SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California Democratic lawmakers late Friday approved sweeping legislation meant to deflect the Trump administration’s push for softer environmental standards, a move critics say will intensify the state’s ceaseless water wars.
After months of committee hearings and floor debates, the state Assembly approved the so-called “Trump insurance for California’s environment” on a 43-21 party-line vote, likely leaving its fate up to Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat.
The proposal by Senate President Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would require state agencies to abide by – at a minimum – the federal regulations that were in place under President Barack Obama. Environmental groups and many state Democrats contend that Senate Bill 1 is a justifiable response to the Trump administration’s weakening of clean air, water and most recently endangered species laws.
“SB 1 simply ensures no backsliding when it comes to the protection of our irreplaceable environmental and natural resources,” said Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale.
In voting for SB 1 on the final day of the legislative session, the Assembly Democrats went against not just farming interests and water suppliers, but also U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other state Democratic members of Congress.
Last week, Feinstein and four House Democrats representing California’s agricultural heartland implored first-year Gov. Newsom to ask for two major amendments to SB 1.
They said cementing the Obama-era standards could make moot future scientific reviews on how to manage the state’s rivers and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and cited the legal uncertainty around trying to force the federal agency that delivers water to farmers to abide by the state’s stricter Endangered Species Act. In addition, they claim, SB 1 would kill ongoing voluntary talks between water suppliers and environmentalists.
“Without additional flexibility, this provision would severely restrict voluntary agreements whereby water users would support additional flows and habitat improvements for salmon and other imperiled fish in return for some level of water supply reliability,” the letter states.
On the Assembly floor Friday night, Republicans accused the majority party of backing SB 1 to make a “political statement” against President Trump.
One by one, Republicans and even a Democrat from California’s agricultural heartland begged their colleagues to kill Atkins’ bill.
“What this bill does is turn my area of the state literally into a dust bowl,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia.
Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, said Atkins’ bill “threatens the water reliability of our entire state.”
The legislation has drawn much attention due to the interconnected relationship between the state’s two major water delivery systems, the federally operated Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.
The Trump administration wants to make more surface water available to farmers and rollback pumping restrictions on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the state’s most crucial water source.
Environmentalists fear that if deliveries are increased, it would be the final blow to struggling salmon populations and other species in the delta’s struggling ecosystem.
California environmental groups applauded the Assembly’s vote and pushed Newsom to sign the bill.
“We are counting on you,” Restore the Delta tweeted after the vote. “SB 1 allows for science re-evaluation in the delta when needed. We know that following science is the way to manage for species and California water. Let’s break the status quo and save the San Francisco Bay Delta.”
The bill also has implications for California employers, as it bars state agencies from passing workers’ rights or safety rules that are weaker than federal standards in place as of January 2016. The measure would sunset as of Jan. 20, 2025 – the latest possible date for the Trump administration to end.
Before reaching Newsom, the bill must get final clearance Friday night from the Senate on recent amendments. The Senate passed an earlier version of the bill in May by an overwhelming margin.