By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – With California facing a severe drought and water shortage as well as being plagued once again by historic fires that many experts believe are being super-fueled by climate change, the state legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled on Thursday what they are calling the California Comeback Plan—over $15 billion in funding to tackle wildfire and drought challenges, build climate resilience in communities, promote sustainable agriculture and advance nation-leading climate agenda.
The governor signed 24 bills on Thursday that focus on such efforts—providing immediate monetary investments in a package that they hope will build wildfire and forest resilience, support immediate drought response and long-term water resilience and directly protect communities across the state from multi-faceted climate risks, including extreme heat and sea level rise.
“California is doubling down on our nation-leading policies to confront the climate crisis head-on while protecting the hardest-hit communities,” said Governor Newsom.
He added, “We’re deploying a comprehensive approach to meet the sobering challenges of the extreme weather patterns that imperil our way of life and the Golden State as we know it, including the largest investment in state history to bolster wildfire resilience, funding to tackle the drought emergency while building long-term water resilience, and strategic investments across the spectrum to protect communities from extreme heat, sea level rise and other climate risks that endanger the most vulnerable among us.”
When the governor signed the state budget and related legislation in July, he and legislative leaders agreed to additional discussions during the summer to further refine steps to advance their shared and funded priorities, including natural resources investments.
One of the big pieces of the legislation was a $1.5 billion package supporting a comprehensive forest and wildfire resilience strategy statewide, the largest such investment in California history.
“Building on a $536 million early action package in April ahead of peak fire season, an additional $988 million in 2021-22 will fund projects to reduce wildfire risk and improve the health of forests and wildlands,” the governor’s office said.
According to them, this includes investments for community hardening in fire-vulnerable areas, strategic fuel breaks and fuel reduction projects, approaches to restore landscapes and create resilient wildlands and a framework to expand the wood products market, supporting sustainable local economies.
“California continues to be a leader on fighting climate change as Gov. Newsom’s action clearly demonstrates,” Senator Bill Dodd, who represents among other areas Yolo County, said on Thursday. “This is an important milestone that we will build upon. And with the escalating frequency and devastation caused by wildfires, we must also seek better ways to prevent and respond to this urgent threat. The signing of my bill will help us tap the wealth of innovation in our state, using emerging technology to protect life and property.”
With the signing of SB 109, the new Office of Wildfire Technology Research and Development under Cal Fire would study, produce and test new equipment to battle wildfires. Public, private and non-profit organizations and companies would join forces and become a state hub for firefighting advancements. The office could focus on developing fire retardants, predictive modeling, aerial technology and other tools that allow the state to more efficiently and effectively stop wildfire.
“Thanks to the leadership of Sen. Dodd, SB 109 will establish a statewide office dedicated to bringing emerging technology and innovation to help our first responders fight wildfires,” said Alfredo Pedroza, chair of the Napa County Board of Supervisors. “We must invest in new technologies to combat the unprecedented wildfires we are experiencing each year.”
There is also about $5.2 billion for water and drought resilience.
“Climate change is making droughts more common and more severe,” the governor’s office said.
The plan calls for $5.2 billion over three years to support immediate drought response and long-term water resilience. These include funding for emergency drought relief projects to secure and expand water supplies; support for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, with a focus on small and disadvantaged communities; Sustainable Groundwater Management Act implementation to improve water supply security and quality; and projects to support wildlife and habitat restoration efforts, among other nature-based solutions.
Another section invests $3.7 billion for a climate resilience package which aims “to build resilience against the state’s multi-faceted climate risks, including extreme heat and sea level rise.”
These monies address the impacts of extreme heat include urban greening projects, grants to support community resilience centers and projects that reduce the urban heat island effect, and funding to advance the Extreme Heat Framework as part of the state’s Climate Adaptation Strategy.
“Sea level rise and climate change have begun to threaten iconic communities, precious ecosystems, and critical infrastructure up and down California’s coast,” Senate Leader Toni Atkins said. “It’s vital that we make key investments and changes to our planning strategies to account for this climate reality.”
The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) estimates that California could experience up to seven feet of sea level rise by 2100, which would have massive impacts on the state’s lands, economy, and physical environment—waiting too long to initiate adaptation efforts likely will cost the state and its economy billions of dollars.
SB 1 gives local governments and communities “tools and funding, which helps foster coordination and more inclusive solutions to the challenges of sea level rise.”
Atkins said, “This is yet another demonstration of California’s leadership in the fight against climate change and our commitment to protect California communities.”
The governor also signed SB 27 by Senator Nancy Skinner that is designed to accelerate the removal of climate-harming carbon from the atmosphere.
Skinner’s office said Thursday, “SB 27 will expand California’s carbon removal capability, also known as sequestration, as well as improve the carbon retention of the state’s natural and working lands.”
Skinner said SB 27 “will maximize our capacity to use nature’s own carbon-reduction tools through capture in soil, grasslands, farmland, wetlands, forests and other natural systems, as well as explore cutting-edge technology like Direct Air Capture that mimic this natural process.”
The package also includes $3.9 billion to accelerate California’s transition to zero emissions vehicles.
The package includes funding to put 1,000 zero-emission drayage trucks, 1,000 zero-emission school buses and 1,000 transit buses, and the necessary infrastructure, on California roads—prioritizing projects that benefit disadvantaged communities.
“Helping drive consumer adoption, the package funds consumer rebates for new ZEV purchases and incentives for low-income Californians to replace their old car with a new or used advanced technology car,” the governor’s office said.
A year ago to the day, Newsom signed an executive order announcing California will phase out gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.
“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” said Governor Newsom in 2020. “For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn’t have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse—and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”