Sept. 04–After years of toiling for a host of stronger environmental protections for the ocean — and faced with the renewed prospect of oil drilling proposed by the Trump administration — activists are celebrating six ocean-centric bills approved by the state Legislature last week.
Next stop for the bills is the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, who’ll decide whether to sign them into law. Brown faces a stack of environmental measures, the noteworthy being a measure that sets a goal of eliminating the use of fossil fuels in the state by 2045.
But lawmakers gave particular attention to measures affecting ocean ecology.
“These address a lot of significant issues,” said Ashley Blacow, spokeswoman for the Oceana environmental group. “With some, like the oil-drilling bill, it’s good to see the state acting so quickly to the administration’s plans. And some we’ve been working on for a long time, so it’s good to see them finally going to the governor.
“We’ve been working on the gill-net issue for years — this is the third time there’s been a bill but we’re optimistic it could actually become law this time.”
The ocean-related measures:
* Drift gill net fishing. The measure would phase out fishing with these nets, which can extend for a mile or more. They are used primarily to catch swordfish but also can capture whales, dolphins and turtles. The bill would pay $100,000 to fishermen who surrender their nets and $10,000 for those who turn in their permits. There was a single vote in opposition. Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is sponsoring a bill that would establish a federal ban on such fishing in the state.
* Offshore oil drilling. Two similar measures, one each originating in the Senate and Assembly, are headed to the governor. Both are in response to the Trump administration’s proposal to offer new leases for oil drilling in federal waters off California’s coast. Both would ban new pipelines and other infrastructure onshore and in state waters, which extend three miles offshore. Such a prohibition would pose a serious deterrent to new drilling in federal waters, which begin where state waters end.
* Plastic straws. This measure would ban full-service restaurants from providing single-use plastic straws to customers unless specifically requested by a diner. The bill would not apply to fast food restaurants. Plastic straws are among the most common trash picked up at beach cleanups. Many other straws end up washing out to sea, where they break down into microparticles and can be ingested by sea animals.
* Food packaging. This would require that take-out containers and other single-use packaging for ready-to-eat food and beverages sold at state beaches, parks, colleges, fairgrounds and other large state facilities be recyclable or compostable. Polystyrene and other plastic food wrappings are also among the most common items collected at beach cleanups.
* Smoking on state beaches. While many city and county beaches already have such prohibitions, this would establish a ban on state beaches. After Brown vetoed a similar ban last year, legislators lowered the maximum fine to $25 and made a provision for designated smoking areas in this session’s version.
* Microplastic and microfibers. One measure, which was tabled for lack of support, would have required clothing with more than 50-percent synthetic material to include a label noting that the garment sheds plastic microfibers when washed. Those microfibers can then end up in the ocean and be ingested by sea animals. However, lawmakers did approve a measure directing the Ocean Protection Council to develop a strategy for addressing the ocean pollution problem caused by microplastics and microfibers.
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