Defend California from Federal and Civil Rights Rollbacks

Three new bills were recently introduced by California Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León and other state champions, all designed to protect California against environmental harm from the anti-environment antics of the Trump Administration and Congress. These bills can be a model for other states that want to protect against environmental civil rights damage coming from Washington, D.C. The timing is right: Polluters and their friends in Congress and the White House have an anti-environmental agenda that they are pushing the federal government to implement, threatening harm to clean air, clean water, endangered species and to scientific integrity itself. 

California’s SB 49, the California Environmental and Worker Defense Act, authored by Senators de León and Stern, makes current federal clean air, clean water, worker safety, and endangered species standards enforceable under state law if the federal government rolls back and weakens those standards. The State would be allowed to set stricter standards, but cannot weaken standards. This could come into play if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under industry and political pressure, weakens the national ozone standard, now at 70 parts per million (ppm). If, say, the EPA moved the standard to 100 ppm, California would be required to set its ozone standard at 70 ppm or lower under SB 49 as introduced. 

The bill also protects California’s wildlife, rivers and drinking water from being sacrificed by the federal government to corporate profits. Our water quality and endangered species laws are built on the foundation of the federal Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. For example, the numeric limits on how much toxic pollution like lead, dioxin, mercury, and PCBs can be dumped into California’s rivers and estuaries were established by EPA in the California Toxics Rule. The State relies on those standards to regulate toxic pollution in inland waterways. If EPA were to weaken those limits, the waters of California could be subject to increased levels of highly toxic pollution. SB 49 ensures that California’s people and resources would not be subjected to those dangers.         

Similarly, California has relied on the federal government to protect many of our most vulnerable native wildlife species from extinction, even though the State has our own California Endangered Species Act. For example, several animals and marine mammals found in California or off our coast have been identified as threatened and endangered species by federal wildlife agencies, but do not appear on the State’s list of threatened and endangered species. A sampling of these species includes blue whales, southern sea otters, the Point Arena mountain beaver, and western snowy plovers. SB 49 aims to not only ensure that these species receive the protection of being  listed under the California Endangered Species Act, but would maintain existing federal protections against extinction of all threatened and endangered species in California, even if the Trump Administration or Congress  weakens federal endangered species protections. AB 49 follows in the successful footsteps of a 2003 California law, SB 288, that was passed to protect California breathers against the George W. Bush Administration rollbacks of federal clean air standards. 

Another bill in the package, SB 50, the Public Lands Protection Act, authored by Senator Allen, is designed to protect lands is California from the loud threats to sell off federal land in California to private parties for mining or oil drilling. Nearly half of California is federal land. SB 50 would require the California State Lands Commission to create a right of first refusal by California of any federal lands in California proposed for sale to private parties. This gives the State the right to hold on to valuable lands to protect them from damaging fossil fuel and other exploitation.

And, SB 51, the Whistleblower and Public Data Protection Act, authored by Senator Jackson, protects Californians from science deniers by shielding  federal employees such as engineers and scientists working for federal agencies here in California, from losing State professional licenses for bringing to light violations of law, unethical actions or dangers to public health and safety committed by their agencies or others. It also prohibits censorship of information by the federal government. 

The anti-environment alignment in Washington has never been more dangerous for public health and the environment. NRDC stands with California’s elected leaders to support quick passage of these much needed bills by the California legislature. We cannot relax our vigilance for a second against the climate deniers and industry apologists now in power in the White House and Congress. #PreserveCA

About the Authors

Annie Notthoff

Director, California Advocacy, San Francisco and Sacramento

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