SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Citing fears the federal government may weaken environmental protections, the California state Senate on Tuesday passed a “Preserve California” package of bills.
The three bills keep in place President Barack Obama-era federal environmental regulations, discourage the sale of federal public land without the state’s permission and safeguard federal whistleblowers authorized to work in California. Los Angeles-area Democrats wrote all three bills, which were met by opposition from Republicans at every step.
“We won’t allow Californians to suffer the consequences of Donald Trump’s reckless slash-and-burn approach to the environment,” California Senate Leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said in a statement. “These measures safeguard public health and ensure we continue to make policy based on the best available science, not ‘alternative facts’ or polluter propaganda.” De León and state Sen. Henry Stern, D-Agoura Hills, co-wrote Senate Bill 49.
“This is pretty straightforward – just common-sense measures to preserve minimum safeguards for clean air and water,” Stern said in a statement. “We still have a way to go to clean up our environment, but at the very least we should not be backsliding.”
Some members of the state Senate believe it is only a matter of time before the Trump administration moves to dissolve the standards these bills aim to preserve. Proponents point to Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, as well as statements he has made about reducing regulations to encourage job growth, as evidence of his intent to dismantle existing environmental law.
The most contentious of the bills, SB 49, sets current federal environmental regulation concerning air pollution, water pollution, endangered species and “other federal laws” as a baseline and protects California’s right to establish standards beyond the federal government standards.
According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, SB 49 carries a hefty price tag of at least $10.5 million to add staff to the California Department of Fish and Game to enforce the bill, and potentially significant higher cost if certain aspects of the law are triggered by federal regulatory changes, though this cost is currently unclear and difficult to assess.
The California Chamber of Commerce has called SB 49 a “job killer,” stating it is “a premature, overbroad and vague response to things that could happen in the future while in the present creating substantial uncertainty for businesses in advance of any such potential changes and correspondingly greatly increases the potential for costly litigation.”
Opposition groups to SB 49 have said the appropriate action should be a case-by-case targeted approach in response to action by the federal government.
State Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, wrote the Public Lands Protection Act, Senate Bill 50, with the intent of blocking the Trump administration from selling federal land to third parties – specifically to mining and oil-exploration companies. While the state already possesses these powers, SB 50 establishes a policy encouraging resistance and provides legal protections. The measure is a response to several bills presented by federal representatives from various states seeking to grow their economies through deregulation of environmental controls.
“The state Senate made a strong statement that our national parks and national monuments are not for sale,” Allen said in a statement. “With the passage of this legislation, California will have the power to block the sale or lease of these public treasures.”
SB 50 places fiscal responsibility for infrastructure development for approved projects with the purchaser, and not the state or local government. The bill’s co-authors believe this will discourage developers from purchasing land in California.
Ann Nothoff, Director of California Advocacy for Natural Resources Defense Council said, “California isn’t about to let the Trump administration hand over our greatest assets for exploitation and sale. We value the amazing natural resources we have in this state and refuse to let the Trump administration put corporate interests and profits ahead of the rights and health of everyday Americans.”
Reviving a bill that has been twice vetoed, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, wrote Senate Bill 51, which aims to protect federal whistleblowers who might face punishment for violating attorney-client privilege under state law. Nearly identical laws were vetoed by Govs. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger as redundant and establishing bad precedent.
“With science and scientific data under threat, SB 51 will protect whistleblowers who stand up for the public’s interest, and keep them from having their professional credentials stripped away if they are licensed in California,” Jackson said. “It will also ensure that climate change and other scientific data so critical to our future remains intact and accessible to scientists for years to come.”
Of the package, state Sen. Bob Wieckowski, a Fremont Democrat who also chairs the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, said, “Californians value strong environmental stewardship and this package of bills safeguards our public lands, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the workers who protect all three. These baseline protections will help shield us from the reckless rollbacks proposed by the administration in Washington.”
The package next heads to the Assembly for approval. With Democrat majorities in both wings of the statehouse and the governor’s office, Republican efforts to derail the measures aren’t likely to be effective.