THE 2021 ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: A RETURN TO NORMALCY
Written by Gary A. Lucks1
As the 2021 legislative session began, the democratically controlled California legislature welcomed a more politically aligned federal administration and a more environmentally friendly U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. California’s 2021 legislative session was characterized by a return to a level of normalcy, setting aside the unusual mid-term effort to recall Governor Newsom. Governor Newsom resoundingly beat back the challenge despite the sour mood of the electorate, which was driven by the pandemic and another dystopian fire season.
The internecine quarrels that plagued the California legislature during the last legislative session gave way to a more typical legislative outcome in 2021, with a total of 2,369 new laws introduced and 836 landing on the Governor’s deskâtwice as many as the prior legislative session. The governor approved 99% of the environmental bills including: major reform at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC); significant modifications to the hazardous waste generator requirements, revamping the program to collect mercury-containing thermostats; perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) restrictions; and "truth in advertising" relating to green claims. The governor additionally signed a package of YIMBY (Yes in My Back Yard) laws making it easier to up-zone land uses to generate more housing in California. Finally, the legislature delivered new laws designed to advance offshore wind (OSW), electrify off-road engine equipment, elevate penalties for health and safety violations, streamline local permitting of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and authorize water agencies to capture and treat stormwater. Except for budget-related urgency laws that passed by a supermajority (which took effect on the date of signing), the enacted laws became effective on January 1, 2022.