Session End Has Arrived: Will Sacramento Stand Up to Trump?

Californians urge legislature to pass and Governor Newsom to sign SB 1

This is the last week for the state legislature to pass bills and put them on the desk of Governor Newsom.  In the State Capitol, they call it the “silly season” because things happen that make little sense.  That is certainly true this week, in the debate over SB 1. The California Environmental, Public Health and Worker Defense Act is authored by State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D, San Diego).   


The bill is essential and sweeping - but it’s also simple.


SB 1 would respond to dozens of federal efforts to weaken protections for air, water, wildlife, public health and workplace safety protections.  It would allow state agencies to adopt current - pre-rollback – federal protections as interim requirements under state law through an expedited process.  This would not increase regulations for any industry.  It would simply ensure that current protections stay in place – even as the Trump Administration strives to ignore science and dismantle decades of work by federal agencies to protect our natural resources, our workers and our children. 


Senator Atkins has amended the bill to ensure that state agencies retain flexibility and the ability to respond to new scientific developments.  Only one issue remains – whether or not the Trump Administration will be subject to state law protecting endangered species.


Say what?? 


That’s right.  There’s a serious debate in Sacramento over whether the endangered species laws that apply to all other Californians should apply to the most environmentally reckless Administration any of us have ever seen.  As I said – it’s the silly season.


Here’s an example that shows how critically important this decision is:


The Trump Administration runs the largest water project in the state, the Central Valley Project (“CVP”).  Most CVP water goes to Central Valley agriculture, including the infamous Westlands Water District – a group of a few hundred politically connected farmers in the arid San Joaquin Valley.  It turns out that Trump Administration water policy is run by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt – the former lobbyist for the Westlands Water District.  (Clearly, this corner of the swamp has yet to be drained.)  So it’s not surprising that federal water policy – for a president who is famously hostile to California and the environment – is designed in no small part to benefit just a few wealthy well-connected farmers at the expense of the rest of us.


Proposed Trump rollbacks would shred decade old protections for the Bay-Delta that have been upheld by the courts and independent scientific review.  But the Trump Administration doesn’t care about that.


This rollback could lead to extinctions in the largest estuary on the West Coast.  It could lead to toxic algae outbreaks in the Delta.  Algae outbreaks are already killing pets, and scientists worry that they pose a threat to people.  The Trump Administration’s pending Bay-Delta action also threatens thousands of jobs in California’s treasured salmon fishing industry – which produces local, delicious, sustainable food. 


Less obvious is the threat that these Trump rollbacks present to the water supplies of 20 million Southern Californians.  It turns out that if Westlands succeeds in exempting the Trump Administration’s CVP from state law, Southern California residents and Kern County farmers could lose water supplies.  That’s because there would be two sets of regulatory requirements governing the federal CVP and the State Water Project, which supplies Southern California.  With weak federal rules and stronger state rules, the CVP would pump more and the State Water Project could be forced to pump less. 


It turns out that standing up to the Trump Administration under state law is good not only for the environment, public health and workers but also for more than half of the state’s population and our drought-vulnerable economy.


That’s a long way of saying that it’s not a good idea to let President Trump’s agencies violate state endangered species laws.  The fact that there’s a serious debate about this in Sacramento is a clear sign that we’re in the depths of the silly season.


The legislature should pass SB 1, and Governor Newsom should insist that the bill continue to require this reckless anti-environmental, anti-California president to obey state law.