Water interests are fighting California's bid to block Trump's environmental rollbacks

Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California is close to adopting strict Obama-era federal environmental and worker safety rules that the Trump administration is dismantling. But as the legislative session draws to a close, the proposal faces fierce opposition from the state's largest water agencies.

To shield California from Trump administration policies, lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow state agencies to lock in protections under the federal Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Fair Labor Standards Act and other bulwark environmental and labor laws that were in place before President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

Written by one of the most powerful politicians in Sacramento, state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, Senate Bill 1 has strong support from some of California's most influential environmental and labor organizations, including some that helped get Gov. Gavin Newsom elected.

But several of California's water suppliers and agricultural interests, which also flex ample political muscle, oppose the measure. This coalition includes the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has made SB 1 a top lobbying priority.

The water agencies fear the state would cement into law endangered species protections and pumping restrictions that would add to uncertainties about pumping water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, joined by four Democratic members of Congress from the Central Valley, also sent a letter to Newsom on Friday echoing concerns raised by the bill's opponents. Without changes, the legislation would "prevent the state from incorporating the latest science and other information in permitting decisions, " the letter stated.


"We're stuck on one key issue, and that's the Endangered Species Act," Atkins said. "I'm keeping an open mind, but ... the intent of this bill is to protect programs that we have had in place for decades."

While Atkins said she will continue negotiations with the bill's opponents and will consider amendments, time is running out, since this year's legislative session ends Friday.

Atkins appears adamant about keeping tough protections for endangered species in California.

She said the intent of the water suppliers and Central Valley agricultural interests is crystal clear -- they benefit from Trump administration proposals to weaken the Endangered Species Act because that would allow them to divert more water from the delta.


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