Newsom vetoes bill aimed at preventing light pollution

Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a bill that would have curbed light pollution from state buildings, writing that the proposed law is “too broad a mandate” that California is struggling to pay for at this time.

Introduced by Rep. Alex Lee (D-San Jose), AB 2382 would have required that all outdoor lights installed after Jan. 1 on state-owned properties be leased or managed, light pollution shields, and motion sensors or automatic dimming or shut-off features to limit the amount of light they emit to the environment.

“This law would have protected our night skies and migratory species while reducing wasteful and unnecessary power consumption,” said Lee, who called the veto “hugely disappointing.”

In his Friday veto message, Newsom framed his decision to return the bill without his signature primarily as a tax decision, writing that its costs were “unfunded and potentially significant” in a year of lower than expected earnings.

The proposed measures “may cost millions of dollars that are not budgeted for,” he wrote, noting that the state’s Green Building Standards Code already mandates some light pollution prevention measures for nonresidential buildings.

The shift to more energy-efficient lighting has an unintended consequence: more light is escaping into the night sky, causing light pollution.

Supporters of the bill called this view short-sighted.

“Making state building lighting more nighttime, animal and health friendly saves money in the long run because you use less energy,” said Travis Longcore, an urban ecologist at UCLA who studies the environmental impact of artificial lighting and advises the drafters of the bill.

“It’s about prioritizing things that are important,” he said. “As a state, we’re doing well enough to do the right thing in our nocturnal environment.”

In an ironic twist, the widespread adoption of energy-efficient LED flashes has led to a blinding explosion of light pollution, disrupting wildlife and disrupting humans’ circadian rhythms.

LED lights use less than 25% of the energy of the incandescent bulbs they are designed to replace. People have embraced them and lit more rooms into the night longer than before.

Many of these bulbs also emit a cooler blue light that’s more widely diffused, meaning the bright lights of urban Los Angeles can make it harder to spot the stars in Death Valley. A clear night sky in Los Angeles now shines 1.5 times brighter than a full moon night, Longcore estimates.

Government buildings account for only a small fraction of light pollution, which is primarily driven by stadiums, industrial lighting, street lamps and residential exterior lighting. But the bill, which garnered bipartisan support in the State Assembly and Senate, was a way for the state to “lead by example,” said Ruskin Hartley, executive director of the International Dark-Sky Assn.

Nineteen states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have enacted laws to prevent light pollution. Mexico, France and Croatia have also enacted national light pollution laws.

Despite disappointment at the veto, supporters of the bill say they are not giving up.

“As energy costs continue to rise, we’re seeing a lot of countries in Europe think seriously about how they use lights at night, and say, ‘Hey, at 2 a.m., let’s turn off these house lights, let’s turn off these house lights,’ and that requires them to be at the controls. It’s about future-proofing our cities,” Hartley said. “We have to argue economically and ecologically, and we’ll be back.” Newsom vetoes bill aimed at preventing light pollution

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