Gov. Brown Restores Power to Coastal Cleanup

Logos of 39 Environmental Organizations that wrote to Gov. Brown urging him to reverse suspension of the Coastal Act.
39 Environmental Organizations, including Save The Bay, formed a coalition to urge Governor Brown to reverse his decision to suspend the Coastal Act in response to the Santa Barbara Refugio Oil Spill. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of these organizations, the governor lifted the suspension, ensuring a more effective cleanup.

The Santa Barbara Refugio Oil Spill last month highlighted the importance of keeping a close eye on business and government to avert further environmental destruction. When Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency in response to the spill, a loophole suspended the California Coastal Act, making cleanup efforts less stringent and specific. A group of 39 environmental organizations, including Save The Bay, successfully pressured the governor to restore regulatory power and ensure a more effective cleanup.

In the midst of environmental crisis, immediate and effective disaster response is key. Over 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean, poisoning marine mammals, birds and fish. Both Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach were closed due to the dangerous conditions posed by the spill. Additionally, over 138 square miles of ocean were closed to commercial fishing.

Brown recognized the need for emergency action, but the governor’s attempt to “cut red tape” suspended the California Coastal Act, the primary law that governs the standards for development within the Coastal Zone. Suspending the Coastal Act compromised the Coastal Commission’s ability to ensure that Plains All American Pipeline, the company that owns the pipeline that ruptured, is held responsible for the cleanup and restoration of environmentally sensitive habitat areas (“ESHA”), wetlands, and marine resources.

Susan Jordan, director of the California Coastal Protection Network explains, “It makes no sense to suspend the very law that was created by a citizen initiative, in response to the massive 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, to address situations like this. If anything, this is the time to make certain the Coastal Act’s protective policies are administered and enforced.”

Save The Bay joined 38 other environmental organizations in writing a letter to Governor Jerry Brown, asking him to rescind suspension of Chapter 7 of the Coastal Act, which deals with coastal development stating that “the scenic and visual qualities of coastal areas shall be considered and protected as a resource of public importance”. The letter expressed deep concern about the Santa Barbara Refugio Oil Spill and the long-term impacts on California coastal environments and communities. The coastal damage that has already occurred as a result of the spill is unacceptable, and the spill was caused, in part, due to weakened regulatory oversight that resulted in a delayed shut down of the pipeline.

In response, Governor Brown reversed his order, reinstating the Coastal Act and putting regulatory standards back under the control of the California Coastal Commission.  This is a huge victory for the environmental community, as the Coastal Commission is best equipped to manage the process of cleanup and restoration and will ensure that the task is undertaken with environmental sensitivity.

Brown’s decision to lift the suspension of the Coastal Act is a reminder that environmental organizations like Save The Bay must stay vigilant and act as watchdogs on important policy issues to protect our precious natural resources.

Acting Locally to Make a State Bag Ban Possible

Bag Monsters
We have come a long way in the fight against plastic bags.

Only a few years ago the idea of stemming the flow of plastic trash into the Bay seemed like an overwhelming problem. One million plastic bags were entering the Bay every year. While we recognized that plastic trash was affecting all of California’s waterways and ocean coast, we knew we had to tackle the problem in our own region, because that’s where we knew we could make a difference.

I’m proud to report that California’s legislature has passed a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags through Senate Bill 270, which is awaiting Governor Brown’s signature. And the reason this is possible is because we laid the groundwork locally.

We began by advocating for trash to be classified as pollution, and regulated like other toxics in stormwater. We won new permit limits requiring the elimination of trash from Bay stormwater by 2022. Then we worked directly with cities to reduce throwaway plastics at the source, through local bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam food ware. Bay Area cities responded, and four years later more than 75% of the Bay Area population lives where a ban on single-use plastic bags is in force.

But many communities across the state are far behind. A state bag ban can close the gaps and make a bigger dent in plastic trash that plagues our neighborhoods, waterways, and beaches.

California has tried for many years to pass a bag ban law. What’s different this time? Mainstream business organizations like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the California Grocers Association are lining up behind the state ban. Businesses and consumers find the bill palatable because the Bay Area has demonstrated the value of a consistent regional approach to regulating bags. By working locally, we’ve secured collaboration and coordination between cities and counties, so supermarket chains and other businesses face the same laws region-wide. We’ve proven that bans work to keep plastic out of our waterways, prompt consumers to switch to reusable bags, and don’t harm businesses.

It’s remarkable that an idea once considered controversial has become mainstream so quickly, after just four years of advocacy by Save The Bay and our supporters. How did we get here?

  • In 2009 twenty-six waterways that flow to the Bay as well as the lower and central portions of the Bay itself were found to be so filled with trash that they violated federal Clean Water Act standards. Photographic evidence of shoreline trash submitted by Save The Bay supporters was convincing to the State Water Board and U.S. Environmental Protection agency.
  • Save The Bay convinced Bay Area water quality officials in 2010 to adopt the first-ever trash regulations under the Clean Water Act, requiring cities to reduce trash flowing into the Bay under the Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit. Cities must demonstrate that they have reduced trash flowing into the Bay by 40 percent by September 2014, and eliminate all trash flowing to the Bay by 2022.
  • When we suggested cities could advance compliance by banning plastic bags, some people thought we were crazy and predicted shoppers would revolt. The first cities to pursue bans were sued by front groups for the plastic industry. But shoppers adjusted.  Retailers adjusted. The lawsuits failed.
  • Local bag bans work: One year after San Jose’s ban went into effect plastic bag trash had decreased by 69% in the city’s creeks and 89% in its storm drains. The average number of single-use bags per customer dropped from 3 bags to 0.3 bags per visit.

On September 1, California state legislators passed SB 270, but it still needs a signature from Governor Jerry Brown. It feels good knowing that Bay Area residents and their representatives have embraced the value of conservation over convenience for the sake of the Bay. The Bay Area should be proud of its leadership on reducing plastic trash – now it’s time for all of California to catch up.

Ask Governor Brown today to sign SB 270 into law and make plastic bags history in California.