Environmental bill’s veto sparked surprise

The Delta-Mendota Canal near Santa Nella, Calif. (Photo: Hank Shiffman)

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto of a major environmental protection bill angered and surprised environmentalists – and left some wondering what happens next.

The measure, SB 1 authored by Senate Leader Toni Atkins and backed by an array of environmental groups, was aimed at safeguarding California’s environmental policies against the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back water, air quality and other standards in California.

The bill’s opponents feared it would unfairly cut water deliveries to farms and water districts.

SB 1 bill would have set a level of minimum protections for the state, incorporating various pieces of major federal legislation.

Newsom vetoed the bill last week, saying it did not “provide the state with any new authority to push back against the Trump administration’s environmental policies,” and said Atkins’ measure “limits the state’s ability to rely upon the best available science to protect our environment.”

That drew a sharp response from Atkins (D-San Diego). “The bill clearly states that state agencies shall make determinations based on the best scientific information available.”

Now, environmentalists are wondering, is any other pending legislation at risk? Privately, they say no. And since his veto of SB 1, he has signed important bills on recycling and storm water pollution.

Newsom’s key environmental adviser, Wade Crowfoot, said SB 1 was  unnecessary.

“The notion that if the south gets the water, the north doesn’t get it,” he said at a Sept. 5 meeting of the Sacramento Press Club. “If the cities get the water, then ag doesn’t get it.  If we’re helping fish, we’re hurting farmers.  If we’re helping farmers, we’re hurting fish. And there’s obviously some truth to the fact that there’s (water) scarcity, but I can tell you that if we just continue down this management by conflict and litigation, we are not going to position California effectively for the coming decades.”

SB 1 bill would have set a level of minimum protections for the state, incorporating pieces of federal legislation such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act into state law until Jan. 20, 2025 — the last day of a hypothetical second term for President Trump.

A key opponent of SB 1 was the Central Valley Project (CVP), the federal agency that delivers water across California’s farm belt.

All of these policies would be required to be “at least as stringent as or more stringent than the federal [acts]” were at the end of the Obama administration in January of 2017, according to a Senate analysis.

Following Newsom’s announcement that he would veto the bill, a coalition of environmental organizations in support of the legislation released a joint response arguing that the governor’s decision was influenced by “powerful agricultural interests and certain water agencies who helped develop Trump rollbacks of federal regulations protecting endangered species.”

The Sierra Club’s Kathryn Phillips said the main foes of the bill, powerful agriculture and water interests, enjoyed a victory.

“So the special interests threatened and won. Newsom blinked and he blinked without meeting with bill supporters and learning the realm content of the bill…” Phillips said in a written statement.

A key opponent of SB 1 was the Central Valley Project (CVP), a federal entity controlled by the Trump administration that delivers water across California’s farm belt, and agricultural and water interests in the state.

Farm interests have long opposed pieces of the Endangered Species Act, contending that it prevents them from pumping more water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta east of San Francisco delivering it to farms and water districts in the Central Valley.

“Continuing to operate California’s water system under regulations that were originally instituted more than 10 years ago using decades-old science will be destructive to the state, regardless of what happens at the federal level,” said the San Luis-Delta Mendota Water Authority. “SB 1 also jeopardizes the timely and successful implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which requires California groundwater basins to be sustainably managed within the next 20 years,” the Authority added.

Doug Obegi, senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), noted in an online posting that increasing water diversions from the estuary to the CVP was a campaign promise Trump had made to the “corporate agribusinesses in the Central Valley.”  Once in office, the President even went “so far as to remove the… scientists who concluded the plan would likely lead to the extinction of endangered salmon runs,” Obegi added.

The administration then went on to find “replacements who would rewrite the plan’s conclusions,” ignoring the science that suggested that “salmon need greater protections to avoid extinction” so that they could authorize the regulatory rollbacks, he said.

SB 1 was the the year’s principal environmental bill in the Legislature this year.

Newsom in his veto message said,  “No other state has fought harder to defeat Trump’s environmental policies, and that will continue to be the case.”

Editor’s Note: Bryndon Madison is a Capitol Weekly intern from UC Santa Barbara.


Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: