in the KNOW

September 2, 2015

State Capitol

State Capitol

End of Legislative Session Brings Leadership Changes

With the end of the legislative session fast approaching on September 11, the State Capitol is full of activity. Sometimes amidst the hectic end of the session, along with the consideration of bills, comes leadership changes in the political parties and such changes have occurred in recent days.

In the Assembly, the Republican Caucus held a vote on September 1 and–starting in January 2016–Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) will replace Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) as the Republican Leader.

Olsen told the media, “One of the main purposes of having a transition timeline is to make sure the new leader, the incoming leader, can meet all the key partners that we work with across the state.”

Mayes is a freshman legislator whose district encompasses parts of both Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Olsen is termed out the Assembly in 2016 and has a campaign account open to run for Senate, though she has not yet formally announced her candidacy.

On August 27, Senator Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) was elected by the Senate Republican Caucus as the new Minority Leader taking over the helm immediately from the previous leader Senator Bob Huff (R-San Dimas) who is running for election on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. After the election, Fuller said, “I’m eager to get started.”

In the majority party, much of the speculation regarding leadership changes has centered around Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) given that she faces a 2016 term limit in the Assembly and plans to run for Senate. Atkins recently circulated a letter requesting that Democratic lawmakers commit to a January 2016 vote to replace her in an effort to “ensure lawmakers were not distracted during the final, crucial stretch of the legislative year,” according to a spokesperson for Speaker Atkins.

Ag Council appreciates the leadership of our elected officials and looks forward to continuing to advocate on behalf of our members with those selected to serve in leadership positions in the Legislature.

Prop 65 Update

By Ag Council President Emily Rooney
Originally printed in Almond Advantage – a publication by the Almond Hullers & Processors Association (AHPA) 

As summer winds down and kids return to school, I’m reminded of how our job at Ag Council is about constant education. Due to a recent leadership change at the Office of Environmental Health (OEHHA), which oversees Proposition 65 and a number of other environmental regulations, we are once again educating agency officials about how Prop 65 impacts the food and agricultural industries in California.

Prop 65 was approved as a voter initiative in 1986, with the goal of protecting drinking water and reducing exposure to chemicals that may cause cancer or birth defects. The broadly written law has considerable implications for agriculture. For example, some substances on the list are naturally occurring in the environment and therefore are absorbed by plants. If potential exposure levels exceed regulations, a warning label could be required on healthy foods.

There are two significant materials currently up for consideration before OEHHA that impact agriculture directly—bisphenol A (BPA) and lead.

BPA is utilized in minimal amounts for food safety purposes in a handful of food packaging materials. There have been concerns raised about BPA and possible hazards to fetuses, infants, and young children. However, several comprehensive assessments conducted by FDA, including one as recent as July 2014, state, “BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods.” Due to buyer demand, many in the food industry are conducting studies to seek out replacements for BPA, but there are not many alternatives readily available and it takes years to determine whether other formulations hold up to the same food safety standards.

Lead is prevalent throughout the environment in California. It is a compound in our soil, absorbed by plants and manifests itself in a variety of foods. The FDA studies lead and other contaminants and nutrients in the food supply in its “Total Diet Study.” In the most recent study, there are 10 pages of foods tested for lead, with varying degrees of its presence in a wide variety of foods.

The outcomes of OEHHA’s determinations on these two substances will influence how they manage similar chemicals in the future. BPA is used for food safety purposes. OEHHA is likely going to amend its regulation regarding naturally occurring compounds and routes of exposure regarding lead.

These two regulations could be precedent-setting given that many other food safety and naturally occurring chemicals found in food production are on the Prop 65 list. Therefore, Ag Council is heavily engaged with the agency and other stakeholders.

To help the new leadership at OEHHA understand how strict interpretations of the law can be detrimental to food production, and not necessarily have any clear benefit for the general public, Ag Council hosted a tour with OEHHA officials, at Pacific Coast Producers’ facility in Woodland in August. The agency representatives were impressed with the efficiency of PCP’s production facility and asked questions related to the regulation to gain a better understanding of food production.

A broad-based coalition of industry stakeholders are already coordinating a response to future regulations and hearings.   However, with the new leadership presence at OEHHA, it will be important to do as much “prerequisite” education as possible, and the recent facility tour provided an excellent learning opportunity for regulatory and legislative officials to better understand our issues.

We are hopeful that our education efforts with OEHHA will assist in their ability to develop meaningful regulations while recognizing the complexity of an evolving food system.

Coming Soon…Drought Rebate & Grant Program

In response to California’s drought, Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order in the spring to establish a drought-focused rebate and grant program for the agricultural and industrial sectors.  One of the directives is to accelerate incentive funding for innovative water and energy saving technologies reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The California Energy Commission is tasked in the Executive Order with administering a Water Energy Technology (WET) program to provide state funding for projects that are beyond the research and development stage, and are commercially available, but not yet widely deployed in California.

The Energy Commission is proposing a potential allocation of up to $30 million assigned in three phases.  Phase one focuses on agriculture while phase two targets competitive grants for the industrial, commercial, and residential sector followed by a final phase for renewable energy powered desalination.

The program launch is expected this fall–contingent upon the Legislature funding the program.  Ag Council will keep our members up to date on the development of the program and where and when our members can take advantage of incentive dollars.

The Energy Commission developed a presentation about the proposed WET program, which can be viewed HERE.