Kip Lipper: The Senate's go-to guy on environmental policy
|The following appeared in Capitol Weekly's special environmental section today|
One of the most influential voices in California environmental policy is a name hardly anyone outside the Capitol has ever heard. But for anyone who wants to pass a significant piece of environmental legislation, there's one senior staffer who comes to mind--Kip Lipper.
His fourth-floor Senate office is so packed with boxes and overflowing with paperwork that some joke it is where he stores the Capitol's institutional memory on environmental issues. Others, including some legislators, have called Lipper the Senate's 41st senator--a designation that embarrasses him, his friends say.
Bill Magavern, senior representative for Sierra Club, says Lipper, whose real first name is Kernan, is simply "the most influential Capitol staffer on environmental issues."
Lipper prefers to work out of the limelight. When asked for to speak about his role in crafting environmental policy, he declined, saying he was a policy person, not a press person.
"He is extremely talented and he probably knows as much as any three of us put together," said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
But, adds Kuehl, "one of the things about Kip is that he very very assiduously understands the rule of staff. He doesn't have a vote." For Lipper, that means shepherding environmental legislation, but always leaving the credit for elected officials.
Lipper's first legislative job was working in the district office of then-Assemblyman Dennis Mangers, D-Huntington Beach, in the late 1970s, trying to protect the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.
"Lipper cut his environmental teeth on that issue," said Mangers.
In 1980, Lipper moved to Sacramento to work for former Sen. Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, where he stayed until Sher was termed out of office in 2004.
During much of Sher's two-decade tenure in the Legislature, Lipper served as both Sher's chief of staff and as chief consultant to the Natural Resources Committee. From those dual posts, Lipper helped Sher craft many of the state's landmark pieces of environmental legislation.
Those included the California Clean Air Act, the California Safe Drinking Water Act, the California Beverage Recycling Act and the Integrated Waste Management Act.
In 2002, Lipper helped with legislation that requires energy companies to produce 20 percent of electricity from renewable resources. And in 2003, he helped Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, author a package of central valley clean air legislation--while still on Sher's staff.
Though he is currently a staffer for Senate leader Don Perata, leadership in both legislative houses have sought Lipper's advice in the recent round of negotiations on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's infrastructure bond package. One senior Nuñez aide called Lipper "Mr. CEQA," a reference to the California Environmental Quality Act that has been a central bone of contention in the negotiations.
"It's really Kip who shuttles from meeting to meeting and brings understanding and information to all the parties," added Kuehl, who credits Lipper's advice for Perata being "more green than I think people expected him to be" in the bond negotiations.
Dan Jacobsen, legislative director for Environment California, says Lipper has three distinctive qualities that make him an effective staffer.
"He understands policy incredibly well. He's incredibly accessible. And he has the ear of critical decision makers," said Jacobsen. "To me, those are the three best things you want to have in a staff person."
Magavern says that Lipper brings the views of environmentalists to Senate leadership, pointing to Schwarzenegger's nomination of Cindy Tuck to the California Air Resources Board as an example. The appointment of Tuck, who had long represented agriculture, oil and big business interests, was vehemently opposed by the environmental community.
The Senate eventually rejected her nomination and Magavern, among others, attributes her demise, in part, to Lipper's influence.
For all his efforts in California, Lipper was honored on the floor of the House of Representatives in 2001 "for his outstanding work on behalf of the environment," by Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte.
Interestingly, Lipper is not the only member of his family to have worked the Capitol. His sister, Donna Lucas, is the former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Schwarzenegger.
Lipper has had the occasional run-in with lawmakers.
At the end of last year's session, columnist Dan Walters reported that Lipper had an encounter with Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, whose bill to expand delta protections against urban development was amended in the Rules Committee, for which Lipper works. Wolk was not informed of the amendments and demanded they be removed--though the Senate adjourned before the bill was taken up.
But Wolk says it was all a misunderstanding--the bill has since passed--and that Lipper is an asset to the Legislature.
"I was hoping he would come over to the Assembly at some point," says a laughing Wolk, "but I haven't been able to convince him to."