Key California Energy and Climate Bills: 2015 Year-in-Review

Friday, January 15, 2016

California continues to be a global leader in the arenas of energy resources and climate change. Morgan Lewis’s lawyers practicing at the crossroads where energy, land use, natural resources, and environmental law intersect have compiled an overview of the most important California legislative developments that happened in 2015.

Published as a two-part series by Law360 in January 2016, the report highlights the ambitious clean energy plans embarked upon by the state, as well as noting reforms that didn’t make it onto the agenda. Developments In Calif.’s Energy And Climate Law: Part 1 focuses on California’s bold new clean energy agenda, including preferential treatment for renewable energy and an increased focus on energy efficiency.  Part 2, concentrates on key legislation concerning electric vehicles, pipeline safety, and climate change that went into effect on January 1, 2016.

Morgan Lewis San Francisco partners Ella Foley Gannon, Camarin E.B. Madigan, and William Kissinger (who co-wrote the report with their San Francisco team) took some time to share the highlights, surprises, and “must-knows” of California’s 2015 energy and climate law year-in-review and the outlook for the year ahead:

What are the most important takeaways that companies doing business in California should not miss?

The most significant piece of California energy legislation last year was SB 350, setting the ambitious 50% renewable energy requirement and doubling energy efficiency by 2030. Additional goals were discussed for 2050, but these were tabled. Clients should know, however, that 2050 goals are not off the table, and will likely be raised again as long-term planning continues.

In the report, you point out that some anticipated legislation did not emerge, including a potential 50% reduction in California’s petroleum use. Were there other notable surprises on the legislative front last year?

Substantial changes to the way the California Public Utilities Commission operates were also on the table, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed these provisions as over-expansive and ‘unworkable.’ It is possible that we will see additional reform efforts in the coming year and that the provisions will interfere with the commission’s ability to get its work done efficiently or effectively. The commission is currently processing the changes required by SB 350, including a new proceeding dedicated to Integrated Resource Planning (IRP). The IRP process will likely impose significant additional changes to the way the commission conducts its work in the near future.

Where do you believe California lawmakers will turn in the year ahead?

We expect major action in efforts to regulate greenhouse gases this coming year. There was much talk about the proposed legislation that would have granted express authority to the Air Resources Board to regulate greenhouse gases. While that legislation did not pass, it is highly likely that we will see new efforts to empower the state’s air regulator to set and enforce emissions targets. The prospect of the governor pushing for dramatic reductions in petroleum use also seems likely.