climate-related financial risks to the state in order to plan and account for those risks (SB 449, stern)
  • Doubling California’s Climate Ambition and Breaking Down Barriers to Meeting Current Clean Energy Goals
  • Move our cars, trucks, buses and vehicle fleets to zero emissions and ensure low income people have access to clean vehicles
  • Ensure that the state’s transition to a zero-emission future centers equity and creates quality national jobs
  • Enabling the construction of more affordable housing and climate-friendly neighborhoods by eliminating unnecessary parking requirements
  • Making our neighborhoods safer and more welcoming for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Improve water efficiency, affordability and access to drinking water
  • Improving drought preparedness and climate resilience
  • Protecting Californians from Toxic PFAS Chemicals “Forever” in Products We Use and Lead in Drinking Water
  • Ensure strict implementation of Governor Newsom’s 30 x 30 Executive Decree to conserve 30 percent of land and waterways by 2030 and increase access to nature for all communities
  • Finalize strict rules to demand health protection rollbacks of new oil wells and pollution controls on existing wells. Phase out oil drilling in and around the sea and clean up all orphaned and abandoned wells statewide
  • Help low-income communities and communities of color cope better with extreme heat with community resilience centers and improved, carbon-free cooling in their homes
  • Ensure a robust and inclusive planning process for offshore wind so that it can be built quickly, with minimal impact on marine ecosystems
  • Reduce the use of toxic pesticides that harm bees and our health; help socially disadvantaged small farmers to switch to organic production; and increase investments in just and resilient food and agricultural systems

In addition, we look forward to the adoption without further delay of President Biden’s Build Back Better program. The Build Back Better program will deliver multiple climatic and societal benefits to California and includes funding for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, water infrastructure, orphan well cleaning, and more.

In January, Governor Newsom publishes his budget proposal giving us a window on the administration’s funding priorities. With another budget surplus expected, we urge heads of state to increase investment in key environmental, climate justice and public health priorities.

We also look forward to November 2022, when California voters have the opportunity to support a voting measure to limit single-use plastics and ensure that many of our plastic products are recyclable or compostable. Read more here.

As we close the books this year, we celebrate progress towards a healthy and fair California. And we are poised to achieve even greater victories for our environment and our communities and to assert California’s leadership for other states, regions and countries.

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