Capitol Alert

Kamala Harris, silent on dams, says she would protect species law

California Attorney General Kamala Harris talks with reporters after a U.S. Senate debate at the University of the Pacific, April 25, 2016, in Stockton.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris talks with reporters after a U.S. Senate debate at the University of the Pacific, April 25, 2016, in Stockton. AP

U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris said Tuesday that she would not support efforts to weaken the federal law governing endangered species, breaking with fellow Democrat and rival Loretta Sanchez, who has said she would be open to amendments to help address the state’s protracted drought.

“We have to support the Endangered Species Act,” Harris, the state attorney general, told The Sacramento Bee editorial board. “There’s just no question about that.”

The law has been used to protect fish such as the Delta smelt and Chinook salmon, and has long been at the center of debate between environmentalists and farmers. Asked in an editorial board meeting last week whether the Endangered Species Act should be looked at, Sanchez, a 10-term congresswoman from Orange County, said she believed so.

“Everything needs to be on the table when we go in to find a solution,” she said, adding it would be “very difficult to do” politically.

On Tuesday, Harris said it is wrong to focus so intently only on the smelt, citing a book she’s reading called “The Sixth Extinction.”

“The reality of it is that when species, which is what is happening on our globe, start to become extinct, at some point it will come to us,” Harris said. “So even if you don’t care about that small thing you might only be able to see under a microscope, you have to understand, and we have to appreciate and prioritize, the significance of the extinction of that species.”

While she does not want to change the species law, Harris said she has met with farmers in the Central Valley cities of Modesto, Stockton and Bakersfield and believes the industry’s interests also must be looked after.

“Both (the environment and agriculture) can be protected,” Harris said. “And I reject a false choice that you are on one side or the other – that it’s either a fish or a farmer.”

Harris and Sanchez both generally favor Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial twin tunnels water-diversion plan. However, their answers diverge sharply on two proposed reservoirs that have been central to the water discussion for more than a decade.

Sanchez did not specifically address the Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley, and said the Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin River “would be a little more difficult to do,” but did not take a stand on it. She said she supports Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s water bill, which includes federal funding for above-ground water storage.

Asked her views Tuesday on the Sites proposal, Harris said “I am not familiar with it.” She gave the same answer about Temperance Flat.

Asked to clarify her answers after the meeting, a campaign strategist, Sean Clegg, said Harris meant to say she hadn’t reviewed all of the environmental documents and has not taken positions on the proposals.

Kamala Harris, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, defended her work as state attorney general on crime in a debate on Monday, April 25 at the University of the Pacific.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago