2015 green regulations kick in

Better fracking reporting, roomier chicken cages, food waste charges and more


With every new year come new laws on the books, and while minimum wage hikes, driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and a big-cat selfie ban might be stealing headlines, a variety of environmental laws are also coming online this week. After surveying state legislatures and local news outlets, we’ve rounded up several of the most noteworthy newly enacted laws governing water, energy, land and agriculture in the West.    

Oil and Gas Regulation

California now requires all oil and gas well operators to report more information about the water they use in their drilling. Operators must report both the source and volume of water injected underground for any reason, including hydraulic fracturing.

Colorado also put stricter oil and gas rules on the books this week, as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) approved significant increases in financial penalties for operator violations. The COGCC was given the authority for the increase last year but had delayed action until this week. Daily penalty caps rose from $1,000 to $15,000. The COGCC also removed the previous penalty maximum of $10,000. Somewhat surprisingly, oil and gas operators largely support the increases, perhaps because the penalty maximum had not changed since 1955.

Waste Management

In Washington, a new environmental handling charge of 25 cents will now be added to the cost of all fluorescent light bulbs. Residents were already required to recycle used fluorescent bulbs due to their mercury content, and the new charge will help fund the statewide LightRecycle program.

A new law in Seattle fines households for disposing of food waste in the general garbage pickup, rather than with specific food and yard waste collection. The city cites unnecessary financial costs and greenhouse gas emissions that come with the annual disposal of 100,000 tons of food waste. Households that dump food or other food-soiled recyclable products can be fined $1 on their bi-monthly bill.

While not yet in effect, California’s highly contested plastic bag ban is scheduled to begin this summer. Ban opponents, however, recently submitted signatures that could delay the rollout—as well as spur a November ballot measure to overturn the ban.

Animal Confinement

Seven years after their legislative approval, California is now officially enforcing minimum cage-size standards for livestock. Egg-laying hens must now have enough room to sit or stand, turn around and extend their wings. The proposition also specifies improved conditions for pregnant pigs and bans veal crates.

Groundwater Pumping

In response to the severe ongoing drought, California has enacted a number of water-related laws that are now in effect. Three of these laws tighten groundwater regulation in the state that had been surprisingly lax. California will now create groundwater sustainability agencies to track and manage specific groundwater basins. The new agencies also have the authority to assess fees and fines on non-compliant groundwater users. 

Fuel Emissions Fee

Yes, California passed significantly more laws than any other Western state last year. The last one we want to highlight, and potentially the most significant in 2015, is a new cap-and-trade fuel emissions fee on gas at the pump that went online Jan. 1. The fee is an extension of the state’s comprehensive market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The amount of the fee depends on the price of emissions credits, which fluctuate according to the market. While government watchdog groups fear an exponential increase in gas prices, the first week appears to be going smoothly thanks in part to the low price of oil. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average price of regular gasoline in California has dropped a penny this week, from $2.68 to $2.67 per gallon. 

Is your community experiencing new environmental regulations this year? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet to us

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