Fearing a federal rollback of longstanding protections for air quality, clean water, endangered species and workers’ rights, California Democrats are pursuing legislation that would cement those environmental and labor regulations in state law.
The trio of bills announced Thursday also seek to use state authority to block private development of federal lands in California and extend some safeguards to federal whistleblowers.
“Californians can’t afford to go back to the days of unregulated pollution,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said at a press conference. “So we’re not going to let this administration or any other undermine our progress.”
Efforts by former President Barack Obama to address climate change and other environmental problems are expected to be largely reversed under President Donald Trump, who is already targeting regulations, such as an Obama rule to keep coal mining waste out of waterways, that he says hurt industry and kill jobs.
De León and other state senators who joined him Thursday pointed to a litany of developments over recent months that compelled them to act: Trump calling climate change a hoax; proposals to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the confirmation of Scott Pruitt, who as attorney general of Oklahoma repeatedly sued the EPA, to lead the agency.
“We’re locking in at least some baseline so that people in the state of California can trust that we’re going to have their back to preserve the quality of California that they’ve all come to expect and know that progress can still be made,” said Sen. Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles.
De León and Stern are joint authors of the main legislation, Senate Bill 49, which would prohibit state and local agencies from adopting rules that are less stringent than those currently in place under the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Water Drinking Drinking Act, Endangered Species Act and worker safety standards.
Senate Bill 50, by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, aims to discourage new resource extraction by private companies on public lands. It would void transfers in ownership of federal land in California unless the State Lands Commission is given the right of first refusal.
Senate Bill 51, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, forbids state licensing agencies from taking disciplinary action against government-employed scientists and researchers who reveal wrongdoing. It also directs California environmental and public health agencies to preserve any scientific information or data that federal authorities order destroyed.
The Legislature has tried a similar tactic before. In 2003, as then-President George W. Bush moved to weaken a similar rule at the federal level, California passed a law requiring the state’s older factories, refineries and power plants to update their pollution-control equipment when they upgrade their facilities.