California lawmakers vote to block Trump's environmental rollbacks, defying Newsom

Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California lawmakers, over Gov. Gavin Newsom's objections, passed sweeping legislation early Saturday allowing the state to impose strict endangered species protections and water pumping restrictions for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The governor must now decide whether to veto the bill and raise the ire of California environmentalists, who will surely accuse him of sidling up to the Trump administration, or sign the bill into law and potentially anger the state's biggest water agencies.

The issues involving the delta, which provides water for more than 25 million people and millions of acres of Central Valley farmland, became the biggest political flashpoint in the legislation, which is cast to shield California from the Trump administration's rollback of federal environmental and labor protections.

State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, one of the most powerful politicians in Sacramento, led the legislation. Sending the bill to Newsom's desk marks one of the first times these two leaders have clashed over major state policy. That could have implications for their future relationship, potentially complicating the governor's legislative agenda.

Senate Bill 1 would allow state agencies to adopt protections under the federal Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Fair Labor Standards Act and other major environmental and labor laws that were in place before President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

"I think we are living in times that demand our urgent action to protect our state's natural resources, our environment and worker safety," Atkins said shortly before the bill passed.


Many of the labor and environmental provisions were not controversial. But numerous water agencies, including the influential Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, feared the endangered species provisions and delta pumping restrictions would limit their water supply at key times of the year.

The Newsom administration shared some of those concerns, as did U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and four Central Valley Democrats in Congress who submitted a letter last week requesting the bill be amended.

Atkins was adamant about preserving the protections for wildlife, setting up a possible showdown with the Democratic governor as the 2019 legislative session wound to a close Friday night.

Environmental groups, which were a key part of the liberal coalition that helped elect Newsom, saw SB 1 as one of their top priorities for this year's legislative session. The bill had strong support from Sierra Club California, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Audubon California and other groups. It sailed through the state Senate in May on a 28-10 vote, and went through several changes, based on meetings with various parties.


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