California environmental leaders, lawmakers gird for fight against President Trump
Restoring salmon in the Russian River and protecting the North Coast from oil rigs - two long-standing campaigns with broad public support - are among the goals likely to be challenged if not stifled by the sharp right turn of Donald Trump’s administration, environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers said.
More broadly, the environmental camp fears that landmark legislation, including laws that protect endangered species, clean air and water, are imperiled by Republican control of the House and Senate with an avid deregulation partner in the White House.
The harbingers, they say, include Trump’s trail of tweets and speeches asserting that climate change is a hoax and his post-election appointments of a California water district lobbyist and a prominent climate change denier to head his transition teams at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, respectively.
Even if Republicans and their allies can’t roll back environmental laws they have long targeted - asserting they harm economic development - the GOP will have nearly unlimited control of national policy and can weaken environmental programs by turning off the cash spigot.
The Sonoma County Water Agency, for example, has received more than $15 million in federal grants in the past four years for a host of water-quality and Russian River watershed projects, including salmon habitat restoration on Dry Creek near Healdsburg, as well as operation of the fish hatchery at nearby Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma.
Under President Trump, such programs may not fare as well in budget allocations, local lawmakers and others fear.
“There’s no question that our bedrock environmental protection laws will be in jeopardy under the next administration,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. “Gutting environmental protections and abandoning our country’s efforts to shift to clean energy production would be disastrous for our planet, our country and our district.”
Trump doubts drought
The North Bay region is suffering from the impacts of climate change, Thompson said, citing the wildfires that have ravaged Lake County and the state’s ongoing drought. Trump, in a campaign visit to the state this June, proclaimed no such drought existed and cast blame on the state’s water managers and protections for endangered fish.
“We need long-term solutions based on sound science, but instead we’re getting a climate change skeptic who thinks the best way to solve California’s drought is to pump water south from the Delta,” said Thompson, who just won his 10th term in the House.
But the political landscape reshaped by the election appears more aligned with the sentiments expressed by oil industry leader Jack Gerard two days after votes were cast.
“Voters want a Congress and administration that works for their interests,” Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a press release. “With the oil and natural gas industry facing 145 regulations or other policy-setting activities that could discourage production, preventing regulatory overreach should be a top priority.”
A renewed fight over offshore oil drilling is already underway, with implications for the North Coast.
California is losing its most prominent environmental champion with Sen. Barbara Boxer’s retirement after 34 years on Capitol Hill, starting with a decade as the congresswoman representing Marin and southern Sonoma County.
As the ranking member and top Democrat on the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works, Boxer forged such a collaborative relationship with the chairman, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, an outspoken climate change denier, that another Oklahoma lawmaker described them as “an old married couple who’ve sort of learned to live with each other’s idiosyncrasies.”
Succeeding her in the Senate will be California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has sound environmental credentials but as a Senate newcomer will certainly not have a party leadership post like Boxer. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Harris said she would “take California’s leadership to Washington and fight hard to pass national climate change legislation that makes our air cleaner, invests in renewable energy and cuts greenhouse gas emissions.”
GOP to attack laws?
California has an unmatched reputation for environmental action, including its landmark 2006 law establishing the nation’s first limit on greenhouse gas emissions. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown tightened those limits, signing into law a new standard requiring the state to cut emissions at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.