PD Editorial: A plan to protect the Golden State

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A storm is brewing. But don’t expect this one to clear the air — or provide any other environmental benefit.

On the contrary, the budget cuts and policies emerging from the Trump administration have made evident that the next four years will be good ones for fossil fuel companies but not for those who care about protecting the quality of our air, water and natural resources.

The president’s $1.1 trillion budget outline released on Thursday calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending and deep cuts in just about all other departments, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which stands to lose nearly one-third of its funding. Funding for international climate change programs would be eliminated. So would investments in climate change research and a program launched by the Obama administration to fight climate change.

This decimation of the EPA came a day after Trump directed the agency to dial back on new vehicle fuel economy standards, which were part of the previous administration’s modest efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The goal was to encourage automakers to develop more fuel-efficient cars including electric vehicles. It’s a disheartening setback. But, thankfully, California has its own emissions standards, which won’t be so easy to eliminate.

Under the state’s Clean Air Act, passenger cars in California must average roughly 54 miles per gallon by 2025. That’s up from about 36 mpg today.

These changes put the federal government on a collision course with California, a clash that’s likely to take place in the courts. But at least on this issue, the Golden State is prepared. It needs to be similarly prepared for other conflicts ahead.

That’s why the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown should green light a plan proposed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and others for protecting the state’s natural resources from other changes in federal policy. These protections are covered in three simple bills. Under SB 49, all current federal clean air, climate, clean water, worker safety and endangered species standards would become part of state law if the federal government eliminates or weakens those standards. SB 50 would give California the right of first refusal on any transaction involving public lands, therefore possibly preventing federal lands in California from falling into the hands of private developers. And the third, SB 51, would protect federal employees from repercussions if they blow the whistle on violations of law or dangers to public health and safety in California.

The bills are designed to preserve the protections California already has in place and prevent them from falling victim to the short-sighted agenda of the Trump administration.

As McGuire noted at the time these bills were introduced last month, the North Coast is home to 3.3 million acres of federal land. “If California doesn’t advance these proactive policies, then who will?” he asked.

The answer is nobody.

In the end, these protections may not be needed. But given the pro-energy — and anti-California — disposition of this administration, doing nothing is not a viable option.

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