Marine vessel operators and other companies that discharge into waterways beware: new regulations will be coming your way.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week signed two bills by state Sen. Joseph Simitian, D-Palo Alto, to clamp down on water pollution. The first one, SB 497, requires the California State Lands Commission next year to adopt regulations on the discharges of ballast water from ships, requiring ship operators to treat the water before discharging it.

When ships leave port, they take on ballast water to provide stability as they navigate the open ocean. Then, when they reach their destinations, the ships discharge their ballast water to raise their drafts in the shallower port channels.

The problem is ballast waters transfer plants and organisms such as clams and crabs native to one area of the globe into another area, harming the habitats of adjacent waterways.

The goal of the Simitian legislation is to rid ballast water of all non-native organisms by 2020, requiring ship operators to treat the ballast water before discharging it in California ports and marinas. It will be up to the state Lands Commission, which has regulatory authority over ports, to come up with the timetables and exact standards.

The shipping community, which opposed California's unilateral effort to set standards for what it regards as an international issue, fought for a provision for regular reviews of the regulations to ensure that they did not get too far ahead of treatment technology.

"We really don't know what it's going to take to meet the standards set out in this law," said John Berge, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association in San Francisco. "Obviously, there will have to be some sort of onboard treatment systems installed on all ships calling on California ports, but as of now, the technology simply isn't there yet."

Berge said that at this point setting a benchmark standard might actually be a good thing, since "that would give the technology developers something to strive for."

As for the ultimate cost to the shippers, Berge said much will hinge on how expensive the new treatment technologies prove to be.

The other bill Schwarzenegger signed, SB 729, also by Simitian, gives more authority to the State Water Resources Control Board and regional water quality boards to conduct water quality investigations and impose penalties for violations of pollution standards. This means construction firms and various industrial plants that have water discharges will have to make sure they are in compliance with existing regulations or face a higher risk of penalties.

How much higher that risk will be will depend on funding levels for the water quality control boards to hire additional inspectors.

Deadly Popcorn Butter?
OK, we all know that the artificial butter flavoring on popcorn isn't the healthiest food on the planet. But now there's a new threat that federal and state regulators are investigating: whether fumes from the butter flavoring at microwave popcorn packaging plants could cause harm to plant workers.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration is holding a meeting in Oakland on Thursday to consider imposing an exposure limit to diacetyl, the chemical in question. The agency is acting on a petition from the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the California Labor Federation.

The California Manufacturers and Technology Association is meeting with interested parties to determine its position on the issue.

Helpful Bills
Bill signing season hasn't been all bad news for California companies. Two weeks ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a trio of bills designed to help small businesses.

The first bill, SB 1436 by Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont, requires every state agency that significantly impacts small businesses to designate at least one person to serve as a small business liaison. This liaison will, among other things, respond to complaints, provide technical advice, report concerns to top agency brass and ensure the agency meets small business contracting guidelines.

"The real key is making sure that all the small business liaisons that are currently in place actually help small businesses comply with regulations. This function slipped away when the state Trade & Commerce agency was disbanded during the budget crisis," said Scott Hauge, president of Small Business California, an advocacy group with 200 dues paying members that represents the interests of hundreds more businesses and small business groups throughout the state.

The second bill, AB 2330 by Juan Arambula, D-Fresno, requires the state Office of Small Business to prepare a cost impact study of state regulations on small business and submit that report to the governor by Oct. 1, 2007. A companion bill that came out of the Jobs Committee that Arambula chairs will require the Office of Small Business to provide technical assistance to small employers on disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

Consumer Product Regs
Manufacturers of consumer household and aerosol products have just 90 days left to comply with new state regulations limiting concentrations of smog-forming volatile organic compounds and certain toxic compounds in their products.

Earlier this month, the state Air Resources Board sent a letter to these manufacturers reminding them of the upcoming deadline. The VOC limits vary widely by specific product category: for example, floor or wall covering adhesive removers can only have 5 percent concentrations of VOCs, while other specialty adhesives can have concentrations of up to 80 percent.

The letter can be accessed online at and contains a table with the specific limits for each type of consumer product.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or by e-mail at .

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