California Bill Would Force Corporations to Cut Emissions or Face Fines

The climate change proposal would force companies like Amazon and Apple to reveal the full extent of their carbon footprints and meet new state-mandated reduction goals.  

A truck drives into the Valero Benicia Refinery, July 12, 2017, in Benicia, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — To beef up California’s fight against global warming, a Democratic lawmaker wants to levy new fines against mega corporations that fail or refuse to trim their carbon imprint.     

Under new legislation announced Wednesday by state Senator Scott Wiener, both publicly traded and private corporations doing more than $1 billion in business annually in the Golden State would be required to track and disclose the full scope of their greenhouse gas emissions. By 2025, corporations would be mandated to submit extensive reduction goals to state regulators who would then have the authority to crackdown on potential offenders. 

Wiener, D-San Francisco, says the main goal is to spur an awakening within the corporate sector and force business giants like Walmart, Amazon and Apple to commit to the state’s lofty climate change goals.

“We’re in a race against the clock when it comes to climate change,” Wiener said during a virtual press conference. “It’s a bold and necessary proposal that will help us understand the scope of carbon emissions from large corporations and hold them accountable.”

Senate Bill 260 would require corporations to log the entirety of their carbon pollutions, from electricity used, supply chain activities to even fuel spent during employee commutes. Corporations would then have to submit “science-based” reduction plans that must be approved by both a third-party auditor and the state.  

The so-called “Climate Corporate Accountability Act” tasks the California Air Resources Board with enacting reporting requirements by 2024 and down the line issuing fines to companies that don’t meet their targets. Wiener predicts the proposal would extend to approximately 5,000 corporations doing business in the Golden State, regardless of where they are headquartered.   

Supporters say SB 260 is the first of its kind and will give the state and consumers an idea of exactly who the largest polluters are.

“We need to know the who, what, where, when and how much of the carbon pollution and then do something about it,” said Michael Schmitz, director of Carbon Accountable, a think tank pushing corporations and governments to reveal their carbon inventories.

While many major companies already voluntarily document their emissions, Wiener says they are mostly symbolic in nature. If passed, SB 260 would not only commit corporations to a set goals, they would be forced to make the information readily available online in a digestible format.

Aside from the threat of to-be-determined fines, Wiener hopes companies will be provoked into cleaning up their act to keep their environmentally minded customers.

Kalpana Narlikar, member of Sunrise Bay Area, said her consumer habits will be swayed according to how companies perform under SB 260. The San Francisco-area high school student offered last summer’s wildfires that darkened the skies for days at a time as proof of the worsening climate crisis.

“What this bill does is recognize and enforce our right to know if and how much a corporation is participating in endangering our future,” Narlikar said. “I’ve been frustrated and scared by the lack of accountability for corporations in this country for a long time.”

If signed into law, Wiener expects companies would have between 5-15 years to meet their assorted climate targets once they are OK’d by the Air Resources Board. He’s already scoured a lengthy list of supporters within the Legislature as well as outside, including California Congresswoman Katie Porter and the California League of Conservation Voters.

“Corporations spend billions to conceal environmental abuses from the public,” said Porter, D-Orange County. “Our state has already borne witness to the damage climate change is causing, and it’s clear we need to take bold action — including requiring corporations to disclose their emissions — to save lives and livelihoods.”

Wiener acknowledged he expects the proposal, which could be heard in committee as early as March, to receive blowback from business groups but noted the country’s largest corporations have fared very well during the pandemic and are more than capable of the added accounting costs.

“We hear that anytime we try to take action on an important societal need like climate change,” Wiener said of the likely opposition to the proposed regulatory scheme. “I don’t view this as an unreasonable ask for our largest corporations.” 

It didn’t take long for business groups to unite against the bill.

The California Business Roundtable said instead of forcing new reporting regulations, lawmakers should focus on easing workplace laws and allow state agencies and other employers to offer more telecommuting.

“Businesses continue to lead on climate change, investing billions to reduce our carbon footprint, but we can’t lead in ways that don’t allow others to follow,” said group president Rob Lapsley in a statement. “SB 260 tries to place the blame on companies for not adopting climate-reduction strategies, but the state remains the main barrier to allowing large companies to reduce their employees’ commute times and carbon footprint.”

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