California has long been an environmental leader, adopting strong laws to protect the air, water and land that often, eventually, become national policy. Yet the task of setting and enforcing environmental standards is a huge one, and even Green California has relied on the federal government to handle much of that work.
That hasn't been a problem for most of the last 50 years. The state has frequently worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S Department of Fish and Wildlife and other federal agencies to safeguard public health and natural resources.
But that was before the arrival of President Trump, who questions the science on climate change, bemoans vital environmental laws as too burdensome and hires industry lobbyists as regulators. Frequently supported by the Republican-controlled Congress, the Trump administration has laid out plans to relax federal regulations and slash spending on environmental programs. If successful, the efforts would undermine decades of work that has made the nation's air healthier and its water cleaner.
That is simply unacceptable, and if any state should lead the resistance to Trump's anti-environment agenda, it's California. This state has demonstrated that preserving the environment doesn't stunt the economy, and that protecting the state's quality of life is good for residents and businesses.
State leaders, along with environmental groups, have already begun fighting in court to stop the administration from reversing national environmental policies. But they can also prevent backsliding on environmental regulations and enforcement at home by adopting SB 49, the California Environmental Defense Act.
SB 49 would require state agencies to continue enforcing current federal air, water, endangered species and worker safety standards if the Trump administration or Congress weakens them. The bill, which was written Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Henry Stern (D-Agoura Hills), would let California easily incorporate any environmental standard in effect when Trump took office in January without need for a lengthy rule-making process.
It would also require that all wildlife on the federal list of threatened and endangered species be included on the state's list of protected species. That's important because certain key species, such as the leatherback sea turtle and the coastal California gnatcatcher, are listed only on the federal endangered species list and may not be adequately protected going forward. And it would continue a citizen's right to sue to enforce environmental laws if that right is weakened or removed from federal law.
The goal is to make clear California's commitment to strict environmental oversight regardless of what the federal government chooses to do. That would ensure there's no lapse in regulation and provide certainty to both residents and businesses that the Trump environmental upheaval stops at the state line.
Yes, this is a preemptive strike, but it's a smart one considering that the Trump administration and Congress already have proposals pending that would affect water, air and habitat protection in California. Congress is attacking environmental regulations on multiple fronts; for example, there are water-related bills that could weaken protection for endangered salmon, steelhead other species in California.
Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has attempted to delay rules designed to make oil and gas operators reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. He's moved to repeal a 2015 clean water rule meant to protect the drinking water supply for millions of Americans. And the Trump administration proposed weakening a rule to protect workers from inhaling beryllium, a poisonous metal. Ideally, the courts and more reasonable members of Congress will stop such short-sighted rollbacks. But SB 49 is a necessary backstop. It would allow California agencies to maintain the strictest standards and to enforce environmental rules if federal agencies choose not to.
The Chamber of Commerce has labeled SB 49 as a "job killer" despite the fact the bill would simply continue the current laws of the land in California. Lawmakers should not buy into such fear mongering. California has a long, proud history of managing a thriving economy and job creation without sacrificing clean air, clean water or endangered species.