While green advocates in a number of other states might dispute that notion, there’s no denying the Golden State’s long history of leadership on environmental issues. In 1884, a state judge outlawed the dumping of gold-mining rubble into waterways, a decision that predated the federal Rivers and Harbors Act by 15 years. In 1959, the state developed its own air quality standards, and when the Federal Air Quality Act was passed in 1967, California received a waiver allowing it to enforce tighter emissions regulations than called for by the law. The state is home to the country’s first carpool lanes, and passed the first law requiring smog checks for cars. Even the U.S. Green Building Council itself was founded in San Francisco.
In 2010, when opponents of California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 tried to suspend the law, a new-on-the-scene group was there to help fight to protect the legislation: USGBC California. Dennis Murphy helped start the statewide group in 2009, giving the California’s eight individual USGBC chapters an umbrella organization that could advocate for their shared values in precisely moments like this one.
Although the legislation was a little outside of USGBC’s usual green-building mission, it spoke to the larger environmental concerns that are shared by nearly all of the organization’s members. “If this law went away, it almost wouldn’t matter what we were doing on more narrowly defined green building issues,” Murphy says. “We realized that we needed to be part of a broad coalition.”
Murphy set up phone banks where volunteers called USGBC members and urged them to vote against Proposition 23 that would have suspended AB-32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, requiring greenhouse gas emission levels in the state be cut to 1990 levels by 2020. Ultimately, the proposition was defeated by more than 2 million votes.
Currently, Murphy is pushing for the state to pass “purple pipes” legislation requiring new buildings to include infrastructure for utilizing recycled water. “We get involved in a lot of stuff,” Murphy acknowledges, laughing. “Across the country, nobody has the irrational sense of hope and optimism that we do." But Murphy also quips that "Innovation is like the wind, blowing from the West to the East—starting in California and then making its way across the rest of the country."