Influencers Opinion

California is unlikely to work with Trump on environment policy. Influencers explain why

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.

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California Influencers this week answered the following question: How should California engage with the federal government on environmental protections? Below are the Influencers’ answers in their entirety.

“Federal laws and regulations should be the floor not the ceiling”

Bernadette Del Chiaro - Executive Director of the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA)

The question should be flipped on its head. How should the federal government engage with states on environmental protections? The answer is simple. Federal laws and regulations should be the floor not the ceiling. While the federal government should set minimum standards so that all of America can be clean and beautiful, 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.

California has different environmental problems than Wyoming. For example, while there are just as many cars per capita in each of these two states (one car for every three people for those of you who were wondering), California has forty times the number of lungs breathing in fumes from forty times the number of tailpipes. For the federal government to strip away California’s ability to address its own unique environmental and public health problems and pretend that what works in Wyoming is what should work in California is to greatly misunderstand the landscape of this country.

What is happening today in Washington D.C. around California’s efforts to reduce air pollution from its 15 million tailpipes should be cause for concern not just to Democrats but also Republicans and Libertarians who believe in states’ rights and local control. The states have long been the “laboratories of democracy” and an adherence to that principle should define the relationship between states and the federal government when it comes to environmental protection.

“Call the administration out when it sides with polluters over people”

Ben Allen - California State Senator (D-Santa Monica)

From his first day in office, Donald Trump has seemed committed to weakening our air and water quality standards, and has expressed an open disdain for those of us who want to address the global climate crisis. We have seen this president attempt to leverage natural disaster aid for Californians ravaged by wildfires in an effort to extract loyalty for his anti-immigrant, pro-polluter agenda. Just last week, he took the unprecedented step of moving to revoke California’s waiver that allows the state to set stricter vehicle emissions standards under the federal Clean Air Act. California was granted the waiver decades ago to enable us to effectively address the smog that plagued neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the Central Valley. This waiver, which has been respected by both Democratic and Republican administrations for decades, has drastically improved our air quality and cut smog pollution even as our population has grown.

As California’s elected leaders, it is incumbent upon us to fight to protect public health and ensure that future generations have a livable planet. So far, California has filed more than 50 lawsuits to block this attack on our quality of life and our values. That’s one effective way to push back. We need to call the administration out when it sides with polluters over people. And we need to work with our partners in Congress to uphold and protect the legacy of our federal government’s landmark environmental legislation. Our children deserve nothing less.

“California should have a goal to not be duplicative of federal environmental protections”

Rob Stutzman - Founder and President of Stutzman Public Affairs

California should have a goal to not be duplicative of federal environmental protections, especially when it could further imperil new housing construction. The state must also be sensitive to not promulgating new regulations that jeopardize the fragile reconciliation of federal and state water policy, which has taken decades. This is why Governor Newsom was extremely wise to announce he’ll veto SB 1, which would have violated all of the above.

“We must keep leading on climate change in California”

Bob Hertzberg - California State Senator (D-Van Nuys)

Our current federal administration is an outlier when it comes to the global consensus on environmental policy. Every time I attend an international conference, or welcome a foreign visitor, the first question I’m asked is about California’s ideas on how to combat climate change. Climate change is not an issue limited by artificial state and country borders. It is universal.

Regardless of actions by the federal government, we must keep leading on climate change in California; the states are the laboratories of innovation. We must continue to litigate and push the pedal to the metal on environmental protections and innovations so we can continue to set the example. Modern technologies and innovations have dramatically reduced costs and increased reliability on climate change solutions. Companies all across the globe have been aggressively embracing thoughtful climate and environmental policies.

“Seek a more collaborative working relationship with the federal government”

Kristin Olsen - Stanislaus County Supervisor

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 administrations. Californians do not benefit from the current adversarial relationship between our two governments. Lawsuits and statements from leaders can have an important and positive impact when issued selectively and smartly, but the vast and unprecedented number of lawsuits California has filed against the federal administration in the last two years is making us look like silly, sour-puss kids. 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. Californians need and deserve solutions and results on environmental challenges, not never-ending legal fights and political games.

“California should focus on working the kinks out of existing state processes”

Danielle Osborn Mills - Director of American Wind Energy Association of California and Principal at Renewable Energy Strategies

The lack of a cohesive federal climate or energy policy highlights the importance of individual state actions to reduce pollution. California should continue advance our environmental and clean energy policies in the name of clean air, clean water, economic development, and equality. To continue to lead, California needs partnership and science-based decision-making from the federal government to do as much as we can as quickly as possible in the face of intensifying climate change. Without sincere collaborative engagement between the state and federal government, California should focus on working the kinks out of existing state processes to increase the value of our own clean energy policies.

“Actions leave California with no choice but to fight back”

V. John White - Co-Founder and Executive Director of Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies

The New York Times reported in December 2018 that under the Trump Administration, nearly 80 environmental rules had been either reversed, or roll backs were in progress. A dozen more rules were rolled back but reinstated after successful court challenges.

Trump’s appointees to EPA and other critical agencies have been dominated by lobbyists and lawyers for the industries they are charged with regulating. And they have shut down or abolished independent scientific review of air pollution and toxic chemical regulations, and vastly reduced the transparency of the rule making process.

Trump’s cynical attack on California’s 50 year old authority to set standards for clean cars, and his gutting of the Obama/California agreement on emissions and fuel efficiency is a vivid illustration of Trump’s climate vandalism and loyalty to the oil industry.

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. 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.

To be successful, we have to work together

Brent Hastey - President of the Association of California Water Agencies

As young people in California and all over the world reminded us last weekend, we’re all in this together, and to be successful, we have to work together. California is an international leader in seeking to balance ecological values with social and economic needs. 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.

“Years of legal battles will likely ensue”

Michael Mantell - President of the Resources Legacy Fund

California’s engagement with the federal government on environmental issues covers a spectrum, from collaboration to full-blown opposition. Whether on water, clean air, or disasters like wildfire, there are mutual interests to pursue. Since 2017, however, California’s leaders have had to work the less collaborative end of this spectrum to protect state interests.

When Congress failed to stop the administration from expanding offshore oil and gas drilling, California finessed its own legislative remedy. 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.

Right now, California leads a multistate lawsuit against the Trump administration’s attempt to revoke the waiver that allows California to establish industry-accepted car fuel efficiency standards far more stringent than federal standards. Years of legal battles will likely ensue (depending on the 2020 elections).

California must continue to use all the tools it has when engaging with Washington on the environment (and anything else). But for now, we face what Paul Krugman recently characterized as the president’s “War on California,” which will require all of the state’s grit and creativity.

“This broad-scale conflict will likely continue. Plan accordingly”

Dave Puglia - Executive Vice President of the Western Growers Association

California has long forged its own path in environmental policy, especially with respect to air quality. State 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. In the current state of affairs, 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, increasingly uncertain as to what the regulatory landscape will be in both the near and long term. The relationship between the federal and state actors is currently defined by intense rhetoric and dozens of lawsuits, and private sector businesses caught in the middle should understand that both sides are committed to their positions. Whatever our preferences for collaboration and cooperation may be, this broad-scale conflict will likely continue. Plan accordingly.

“I don’t see any way to work with the Trump Administration”

Karen Skelton - Founder and President of Skelton Strategies

The way to engage with the federal government on environmental protections is to litigate with confidence in defense of our natural resources, and quickly.

Call it age. Call it the last straw. Call it California coping. I don’t see any way to work with the Trump Administration on environmental or climate issues, though I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Our best strategy with them is to take pages out of the play books of former Governor Jerry Brown and current Attorney General Xavier Becerra: be aggressive.

California should litigate, boycott, and challenge members of the administration who are climate deniers as we Californians continue to lead the nation from the left coast.

With California leading the move from coal and oil to cleaner energy sources, it is no surprise that most of the 60 lawsuits filed by the Attorney General have challenged the Trump administration’s proposals.

Becerra has sued the Trump Administration under the Federal Clean Air Act for rolling back a requirement that cars average nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025, for standards regulating diesel engines in heavy-duty trucks, and for repealing a requirement that major sources of air pollutants, including petroleum refineries, install equipment to minimize pollution. Most recently, Becerra joined 22 other states in litigation over the federal government’s attempt to revoke state authority over vehicle emission standards.

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.

We need to keep leading

Catherine Reheis-Boyd - President of the Western States Petroleum Association

Administrations change, but our state’s leadership on environmental policy has been unwavering. Californians must continue to set the example for the nation and the world on how government, industry and communities can — when we choose to have civil and inclusive debate — work together to balance environment, economy, energy and equity.

“Engagement implies a willing partner”

Lea Ann Tratten - Partner at TrattenPrice Consulting

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.

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 Governor Newsom has done by bringing automakers to the table, and importantly, on the the battlefield of ideas where we know most Americans disagree with Trump.

“California has made great progress on the environmental and climate action”

Tammy Tran - Senior Manager of Community Engagement for Southern California Edison

California’s history is marked by its leadership on protecting the environment. The state has had the authority to set its own state standards on certain environmental matters including greenhouse gas emissions for cars and trucks which are higher than those set by the federal government. It has resulted in reducing air pollution, infrastructure investment, and significant economic growth, particularly in the clean energy sector. With the National Coalition for Advanced Transportation, a coalition of companies including Southern California Edison, support electric vehicle and other advanced transportation technologies and related infrastructure. 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 has made great progress on the environmental and climate action but its ultimate success will depend on its ability to implement further innovative solutions.

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