Trump’s EPA blames homeless for California water pollution, demands action from Newsom

The Trump administration continued pounding California officials over the environment Thursday, blaming San Francisco and Los Angeles’ homelessness for polluting their cities’ water and demanding Gov. Gavin Newsom address a wide range of shortcomings with drinking water supplies.

Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, skewered Newsom in a bluntly-worded letter about California’s polluted water.

“Overall, significant deficiencies are present, and the state has not acted with a sense of urgency to abate this public health and environmental problem,” Wheeler wrote.

The letter represents another ratcheting-up of the feud between Sacramento and the Trump administration over numerous issues, including the environment.

Wheeler dispatched his letter just three days after threatening to pull billions of dollars in federal highway funding from California because of the state’s chronic air pollution problems.

Newsom immediately blasted the threat as “retaliation” for California’s resistance to the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions — and its plan to revoke the state’s ability to set its own standards on those emissions. State officials also accused Trump of hypocrisy because the EPA has been attempting to roll back a lengthy list of environmental regulations.

Newsom’s spokesman Nathan Click, in a statement to The Sacramento Bee, said of Wheeler’s letter on water pollution: “There’s a common theme in the news coming out of this White House this week. The President is abusing the powers of the presidency and weaponizing government to attack his political opponents. This is not about clean air, clean water or helping our state with homelessness. This is political retribution against California, plain and simple.”

In his letter to Newsom, Wheeler noted that the federal government has shipped $1.1 billion to the state in the past five years to clean its water. However, he didn’t threaten to withdraw any funds, as he did with the highway dollars earlier this week.

Letter from EPA to Newsom on homeless

“Under this Administration, the EPA stands ready to assist California and CalEPA to protect the health and environment of Californians. However, it is time for the state to act decisively,” Wheeler wrote. The letter was first reported by the Washington Post. “For each of the delegated or assumed programs discussed in this letter, I request a written response within 30 days outlining in detail how California intends to address the concerns and violations identified herein.”

The EPA chief faulted the city of San Francisco, with the state’s blessing, for dumping “more than one billion gallons of combined sewage and stormwater into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean on an annual basis.”

Wheeler said “piles of human feces” on the sidewalks and streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles could lead to “potential water quality impacts from pathogens and other contaminants from untreated human waste entering nearby waters.” He said the state isn’t “acting with urgency” to control the problem.

Just a week ago, following a trip to the Bay Area and Southern California, the president blamed California’s homeless problems on “liberal” policies and said the city is allowing needles and other waste to flow into the ocean through San Francisco’s storm drains.

“We’re going to be giving San Francisco — they’re in total violation — we’re going to be giving them a notice very soon,” he told reporters on Air Force One as he flew back to Washington. San Francisco officials said storm drain debris is filtered before the water reaches the ocean.

Although Wheeler didn’t mention it, The Sacramento Bee recently reported that feces from homeless encampments has fouled the American River around Sacramento.

He also cited chronic and well-documented problems with community drinking water systems around the state. McClatchy and others have reported that hundreds of water systems are tainted with arsenic and other pollutants.

In July, the Legislature passed a law championed by Newsom that will spend $130 million a year to clean up those systems.

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Dale Kasler covers climate change, the environment, economics and the convoluted world of California water. He also covers major enterprise stories for McClatchy’s Western newspapers. He joined The Bee in 1996 from the Des Moines Register and graduated from Northwestern University.