Editorials

California is right not to let Trump wreck the environment

California mussels and a crab are covered in oil at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta. The 2015 spill underscored the need for strong safeguards on water quality.
California mussels and a crab are covered in oil at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta. The 2015 spill underscored the need for strong safeguards on water quality. Associated Press file

Clean air and water ought to be nonpartisan issues. Liberal or conservative, rich or poor, no living creature should have to worry that life’s essentials are unsafe.

Yet, disappointingly, President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans seem bent on dismantling environmental protections, using jobs as a pretext. It’s a deeply misguided ideological stance with real public health implications.

Californians can, and should, push back.

Republicans running Congress should know better than to go along with Trump’s preposterous claim that climate change is a “hoax created by and for the Chinese.” It isn’t, and, with unemployment at less than 5 percent, weaning ourselves from the fossil fuels that are warming the planet isn’t destroying the economy.

Nonetheless, last month, Congress killed an Obama administration rule restricting coal companies from polluting streams with mine waste. This week, Trump signed an executive order asking his new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to start unraveling a signature Obama-era regulation that clarified which bodies of water were subject to federal jurisdiction.

At the recent Conservative Political Action summit in Washington, D.C., Pruitt – a climate skeptic who sued the EPA more than a dozen times as attorney general of Oklahoma – told fellow true believers that his first orders of business would include gutting Obama’s rules limiting carbon and methane emissions.

Meanwhile, draft budget proposals drawn up by the administration indicate that Trump wants to cut a quarter of the EPA’s budget, eliminate a fifth of its staff and zero out virtually all programs on climate change and clean energy.

Climate change is an existential threat, which is why the rest of the world has signed an agreement to try to curb it. Accidents such as the colossal 2015 methane leak in Aliso Canyon and the crude oil spill at Refugio State Beach underscore the vulnerability of our air and water and the need for alternative fuels and strong safeguards.

And the EPA staff is key to enforcing federal clean air regulations, particularly in California, where national air pollution rankings are regularly topped by cities such as Los Angeles, Fresno and Bakersfield.

Fortunately, Californians have some recourse. Existing state laws on water quality dating to the 1960s actually allow California to step in and shield the wetlands and streams that stand to lose federal protection as Obama’s Clean Water Rule is rolled back.

Voters can remind congressional Republicans, for instance, that part of this state’s brand is its commitment to the environment.

Southern California lawmakers have introduced a smart package of bills designed to inoculate the state against this weakening of federal environmental standards.

Senate Bill 49 by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Henry Stern, D-Agoura Hills, would lock in current federal standards as the state’s baseline on air, climate, water and other issues, even if the federal government lowers them later.

SB 50, by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, would strengthen the state’s say in the sale of federal land here to private developers who want to drill or mine it.

And SB 51 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would protect federal whistleblowers here, and preserve environmental and public health data, even if federal authorities order them censored.

The Legislature should pass them, swiftly, and state water authorities should implement policy under existing law to better protect seasonal streams and temporary wetlands. And California Republicans should step up. After all, it was one of their own – President Richard Nixon – who created the EPA.

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