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Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections

The California Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, legislation blocking Trump administration rollbacks of environmental regulations, on Friday, September 13, on a 43-21 party-line vote.

But Governor Gavin Newsom announced the next day that he plans to veto the bill. Newsom said he backs the principles behind the legislation, but doesn’t support the bill as written.

“I fully support the principles behind Senate Bill 1: to defeat efforts by the President and Congress to undermine vital federal protections that protect clean air, clean water and endangered species,” Newsom said in a statement. “Senate Bill 1 does not, however, provide the state with any new authority to push back against the Trump Administration’s environmental policies and it limits the state’s ability to rely upon the best available science to protect our environment.”

Senate President Pro tem Toni Atkins said she was “strongly disappointed” with Newsom’s announcement that he intends to veto the legislation.

“SB 1 is the product of a full year’s worth of work, so clearly I am strongly disappointed on its impending fate,” said Atkins. “Governor Gavin Newsom has been a partner on working to ensure a bright future that includes an environment that is clean and healthy and working Californians who are safe and secure.”

“However, we respectfully disagree regarding SB 1. The bill provides the authority to backstop baseline standards when they are rolled back. SB 1 also clearly states that state agencies shall make determinations based on the best scientific information available,” she said.

“But it’s critical that the Governor and legislature continue working together to meet the challenges California faces – including dangerous rollbacks by the federal government. Not only must we push against the rollbacks that have already made, we must start preparing now to push back against the Trump assaults we know will be coming,” Atkins added.

SB 1, the California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2019 ensures that “protections afforded to Californians under federal environmental and labor laws and regulations as of January 2017, remain in place in the event that President Trump weakens or repeals any of those federal laws or regulations.”

The legislation would lock in protections in effect as of January 2017 under the federal Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act and Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act.

Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California, also said Newsom’s statement that he plans to veto SB 1 is “disappointing.”

“Based on what I’ve read of the statement in the newspapers, the governor isn’t aware that some of the more controversial elements have been resolved in amendments,” she stated. “However, a key sentence remains in the bill that would essentially ensure that the Upper Sacramento River, that ultimately feeds into the Bay Delta and is part of the Central Valley Project, would be protected by the California Endangered Species Act. Certain water agencies and industrial agriculture interests are opposed to that sentence. They have tried for decades to weaken the federal Endangered Species Act so they can continue over drawing from the Delta system. They fear this sentence will prevent them from taking full advantage of the Trump rollbacks.”

“We’re hoping that, before he actually has the bill in front of him, Newsom will consult with public interest water and legal experts, including the attorney general. We think he will then understand how important to California’s environment and worker safety SB 1 is,” Phillips continued.

“It would be a shame for the governor to cap off his first legislative session by vetoing a bill as important to California and Californians as SB1. Trump will certainly frame a veto as a sign that he—Trump—is on the right track as he continues to roll back environmental protections,” she emphasized

She also said one thing that has been missed in much of the reporting is that
this bill is also about clean air, clean water and worker safety regulations. “This bill is needed to protect those areas as well,” Phillips concluded.

Fishing and environmental groups are strongly urging Governor Newsom to sign the bill.

“Signing SB 1 should be should be an easy call for Governor Newsom, siding with California instead of the Trump administration,” said John McManus, President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, before Newsom announced his plans to veto the legislation. “Senate President tem Toni Atkins and the California legislature showed real political courage by passing this bill to block Trump administration efforts to gut environmental and salmon protections. The California salmon fishing industry is facing a wave of attacks from Washington DC. This could be the most important piece of environmental legislation passed in the country this year.”

“The California legislature may have just saved the state’s salmon fishing industry by passing SB1,” stated Noah Oppenheim, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, also before Newsom announced that he plans to veto the bill. “We’re having a wonderful season this year thanks to 2017’s rains, but if the federal administration’s proposed water grab framework were forced upon is, the next drought could wipe us off the map. Governor Newsom should feel proud of his opportunity to defend our fisheries, which provide local seafood to all Californians, and sign this bill.”

Before the bill was passed, corporate agribusiness and the water contractors in the San Joaquin Valley pressured California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressmen Jim Costa (CA-16, John Garamendi (CA-03), TJ Cox (CA-16) and Josh Harder (CA-10) to attack some of the most important provisions of SB 11.

On September 6, Feinstein and Costa, Garamendi, Gox and Harder sent a letter to Governor Newsom urging him to include two amendments to Senate Bill 1 (SB1), a piece of legislation that Costa claimed “would have profound impacts on the long term availability of water in the Valley.” This letter, along with others from agribusiness and water contractors, apparently had a huge impact on Newsom, resulting in his vetoing of SB 1.

“We applaud Senate President Pro Tempore Atkins for protecting California’s environment against President Trump’s rollbacks of overarching federal regulations through SB 1. However we urge you to insist on two amendments to the bill to preserve the viability of potential voluntary agreements over proposed outflow requirements for the San Joaquin and Sacramento River,” the lawmakers wrote.

The first provision of the bill that the legislators oppose is Section 3c, which would retain current biological opinions regarding permitting decisions. The legislators said it “would prevent the state from incorporating the latest science and other information in permitting decisions.”

”This provision would freeze in place the state and federal water project incidental take permits and biological opinions that were developed over 10 years ago, regardless of whether more recent science or other related policies such as outflow requirements suggest modifications to the permits (proposed new section 2076.7 of the Fish and Game Code.) Without additional flexibility, this provision would severely restrict voluntary agreements whereby water users would support additional flows and habitat improvements for salmon and other imperiled fish in return for salmon and other imperiled fish in return for salmon level of watersupply reliability,” they wrote.

The second provision they oppose is Section 2 of the bill that would require the Bureau of Reclamation to comply with the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

“Given significant legal uncertainty over where the State can modify the application of federal law, this provision would generate years of litigation and uncertainty over which environmental standards apply to the Central Valley Project. In the midst of such fundamental uncertainty, it will be impossible to develop any voluntary settlements of Sacramento and San Joaquin River outflow standards,” they claimed.

In an interview with me, GGSA’s John McManus took issue with the contention of Senator Feinstein and Congressmen Costa, Garamendi, Harder and Cox that SB 1 “would prevent the state from incorporating the latest science and other information in permitting decisions.”

“That letter cites new science on species that won’t be used if SB 1 goes into effect,” said McManus. “This is completely false. SB 1 would allow the state to review and revise any of the species protections adopted. The state would be able to use any and all science to protect its wildlife.”

Second, McManus pointed out that “all of the new science that has emerged since the salmon biological opinion of 2009 points to the need for more protections, not less. There’s no new science that’s credible that suggests we need less protections for salmon and other wildlife in the Central Valley.”

Third, “when you look at signers of the letter, it can’t be any surprise that Feinstein is the first to sign. What’s shocking and disappointing is to see John Garamendi, whose district includes salmon habitat and rivers in the Sacramento Valley, take the position that the state shouldn’t have authority over the state water. Here’s Garamendi arguing with the others that the federal government should be immune to any form of state oversight. Many people would consider that as being disloyal to California and selling out our natural resources,” said McManus.

After Newsom’s announcement that he plans to veto SB 1, it is no surprise that the total contributions from agriculture in his 2018 campaign for Governor were $637,398. Newsom received $58,400 from Beverly Hills agribusiness tycoon Stewart Resnick, $58,400 from Lynda Resnick and $58,400 from E.J. Gallo. Agribusiness tycoons are strident supporters of the voluntary agreements and the Delta Tunnel — and are among the strongest proponents of attacks on the Endangered Species Act, a landmark federal environmental law that SB 1 would help protect. A vetoed bill is returned to the house of origin, where a vote may be taken to override the governor’s veto. A two-thirds vote of both houses is required to override a veto. However, there has been no override in the California Legislature since 1979.

More articles by:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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