Ten new environmental laws in California

David Jiang via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

The environmental community continued to score victories in the state legislature despite another unusual year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a gubernatorial recall election. We’ve successfully navigated video meetings and remote testimonials to advance climate and health policy with the help of coalition partners, environmental champions in the legislature, and an engaged governor. We have also faced disappointing results and fierce lobbying from powerful interests trying to thwart progress. As the climate crisis progresses, the NRDC and our partners will continue to push heads of state to adopt bold policies that can become models for other jurisdictions. There is always more work to do, but it is also important to reflect and mark the progress we have made. Below are ten key bills that passed the Legislature and signed Governor Newsom into law in 2021. Most of these new laws come into effect in January 2022, unless otherwise noted.


SB 596 (Becker) requires the California Air Resources Board to develop a comprehensive strategy by July 1, 2023 to reduce the carbon intensity of cement use by 40% below 2019 levels by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality in this sector by 2045 at the latest. Read more.

AB 525 (Chiu) advances responsibly developed offshore wind power. The bill will kick-start California’s process of building offshore wind turbines as part of the state’s clean electricity mix in a way that does not harm fragile marine ecosystems and biodiversity. Read more.

SB 339 (Wiener) establishes a pilot program to test road user charges which will be adjusted according to vehicle efficiency instead of a flat charge. By encouraging vehicle efficiency, this program can become a key strategy for reducing global warming emissions and harmful air pollution. Recommendations for the design of the pilot program must be submitted to the Transportation Agency by July 1, 2023. Read more.

Protect communities from pollution

Most bags of microwave popcorn on store shelves are made with PFAS chemicals

AB 1200 (Ting), the Food Packaging and Cookware Safety Act, will protect our food, health and environment by banning the use of toxic PFAS chemicals “forever” in food packaging made from paper and will require the disclosure of chemicals like PFAS and bisphenols in cookware. The ban takes effect on January 1, 2023. Read more.

SB 47 (Silt) helps clean up abandoned oil and gas wells that pose significant risks to public health and the environment. Read more.

Reduce single-use plastics

AB 1276 (Carrillo) – expands state law on straws on demand to include other single-use food accessories such as utensils and condiment packets.

SB 343 (Allen) – prohibits the use of the “hunting arrow” symbol on plastic products unless they are truly recyclable. The bill’s provisions must be in effect by January 1, 2024. SB 343 will help consumers make informed choices about the products and packaging they purchase. Read more.

racial justice

Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of the original owners of Bruce’s Beach, holds SB 796 after Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law on September 30, 2021.

SB 796 (Bradford) – allows Los Angeles County to return land in Manhattan Beach, known as Bruce’s Beach, to the living descendants of owners who were wrongfully taken that land in the 1920s simply because of their race. Read more.

Safe and climate-friendly streets

AB 43 (Friedman) – requires cities to consider the presence of vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, homeless people and people with disabilities when setting speed limits, and would allow cities to reduce speed limits on streets with a history of traffic safety issues.

AB 773 (Nazarian) – helps limit cars on local streets and create safe outdoor spaces for recreation by allowing “slow streets” at all times. Read more.

Look forward

As we prepare for the return of lawmakers to Sacramento on January 3, our team and other environmental and public health advocates are working through much of the unfinished business from 2021 and developing new state budget law and proposals, including:

  • Add concrete to the state’s Buy Clean program, to better account for its embodied greenhouse gas emissions, provide incentives for the most climate-friendly products, and align state purchasing with our climate goals (SB 778, Becker)
  • Require California businesses, financial institutions, and insurers to assess and report climate-related financial risks to the state in order to plan for and account for those risks (SB 449, Stern)
  • Doubling California’s Climate Ambition and Overcoming Barriers to Meeting Current Clean Energy Goals
  • Take our cars, trucks, buses and vehicle fleets to zero emissions and ensure low-income people can access clean vehicles
  • Ensure that the state’s transition to a zero-emissions future is centered on equity and creates quality national jobs
  • Enable the construction of more affordable housing and climate-friendly neighborhoods by eliminating unnecessary parking requirements
  • Make our neighborhoods safer and more welcoming for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Improving water efficiency, affordability and access to drinking water
  • Improving drought preparedness and climate resilience
  • Protect Californians from Toxic PFAS Chemicals “Forever” in the Products We Use and Lead in Drinking Water
  • Ensure rigorous implementation of Governor Newsom’s 30 x 30 Executive Order to conserve 30% of land and waterways by 2030 and increase access to nature for all communities
  • Finalize tough rules to require health protection rollbacks on new oil wells and pollution controls on existing wells. Phase out offshore and surrounding oil drilling, and clean up all orphaned and abandoned wells statewide
  • Help low-income communities and communities of color cope better with extreme heat with community resilience centers and improved, carbon-free cooling in their homes
  • Ensure a robust and inclusive planning process for offshore wind so that it can be built quickly, with minimal impact on marine ecosystems
  • Reduce the use of toxic pesticides that harm bees and our health; help socially disadvantaged small farmers switch to organic production; and increase investments in just and resilient food and agricultural systems

We also look forward to the adoption of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda without further delay. The Build Back Better program will deliver multiple climate and societal benefits to California and includes funding for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, water infrastructure, cleanup of orphan wells, and more.

In January, Governor Newsom releases his proposed budget giving us a window into the administration’s funding priorities. With another projected budget surplus, we urge heads of state to increase investment in key environmental, climate justice and public health priorities.

We are also already looking forward to November 2022, when California voters will have the opportunity to support a ballot measure to reduce single-use plastics and ensure that many of our plastic products are recyclable or compostable. Learn more here.

As we close the books this year, we celebrate progress toward a healthy and equitable California. And we’re ready to win even bigger victories for our environment and communities and assert California’s leadership for other states, regions and countries.