Sen. Bill Monning discusses sugary drinks, fire fees, Diablo Canyon

jlavelle@thetribunenews.comOctober 31, 2013 

Bill Monning

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave incorrect information about PG&E reason for delaying its federal license renewal applications for two Diablo Canyon nuclear generators. PG&E requested the delay two years ago while it does seismic studies in the region. 

The cost of soda could go up next year if a bill authored by state Sen. Bill Monning is approved by the California Legislature.

Monning told The Tribune Editorial Board on Thursday that he intends to continue to try to push his controversial Senate Bill 622 through the Senate when it resumes in January. The bill would levy an excise tax of 1-cent per fluid ounce on any beverage that adds sweeteners such as sodas, energy and sports drinks, and sweet teas. Diet drinks would be exempt.

The tax is expected to raise $1.7 billion in its first year, and funds would go to a new Children’s Health Promotion Fund to support childhood obesity programs.

Monning said the tax, levied on manufacturers, would certainly be passed on to consumers — and that’s the point. Paying more for soda may encourage consumers, especially teenagers, to down fewer sugary drinks that can lead to obesity and health problems, he said.

“Sugary drinks have no nutritional value,” Monning said. “There is research that shows that children who drink one soda a day increase their chance of developing type 2 diabetes by 50 percent as an adult.”

SB 622 was just one of a range of issues Monning touched on during the one-hour conversation, which he requested while on a swing through his Central Coast district. He also weighed in on issues such as fire fees, a veterans cemetery at Fort Ord, and the future of Diablo Canyon.

For now, SB 622 has been held up in the Senate appropriations committee and would require a two-thirds approval in both the Assembly and Senate. Monning said he has no idea whether the governor would support the law.

“It’s going to be a heavy lift,” he acknowledged. “My hope is that the governor wouldn’t be dismissive of this effort.”

An easier sell has been garnering support to fill most of a $2.6 million funding gap for a Central Coast State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Ord. Federal funds fell short of the $6.7 million needed. Monning co-authored a bill to allocate $1 million and helped persuade the Assembly to set aside $1 million from its budget for the project.

“We’re continuing our fundraising on that,” he said.

The issue that makes his office phone ring most often, however, is the state’s new fire fee that charges residents in rural, fire-prone areas up to $150 per year for prevention efforts such as controlled burns. The fee has been challenged in court.

Monning said he’s waiting for the courts and Gov. Jerry Brown to have their say before deciding whether the Legislature needs to reconsider the fee.

“For me, it’s a tough one,” he said. “My view is that it’s not meant to penalize rural residents, it’s meant to protect rural residents.”

As for Diablo Canyon, Monning said that he supports the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to require nuclear power plants to reassess how earthquake-safe they are, in light of the Fukushima plant disaster in 2011.

The licenses for Diablo Canyon’s two nuclear generators expire in 2024 and 2025, and PG&E has halted its renewal application while it does seismic studies of the region.

Monning said he knows that if either PG&E or the NRC decides not to renew the permits, the loss of jobs and hit to the local economy would be substantial.

“I think the state is going to have to be front and center in working with the community” if that occurs, he said.

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