Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump
Between Sacramento and Washington D.C. sits the rest of the country, and a chasm. On immigration and taxes, guns and healthcare, cannabis and climate change, California is the federal government’s equal and opposite reaction. One year into President Trump’s first term, the push and pull continues—playing out under the Capitol dome, in the courts and on Twitter.
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A bill that would have allowed Californians to buy “pro-choice” license plates—designed as a small but symbolic rebuke to President Trump and congressional Republicans—has died in an Assembly fiscal committee.
The bill had sailed through the state Senate and an Assembly policy committee, but it was among dozens of bills the Assembly Appropriations Committee blocked as the Legislature heads into its final days of the session.
Senate Bill 309’s author, Democratic Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, said she was disappointed. “I hope to continue pursuing this effort,” she said in a statement, “because I think it is an important statement and opportunity for Californians to express their strong support for women’s reproductive healthcare.”
Her legislation would have directed the California Department of Motor Vehicles to offer a “California Trusts Women” specialty license plate if 7,500 orders were placed.
Jackson wrote the bill so that the money raised would help fund the state’s Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment program, which helps pay for services for $1.8 million low-income Californians. But bill came with a price tag: An analysis by the Assembly Appropriations Committee estimated it would cost the up to $590,000 to create the specialized license plate, including computer programming changes, new forms and administrative costs. The state would have been reimbursed by the fees Californians would have paid to get the plate.
Earlier this year, Trump and Congressional Republicans had targeted abortion providers in their unsuccessful rewrites of the Affordable Care Act, seeking to gut federal funding to any provider that offers abortions as part of its family planning services.
More than two dozen other states offer residents a “pro-life” license plate option—an idea that has not advanced in the California Legislature given that Democrats hold super-majorities in both chambers.
Protestors wearing dolphin, shark and polar bear costumes joined the throngs who descended on Sacramento Thursday to speak out against the Trump administration’s proposal to expand oil drilling in federal waters off the California coast.
After a rally outside the state Capitol they marched to a library a few blocks away where the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hosted the sole public meeting on the proposal in California. The agency is holding one meeting in each coastal state.
The format frustrated some attendees. Instead of the typical government hearing where long lines of people wait to comment at a microphone, visitors were directed to mill about a large room where federal employees were stationed at about a dozen tables. They explained different aspects of the national offshore drilling program—how leases are approved, how much money it brings to the U.S. economy, how the government responds to and tries to prevent oil spills—and answered questions from the public. A table with computers and comment cards was available for visitors to formally submit comments to the government.
But environmentalists—many wearing blue shirts saying “Californians against offshore drilling”—had traveled from around the state to attend the meeting and craved an opportunity to sound off.
“That one table? For hundreds of people?” Sharolyn Hutton of Eureka said, looking at the computer table set up for public comment.
At one point a few protestors began shouting in the middle of the room, “This is ridiculous! This is shameful!”
John Romero, spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the format was meant to provide more meaningful dialogue between the public and the government.
A representative from the Western States Petroleum Association stopped by the meeting. He noted that Californians use almost 2 million barrels of oil each day. “We want to make sure folks understand our enormous energy consumption here,” said Bob Poole, the associations director of production.
The oil association president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, issued a statement saying that the exploration of potential drilling sites in federal water “is the first step in helping California increase our energy security through potentially increasing our domestic energy production. Currently, we import over 1 million barrels of oil in super tankers from overseas locations each and every day.”
California’s elected officials have already made clear that they oppose more drilling off the coast and will try to block it by making it difficult to transport oil through state waters, which extend three miles off the coast. With bipartisan support the Assembly passed a resolution Thursday criticizing the Trump Administration plan and the State Lands Commission, which oversees oil drilling in state waters, sent the federal government a letter this week saying it is “vehemently opposed” to more oil and gas drilling in the Pacific ocean.
California has joined a group of states suing two federal agencies for suspending a 2015 rule that extended the definition of streams and wetlands entitled to protection under the Clean Water Act.
The “waters of the United States” rule was adopted in 2015 to better define which bodies of water are covered under federal law, both for protection against development and depletions and as a bulwark against pollution.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today that he sued the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bringing the number of suits filed by California against the Trump Administration to more than two dozen.
“The California Department of Justice will not spectate as this administration attempts to undo yet another critical environmental protection,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will do what is necessary to defend the Clean Water Rule and our right to clean water. The Rule was legally promulgated, based on science, and will help protect our precious water resources.”
The Obama-era regulation was intended to apply rigorous science to more clearly spell out which waterways were protected and to put an end to a free-for-all in which states applied differing interpretations. The new definitions included floodplains and streams that do not flow year-round.
Those rules were strenuously opposed by developers, who said they swept up much of the undeveloped land in California.
In addition to the lawsuit brought by attorneys general from 11 states, the suspension of the 2015 regulation has been challenged by a host of environmental organizations.
The Trump administration today began a process to reconsider a plan that for the first time comprehensively designated where renewable energy development, recreation and conservation may take place across millions of acres in the California desert.
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, codified in 2016, is an exhaustive inventory of public and private land sprawling across seven California counties.
The Interior Department said it took the action to comply with an executive order to maximize energy production on federal land. In the case of the Mojave Desert, that means fostering utility-scale solar and wind development.
The move is ostensibly about renewable energy production, but undoing the plan could also open up sensitive desert land to off-road recreation, mining and livestock grazing. The desert has been a battleground
Even though the agency cited California’s ambitious goals to ramp up renewable energy, state officials said that unraveling the plan was not necessary. The California Energy Commission, a state agency with a major role in developing the plan, said the state is on track to meet its renewable energy goals—and that taking the plan apart might have unintended consequences.
“A wholesale reopening of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan is not going to benefit anyone,” said Karen Douglas, a member of the Energy Commission. “In the near term, it will reopen conflicts over renewable energy development, conservation, and other uses of the desert while creating a cloud of uncertainty over the California desert.”
The decision to revisit the plan and open up a 45-day comment period sparked frustration among the very groups that had spent eight years crafting the compromise.
Alex Daue, assistant director for energy and climate at The Wilderness Society, said the move “is a cynical attempt by the Trump administration to undermine both renewable energy and conservation. Reopening the carefully crafted, balanced plan will only result in uncertainty, conflict and worse outcomes for renewable energy, recreation and conservation.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, long a champion of the California desert, said she questioned “the logic of reopening this carefully crafted compromise that was so recently settled. Scrapping the plan now is a complete waste of time and money, and I oppose this.”
The agreement parsed the Mojave into categories according to use: nearly 4 million acres were set aside for permanent protection, an additional 1.4 million were identified for “critical environmental concern” and some 388,00 acres —7 percent of the available land—were given over to renewable energy development.
In a statement released by the federal Bureau of Land Management, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Katharine MacGregor said: “We need to reduce burdens on all domestic energy development, including solar, wind and other renewables.”
Critics call that a mixed message. Last week the Trump administration dealt a blow to the solar industry by imposing stiff tariffs on imported solar panels and cells, which are used in the bulk of installations in the United States. And the Interior Department’s current budget proposal calls for cutting half of the federal bureau’s renewable energy budget, and nearly 72 percent of the funding for the department’s clean energy research.
The desert plan took nearly a decade to hammer out and brought a host of bickering parties to the negotiating table: local, state and federal land managers, desert biologists and archeologists, environmental groups, mining interests, solar and wind firms, recreation and off-road enthusiasts, Native American tribes and the military. Never before had county planners, state bureaucrats, federal land managers and Army officers coordinated their land-use efforts, taking into consideration endangered species, the needs of industry and the rights of those who flock to the vast desert for recreation.
What emerged was an unusual agreement, nearly as complicated as its name. The full plan covers more than 22 million acres in the California desert, but only about half of that, representing federal lands, is being reconsidered.
Guided by the land-use maxim of finding the “highest and best use” of each acre, the plan was designed to find a place for all activities, energy production, recreation and conservation.
Energy developers were drawn to the the agreement because it directed them to areas where there would be fewer conflicts and smoother, faster environmental reviews. But some warn that the certainty the current plan provides may be lost by the Trump administration’s move.
“It could put the brakes on responsible development in the desert and sends the wrong signal to developers,” said Laura Crane, director of the California Lands Network Program at the Nature Conservancy.
The California Wind Energy Association, however, this week released a map indicating that wind developers were shut out of prime areas under the adopted plan, which afforded more room for solar farms.