October 11, 2011
Almond Board
California Legislative Report: Update on Issues Affecting California's Almond Industry

State Legislature

  • Gov. Jerry Brown signs farmworker bill - - Four months after vetoing labor-backed legislation that would have made it easier to unionize farmworkers  Gov. Jerry Brown announced Oct. 9, 2011 that he has signed the compromise measure he helped negotiate. Senate Bill 126, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, gives farmworkers greater protections in organizing disputes with growers, including allowing the state's Agricultural Labor Relations Board to certify a union when it determines grower misconduct affected an election's outcome.  SB 126 would allow the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board to certify a union as the bargaining agent for employees if it finds employer misconduct that, "in addition to affecting the outcome of the election, would render slight the chances of a new election reflecting the free and fair choice of employees."

  • Net metering bill for bioenergy production signed by Gov. Brown - - Gov. Brown on Oct. 9, 2011 signed a bill that changes the rules to allow farmers to connect machines that create bioenergy to the electrical grid, a privilege that has thus far been reserved for farm-generated wind and solar energy. Passage of Senate Bill 489, by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), means farmers can use the byproduct of their crops as fuel to create electricity.

  • Voluntary E-verify bill signed by Gov. Brown - - Gov. Brown has signed legislation that ensures the E-Verify system remains voluntary at the state and local level. AB 1236 by Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Mountain View) says the state, a city or a county cannot require an employer to use E-Verify unless required by federal law or as a condition of receiving federal funds. Currently, E-Verify is not mandated under federal law but there is a pending bill, the Legal Workforce Act by  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), that would make E-Verify mandatory. The bill would phase in nationwide mandatory participation over two years, covering new hires. Agricultural employers would get three years to comply and seasonal farmworkers would be exempt so long as they kept returning to the same employer.
     

  • Use of carbon monoxide on vertebrate pests approved by Gov. Brown - - Gov. Brown has signed legislation that allows the use of carbon monoxide as a safe and humane option to control vertebrate pests such as gophers and squirrels. AB 634 by Assemblymember Alyson Huber (D-Lodi,) authorizes the use of carbon monoxide for the control of burrowing rodent pests until January 1, 2018.

  • New political maps approved, available for viewing - - New political boundaries for the state Assembly, Senate, Congressional and Board of Equalization districts were approved by the Citizens Redistricting Committee on  Aug. 15, 2011. The 2012 elections will be the first to reflect the redrawing of the districts that will be in place through 2020. The new maps can be viewed at the California Chamber of Commerce website http://www.calchamber.com/GovernmentRelations/PublicAffairs/Pages/Redistricting.aspx  

Air Quality

  • State Supreme Court gives go-ahead to cap-and-trade - - The state Supreme Court voted Sept. 28, 2011 to let California air-quality regulators go ahead with a market-oriented cap-and-trade system of pollution credits to combat global warming while appealing a judge's order to look harder at alternatives. The order came in a case that has divided mainstream environmental groups, which support cap and trade, and antipoverty "environmental justice" organizations such as the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, which argue that the market approach exposes poor and minority communities to more pollution. At issue is the implementation of AB32, California's first-in-the-nation global warming law, which requires the state to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. The state Air Resources Board's chosen strategy is cap and trade, which sets industry wide limits on emissions and reduces them each year through 2020. Businesses that exceed their maximums can buy allowances from other companies, and can also meet their goals through environmentally friendly actions such as planting trees anywhere in the world.
     

  • New requirements for internal combustion engines revealed - - The San Joaquin Valley air district announced Sept. 9, 2011 that it has become aware of additional US-EPA requirements for internal combustion engines. The air district does not have authority to implement this rule for minor sources at this time, according to Dave Warner, director of permit services, in an email notice sent to agricultural groups. Many requirements are contained in this rule for stationary engines of all sizes, but perhaps most importantly, the rule requires that stationary diesel engines above 300 hp and stationary spark-ignited engines above 500 hp be equipped with catalysts to reduce carbon dioxide and formaldehyde emissions. Applications for any necessary permits to implement this rule, such as installing the control equipment, must be submitted by May 3, 2012, and the controls must be installed and operating by May 3, 2013.There is no exemption in the regulation for stationary agricultural engines, according to Warner.  More iformation on the rule is available by clicking here.

Water

  • State water board raises irrigated lands permit fees - - The State Water Resource Control Board voted in September to increase fees by $27.6 million for all water quality permit holders in California. The fee increases are intended to fill gaps in the state budget by shifting the cost for regulatory programs, such as the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP), from taxpayers to permit fee payers. An estimated $1.8 million in higher fees will be collected from farmers through coalitions by the State Water Board.  The money goes to pay board administrative costs for Irrigated Lands Regulatory Programs (ILRP) in the Central Valley, Central Coast and other regions. How higher fees translate into increased dues for farmers and ranchers will vary by watershed coalition.  Parry Klassen of the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, said per-acre fees are increasing from 12 cents to 56 cents in the Central Valley.  Although he doesn’t expect ESJWQC to raise its dues in 2012, other coalitions may need to pass on the increases to members.   More Central Valley almond growers are expected to become paying members of a watershed coalition as the existing ILRP expands to cover groundwater over the next 18 months.  Growers will again have the option of having an individual permit or joining a coalition. More information is available on the CURES website www.curesworks.org.  

  • Denham's water storage bill passes out of committee - - Rep. Jeff Denham’s legislation, H.R. 2578, passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources on Oct. 5, 2011. H.R. 2578 will allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider a proposal by the Merced Irrigation District (MID) to raise the spillway at the Exchequer Dam by 10 feet without using any state or federal dollars. The bill will allow for storage of up to 70,000 acre-feet of water, which has the potential for the generation of an additional 10,000 mega-watt hours of clean renewable electricity, increased recreation activity in the area and agricultural benefits, as well as the creation of about 840 jobs, according Rep. Denham.

  • Powerful figure in California's water wars steps down -- One of the most powerful forces in California's water wars is stepping down after two decades on the federal bench. More than anyone else in recent years, U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger has decided how much of the state's most precious resource goes to farms and cities and how much to the environment. Wanger's existing caseload will be randomly assigned to the two other judges in the Fresno courthouse, U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii and U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill. It is unclear who will take the role Wanger assumed in the Delta.

Farm Bill

  • CDFA Unveils Farm Bill Framing Document -   -  Here in California and across the nation, discussion is well underway about development of the 2012 Farm Bill.  The legislation is renewed every five years and is the essential component in the United States'   farm and food policy.  The Farm Bill is much more than just farm policy – 67 percent funds nutrition programs to improve the health of our citizens; approximately 23 percent funds the safety net programs, and 9 percent funds conservation programs. During the summer, the California Department of Food and Agriculture held several listening sessions around the state to hear input from stakeholders about California’s Farm Bill priorities. The CDFA's Farm Bill framing document can be viewed by clicking here.

Research

  • CDFA receives over $18 million in USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant funding - - Research, outreach and other projects designed to benefit California’s farmers have been given the green light as part of the specialty crop block grant program announced Oct. 5, 2011 by the USDA. A total of $55 million was awarded nationwide, with California receiving more than $18.6 million. Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) projects were funded in eight categories – Plant Health and Pest Challenges; Environmental Concerns and Conservation; Food Safety; Agriculture Education and Outreach; International Trade; Market Enhancement and Promotion; Food Security; and Healthy Eating. Projects were selected through a competitive review process. Several projects of interest to the almond industry were funded. Details on those projects will be published in a future edition of California Almonds Outlook newsletter. Abstracts of California’s 72 grant projects are available online at: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/grants.  

  • Charitable Ag Research bill introduced in Congress - - Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) is part of a bi-partisan group of lawmakers behind a bill that seeks to bolster agricultural research efforts. Introduced into both houses of Congress on Sept. 15, 2011, The Charitable Agricultural Research Act would amend the tax code to create tax-exempt "agricultural research organizations." These organizations, meant to work closely on research initiatives at colleges and universities, create an incentive for charitable investments in ag research, according to the bill's sponsors. “The Charitable Agricultural Research Act will help not only create more opportunity for innovation in the short–term but will assure that public private partnerships are able to raise the money needed to respond to the constantly changing threats to agricultural production,” Nunes said in a statement.

 

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