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Environmental Groups Have High Hopes for Green Legislation in 2007

Environmental groups hope the power shift to a Democratic-controlled Congress may produce new environment-friendly laws next year.  The environment may also take center stage in Sacramento in 2007. KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce has more on the prospects for green legislation.

The biggest environmental story in 2006 was global warming and look for global warming to dominate the environmental agenda in 2007. Most scientists blame climate change for shrinking wildlife habitat and rising sea levels. California Senator Barbara Boxer is expected to chair the U.S. Senate's environment committee next term. She says the public wants action on global warming. 

Boxer: I think that this issue is going to take on in many ways, a life of its own and I only hope and I do pray that enough of us on this committee will be able to work together to reach some consensus on beginning to contain global warming. 

The legislative director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Washington D.C. is Melissa Waage. She says global warming must be reversed.

Waage: It's probably one of the chief problems of our generation. And it's just exciting that we do have a little bit more opportunity now to work with Congress to address it.

Waage expects several bills on climate change during the next congressional session.

Waage: We know that there are plans to conduct oversight on the issue of global warming and on other environmental issues both in Senator Boxer's committee and over on the House side. And so these oversight hearings will be and other activities will be important in holding the Administration accountable for some of its failings over the last few years and also laying the groundwork for legislation that could actually start to address some of these pressing environmental problems.

But Waage knows environmental legislation doesn't come without a fight. She expects the Bush Administration will try to reverse existing laws or block new proposals.

Meanwhile, on the state level, the California Legislature already passed a landmark greenhouse gas reduction measure in 2006. The law set the nation's first statewide limits on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants that have been linked to global warming.

But still, State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez says the environment will again be one of his priorities in 2007. Water supply and conservation will top the agenda. The state legislature will dole out money from Proposition 84. The measure allows the state to borrow more than $5 billion to fund projects that maintain and improve water quality.

California Coastal Coalition spokesman Steve Aceti says a hunk of that money will flow to San Diego County:

Aceti: Ninety-one million dollars for integrated regional water management in San Diego and $27 million for San Diego Bay."

Aceti says cities, the county, non-profits and other organizations can also apply for Prop. 84 grant money to fund a variety of water projects.

The Sierra Club's legislative director in Sacramento, Bill Allayaud, says the legislature will also be busy with the huge multi-billion-dollar infrastructure package that includes money for water projects and highways.

Allayaud: If it's not clearly spelled out in those laws that the voters passed there will have to be follow-up legislation. So, yes we expect a lot of action around the five bond measures that were approved by the voters."

Allayaud says water supply and conservation and funding of natural resource agencies will be the main themes in the next legislative session. But global warming will still be a key issue, especially when it comes to local land-use planning.

Allayaud: Planning - something that people are loathe to legislate in Sacramento given local control by cities and counties - if the state is serious about global warming, they're going to have to grapple with the issue of how we grow too.

He says global warming threatens the environment of California, the economy, public health and our quality of life. And so, more environmental legislation to reduce the causes of climate change is likely in the state, in Washington D.C. and around the globe in 2007. Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

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