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EPA cancels meeting with California after a week of clashes

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler has accused California leaders of ignoring the state’s environmental problems.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler has accused California leaders of ignoring the state’s environmental problems.
(Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

In another sign of the Trump administration’s intensifying political feud with California, the Environmental Protection Agency has abruptly called off a meeting next week with state environmental leaders.

After a week of repeated clashes, in which the EPA accused California’s leaders of not protecting the state’s air and water, the agency on Thursday took another jab at the most populous state. It canceled a meeting scheduled for Oct. 2 between Matthew Tejada, the federal EPA’s director of the Office of Environmental Justice, and the leaders of three California environmental agencies that oversee air and water quality.

In an email exchange that California’s Environmental Protection Agency shared with The Times, federal EPA employee Charles Lee wrote to state officials just hours after the agency sent California the second of two threatening letters about its environmental oversight.

Lee wrote: “Due to events today, it turns out EPA persons cannot travel to Sacramento.”

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When contacted by The Times, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said that the agency had canceled the meeting to find a time later in the year when more state officials would be available to meet. “The agency is looking at times to reschedule it,” he wrote in an email.

Jared Blumenfeld, the secretary of the California EPA, said he was taken aback by the EPA’s latest move.

“This shows you how petty it’s gotten,” he said in an interview. “We’re a little dismayed.”

The last-minute cancellation underscores just how bitter the Trump versus California battle has become.

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California has sued the Trump administration 62 times, including 30 lawsuits challenging its efforts to weaken environmental protections. And in just the last few weeks, the EPA has revoked California’s unique authority to set its own car pollution standards and threatened to cut off the state’s federal highway funds as punishment for not submitting timely pollution-control plans.

On Thursday, the agency blamed San Francisco’s homeless population for polluting its water, alleging that “untreated human waste” and used needles were entering the sewer system and flowing into the ocean and the bay.

The administration’s aggressive behavior toward California has alarmed other states.

The Environmental Council of States, a nonpartisan coalition of state environmental regulators, sent the EPA a letter on Thursday, warning the agency that its actions were hurting its relationship with state leaders.

The council “is concerned that recent communications and actions by U.S. EPA are damaging this engagement and eroding our ability to jointly protect our citizens and the environment,” the letter said.

On Friday, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein called on the EPA’s inspector general to investigate whether the agency was engaging in political interference by threatening to withhold transportation funding.


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