In California, where there’s smoke, there may be a wildfire – and new legislative action.
Starting with smoke: on Thursday June 27th, the Cal/OSHA’s Standards Board met and heard comments on a revised draft of the wildfire smoke regulations that have been bouncing around the Division since December of last year. As I discussed in a recent podcast, (http://advocacy.calchamber.com/2019/06/19/regulations-may-require-employers-to-monitor-air-qulaity-provide-respirators/), these regulations will require employers with employees who are outside for more than one hour per shift to monitor the air quality and, if it exceeds an AQI of 150 for fine particulate matter (known as “PM2.5”), then employers will need to have respirators available for employees’ optional use. After repeated input from the California Chamber of Commerce, as well as other business groups, these regulations have been considerably improved – though they are still far from ideal. Though the Standards Board is legally allowed to make changes before the next meeting, the clear guidance we have received is that no further changes will be made before the regulations are finalized next month, so employers need to treat these as final and begin preparing to comply by August of 2019. The regulation’s full text is available for your review at http://www.dir.ca.gov/oshsb/documents/Protection-from-Wildfire-Smoke-Emergency-proptxt.pdf.
Turning from smoke to fire: later on June 27th, the Governor released draft language for his wildfire legislation, which has been placed in AB 1054 (Holden). The bill addresses several questions that have troubled past wildfire discussions, including who will fund the wildfire compensation fund (mainly the utilities) and ensuring utilities’ ability to recover costs from ratepayers in order to quell market concern. At this time, prior wildfire fund legislation, such as Assemblymember Burke’s AB 740, is still alive and headed to Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications on July 2nd – but the Governor’s bill (which Burke has signed onto as a coauthor) is likely to take the lead going forward.
And of course, there are a host of other bills to address other wildfire-related concerns, including retrofitting homes (AB 38 – Wood), reimbursement for local agencies (AB 41 – Gallagher), housing (AB 430 – Gallagher), and local Sacramento emergency preparation (AB 661), that continue to march forward. So as wildfire season approaches, keep an eye on the horizon for new laws and regulations.