Rep. Jared Huffman calls for legal battles to block Trump environmental rules

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Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, had a message Thursday night for the Trump administration as it attempts to roll back environmental protections: Sue, baby, sue.

In an appearance at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus before more than 200 people, Huffman brought with him top environmental lawyers to speak about opportunities for counteracting the administration as it works to loosen environmental laws and executive actions.

The new president already this week signed executive orders to restart the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines that had been halted by President Barack Obama. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency nominee, Scott Pruitt, made a name for himself as Oklahoma attorney general by suing the federal agency as it attempted to enact polices to lessen the effects of climate change.

“He is the worst possible person you could imagine to head the EPA,” Huffman said.

But Huffman conceded Pruitt is likely to be confirmed, given GOP control of Congress. That will keep Huffman playing defense the next two years on Capitol Hill in his new role as the No. 2 Democrat on the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.

Instead, green advocates will likely be plaintiffs in lawsuits to stop what they couldn’t legislatively or in the executive branch.

“We are going to need to fight in the courts,” Huffman said in an interview before the forum.

Huffman, who previously served as an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he is concerned the administration and “all of the oil cronies they are bringing into power” will want to open federal coast waters to drilling. Right before leaving office, Obama added six areas to the California Coastal National Monument, including three off the Humboldt County coast.

“California is where the oil is on the West Coast,” Huffman said.

The biggest local fight, he said, might involve whether to continue California’s decades-old waiver to set tougher vehicle emission standards under the Clean Air Act than required by the federal government. Pruitt was noncommittal on the waiver in his confirmation hearing under questioning by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California.

Michael Wall, co-director of litigation for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said his group would challenge any setback to the waiver. However, Wall said he was dubious if the American auto industry actually wants a rollback on fuel standards given the increasing popularity of energy-efficient cars. Indeed, many automakers supported a 2012 Obama action that would bring a 54.5 mpg standard for cars and light-duty trucks by model year 2025.

“They have sort of adjusted to the new model,” Wall said. “While there is a risk, I think we can fight it.”

Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for land, wildlife and oceans for the Earthjustice group, said he was prepared to defend Obama-era policies that may come under attack from business interests.

Those would include a Dec. 20 Obama order that bans drilling in large parts of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

“We are worried that the Trumpees aren’t going to want to defend those actions,” said Caputo, whose group has represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its litigation on the Dakota Access pipeline.

“And if the Trump administration won’t defend them, we will. We are in Winston Churchill mode.”

Huffman urged those in attendance to speak more about the business opportunities green technologies present in order to counteract the perception that environmental regulations squelch jobs, especially, he said, since solar energy has surpassed oil and gas extraction in job creation.

Locally, that would include Sonoma Clean Power, which has saved more than $62 million for consumers’ bills while also lowering greenhouse emissions by 48 percent compared to those customers remaining with PG&E, said panelist Ann Hancock, executive director for the Center for Climate Protection in Santa Rosa.

Overall, panelists said they believe the Trump election was not a signal by voters to go backward on the environment.

“The American public didn’t vote against the environment,” Wall said. “Not enough of them voted for the environment.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or

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