Influencers Opinion

Can California and federal government work together to protect environment? Not likely

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth.

Get weekly updates on the issues that matter to you: Sign up for the California Influencers newsletter here.

California has been fighting a nonstop political war with the federal government since the day Donald Trump took office, but nowhere has the battle been more intense than on environmental and energy policy. And many of The Sacramento Bee’s California influencers are prepared for ongoing combat.

“If we cannot engage the Trump (administration) in constructive ways around the policy table, then we should drag them into court to make their case for destroying natural resources,” said Democratic public affairs consultant Karen Skelton. “The way to engage with the federal government on environmental protections is to litigate with confidence in defense of our natural resources, and quickly.”

Lea Ann Tratten of TrattenPrice Consulting in Sacramento, was even more emphatic, calling for a multi-front opposition effort from California environmental interests.

“Engagement implies a willing partner and the only thing the Trump administration is willing to do on the environment is steal more of it from our children,” Tratten said. “California can and must lead the nation in the fight against climate change on every front: in the courts, in the legislature, in the economic markets as (Gov. Gavin) Newsom has done by bringing automakers to the table.”

But even Newsom, who has led the charge against the Trump administration on environmental policy since he took office in January, has occasionally held his fire. Recently, the governor announced his decision to veto legislation that would have blocked the president from rolling back endangered species protections in California.

Several California influencers also cited the benefits of a less confrontational approach, including Brent Hastey, president of the Association of California Water Agencies.

“California is an international leader in seeking to balance ecological values with social and economic needs,” Hastey said. “Our challenge is to encourage Congress and the federal agencies to shape federal laws, policies and regulations that will enable California to continue to sustainably balance all of our values and needs equitably.”

Dave Puglia, executive vice president for the Western Growers Association, talked about the potential economic consequences of a protracted struggle.

“Given the wide philosophical gulf between the Trump (administration) and California’s leaders, private sector employers who drive California’s economy are caught in the middle,” Puglia said. “State (environmental) initiatives have often been accomplished without significant friction between state and federal regulatory agencies. This is important as a signal to businesses that need a measure of regulatory predictability as they make investment decisions.”

But other Influencers focused on aggressively confronting the threats from Washington.

“These actions leave California with no choice but to fight back with all the tools at our command, to protect our air, water, land, resources, and our most polluted disadvantaged communities,” said John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. “And as we come face to face with the threat of wildfires and their devastating impact on our environment and economy, we are confronted by the magnitude of the mess we are leaving our children and grandchildren.”

Former Republican Assembly Leader Kristin Olsen warned that an overly antagonistic mindset could backfire.

“California should attempt to seek a more collaborative working relationship with the federal government, as difficult as that may be to achieve given the current administration,” Olsen said. “California leaders should work harder to be the ‘adults in the room’ rather than taking the bait and stooping to the junior high playground that is all too pervasive in today’s national politics.”

Resources Legacy Fund President Michael Mantell cited the success of less frontal resistance strategies.

“When Congress failed to stop the administration from expanding offshore oil and gas drilling, California finessed its own legislative remedy,” Mantell said. “The state (Legislature) passed a law that effectively blocked new offshore drilling in federal waters by banning new oil infrastructure in state waters, preempting the movement of oil from new wells to shore for storage or shipment.”

Tammy Tran, senior community engagement manager for Southern California Edison, cited her company’s advocacy for broader availability of electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies.

“California’s history is marked by its leadership on protecting the environment,” Tran said. “We are defending California’s authority and working to ensure that the standards remain strong and continue to reward innovation and growth of advanced vehicle technologies.”

California Solar and Storage Association Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro offered a reminder of the importance of the federal government respecting the state’s unique challenges.

“Federal laws and regulations should be the floor not the ceiling,” Del Chiaro said. “While the federal government should set minimum standards… it should avoid blocking a state from enacting stronger rules designed to meet the unique environmental and public health needs of those within its borders.”

Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for McClatchy.
Related stories from Sacramento Bee