The Barbed Wire - April 12, 2019

April 12, 2019
Governor Releases 60-Day Wildfire and Energy Report
Wade Crowfoot Officially Confirmed as Secretary of California Natural Resources
Counties Encouraged to Participate in NACo’s Survey Regarding Federal PILT & SRS Programs
Congress Stalls in Enacting Disaster Aid
Cannabis Banking Laws Receive Further Attention
Net Neutrality Update
Bill of the Week: Senate Bill 247 (Dodd) – Wildland Fire Prevention: Vegetation Management
Inyo County #Instagram Takeover
BULLETIN BOARD
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Governor Releases 60-Day Wildfire and Energy Report

At a press conference earlier today, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the release of a report titled “Wildfires and Climate Change: California’s Energy Future,” which addresses several issues surrounding utilities, energy, and wildfire.  The Governor formed a “strike team” in February to advise the state on PG&E’s bankruptcy proceeding, and gave the group 60 days to map out a plan to help ensure that ratepayers’ service remains intact while wildfire victims get justice and ratepayers and employees remain protected.  The new report addresses the bankruptcy and several other aspects of the major investor-owned utilities’ responsibilities, including the need to mitigate wildfire ignition around utility equipment, liability and cost issues such as inverse condemnation reform, and how the utilities can meet their clean energy goals while expending resources on wildfire prevention efforts.  

While the report identifies a number of possible pathways to distributing costs for utilities liability in wildfires, it refrains from recommending a specific model (such as a securitization scheme or inverse condemnation reform).  Instead, the report recognizes the role of the Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery (Commission), created last year by Senate Bill 901 (Dodd) in making recommendations on how to ensure victims and ratepayers don’t wind up bearing the liability cost burden.  RCRC filed extensive comments with the Commission earlier this month on a number of topics, including inverse condemnation reform, homeowners insurance availability, and general forest management issues.

The report, however, goes beyond just utility issues and reinforces the Governor’s commitment to addressing many important forestry and wildfire areas RCRC has long advocated on, including the need for doing more to prevent wildfires through better forest resilience and management practices, fuels treatment and wildfire prevention.  The report also acknowledges the need to strengthen community resilience at the local level, address smart development and housing requirements in high fire risk areas, and ensuring mutual aid resources such as prepositioning, all of which RCRC has strongly supported both at the Legislature and with the Administration. 

The Governor’s 60-Day report can be accessed here.

Wade Crowfoot Officially Confirmed as Secretary of California Natural Resources

On Monday, the California State Senate officially confirmed Wade Crowfoot as Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) with a 38-0 vote.  Last month, Staci Heaton, RCRC Regulatory Affairs Advocate, testified in support of Secretary Crowfoot following RCRC’s official confirmation endorsement.  

In March, the RCRC Board of Directors adopted a new policy to offer a support position for Gubernatorial appointees during the California State Senate’s confirmation process.  As one of their official actions regarding this new policy, RCRC officially endorsed the confirmation of Wade Crowfoot as Secretary of CNRA. 

CNRA’s press release regarding the confirmation can be accessed here.  RCRC’s confirmation support letter can be accessed here.

RCRC expects that Thom Porter, Governor Newsom’s appointee to lead the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection will also receive the confirmation of the full Senate in the coming days.  RCRC is also in full support of the confirmation of Chief Porter. 

Counties Encouraged to Participate in NACo’s Survey Regarding Federal PILT & SRS Programs

The National Association of Counties (NACo) is asking County Supervisors and Administrators to complete a survey on Federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and/or Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments.  NACo's goal is to gather information on how counties spend these dollars, the consequences of reducing or eliminating such programs, and suggestions for improving these programs moving forward.  

Survey results will be shared with key members of Congress, their staffs, and the Trump Administration to educate them on the critical importance of Federal PILT and SRS to counties.  The survey can be accessed here, and responses are requested by the close of business on April 16, 2019.

Congress Stalls in Enacting Disaster Aid

Senate negotiations over an emergency supplemental disaster relief package broke down this week, ensuring Congress will not pass a bill until after the two week recess beginning on Friday.  The Senate rejected two different disaster aid proposals last week and negotiators are divided over funding for recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico.  

Democrats demand additional funding for the recovery effort in Puerto Rico, but Senate Republicans argue President Trump would veto such a deal.  President Trump further complicated legislative negotiations with remarks that he would oppose additional funding to Puerto Rico because local officials are mismanaging federal relief funds. 

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) met with the President on Thursday to break the impasse.  No agreement was reached during the meeting but Chairman Shelby told reporters that key White House staff and Appropriations Committee staff would work through the Spring Recess to find a compromise on Puerto Rico and prepare a final bill that Congress can enact.

Cannabis Banking Laws Receive Further Attention

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin identified the conflict in state and federal marijuana law as a significant issue for the Treasury Department and other financial regulators.  Speaking before the House Appropriations Committee this week, Secretary Mnuchin urged Congress to find a bipartisan solution to the cannabis banking prohibition caused by the contradictory state and federal policies on marijuana legalization.  

Secretary Mnuchin did not endorse a specific proposal in Congress, but he acknowledged “there are people on both sides of the aisle that share these concerns” related to financial services for marijuana related businesses.

Attorney General William Barr also offered tentative support this week for legislation that would enact a federal marijuana framework that permits state governments to establish their standard of marijuana legalization.  Attorney General Barr indicated he would prefer an approach more similar to the STATES Act, than the current federal prohibition on marijuana.  The STATES Act is a recently introduced legislative proposal that would grant state authorities autonomy over marijuana policy.

A number of weeks ago, the House Financial Services Committee passed legislation, which RCRC fully supports, to liberalize the federal banking laws for the cannabis industry in/for states which have sanctioned a legal, regulated market.  That legislation, commonly known as the SAFE Act, is likely to secure passage on the House Floor in the coming weeks.

Net Neutrality Update

House Democrats passed legislation this week that would restore the Obama-era regulation known as net neutrality.  The regulations would classify broadband as a Title II utility under the Communications Act of 1934, and grant sweeping regulatory authority over the internet to the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC).  

Net neutrality supporters claim the regulation will benefit small and rural providers from unfair or anticompetitive practices of nationwide carrier.

Bill of the Week: Senate Bill 247 (Dodd) – Wildland Fire Prevention: Vegetation Management

RCRC has conveyed its “Oppose Unless Amended” position on Senate Bill 247, authored by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa).  SB 247 would shift the responsibility for identifying trees and other vegetation near power lines that utilities must remove from the individual utilities to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).  

RCRC believes that preparing and updating this exhaustive “trim list” will require the continuous expenditure of significant CAL FIRE resources that are better allocated to fuel reduction projects and defensible space inspections.   Furthermore, RCRC does not believe that it is CAL FIRE’s role to identify all trees and vegetation that a utility must remove in order to comply with existing regulatory requirements.  These are costs that are and should remain the responsibility of utilities.

As such, RCRC recommends that CAL FIRE should function like a “mandatory reporter” and only have to identify trees and vegetation that it observes in need of work during its ordinary course of operations.  Local agencies that observe encroaching trees or vegetation could forward that information on to CAL FIRE for dissemination to the appropriate utility.  This preserves the utilities’ existing roles and responsibilities while providing a helpful backstop where CAL FIRE and local agencies can perform spot checks and recommend needed work. 

RCRC’s “Oppose Unless Amended” letter with suggested amendments can be accessed here.  SB 247 passed the Senate Energy, Utilities & Communications Committee and awaits consideration in the Senate on Natural Resources & Water Committee.  For more information, John Kennedy, RCRC Legislative Advocate, can be reached at (916) 447-4806 or jkennedy@rcrcnet.org.

Inyo County #Instagram Takeover

As is tradition, the RCRC Board of Directors holds one Board Meeting each year in the county of the RCRC Board Chair.  Inyo County Supervisor Matt Kingsley is RCRC’s 2019 Chair, and this year’s meeting will be held in Death Valley National Park, April 30th – May 2nd.  

In preparation for our meeting, we are excited to announce that Inyo County will be taking over RCRC’s Instagram account all next week!  From its rich mining history to incredible Death Valley, Inyo County has something for everyone!  Follow RCRC’s Instagram (@ca_ruralcounties), and tune in Monday, as we go on a week-long adventure through Inyo County.

Inyo County is located in the eastern sierra region of California, east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and south of Yosemite National Park.

BULLETIN BOARD

Announcements regarding hearings, grants, and public comment notices of importance to California's rural counties.

United Policyholders Hosts Roadmap to Recovery Workshop in Butte County

Click here

NOFA: Senate Bill 2 Planning Grants Program

Click here

USDA Rural Development Hosts Technical Assistance Workshop for ReConnect Program

Click here

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

RCRC members are encouraged to share letters addressed to state and federal representatives and regulatory bodies with RCRC’s Government Affairs staff.  

The Legislature adjourned for Spring Recess on Thursday, April 11, 2019.  The Legislature will reconvene on Monday, April 22, 2019.