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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.

Ready for another year? Follow along here.

Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump


Jan. 24, 2018 12:57 pm

California sues Trump administration for canceling fracking rules

Environment Reporter
A pumpjack in a California oilfield. Image by Thomas Hawk via FLICKR

Note: This post was updated to include an oil-industry comment.

California’s government started the new year much as it ended the last one: by filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration. This time, the state hit back against Washington’s decision last month to repeal Obama-era regulations governing hydraulic fracturing.

The rules would have required companies drilling on federal land to disclose the chemicals used during the fracking process, in which water and chemicals are pumped underground under high pressure to break oil deposits loose.

The process has been used in oil fields for decades, to establish new wells and revitalize existing ones. But the tremendous pressure applied by operators today is blamed for low-level seismic activity and for cracking open subterranean rock that protects aquifers, potentially fouling water supplies.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the lawsuit today—the 26th time California has taken the Trump administration to court.

“The risk of fracking to our health and to our environment are real, they are known,” Becerra said at a press conference. He added that the administration gave no legal justification for abandoning the regulations, which were arrived at after years of scientific analysis.

California, Becerra said, was taking the action as a stand against “federal overreach and to insist that the rule of law be followed by everyone, including the occupant of the White House.”

Most of the oil development in California occurs on federal land, operating under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees nearly 16 million acres in the state and operates a federal leasing program.

The rules established by the federal bureau were supposed to take effect in 2015 but were blocked by legal challenges. The agency quietly dropped them last month.

In 2015, California adopted strict fracking rules for oil operations on state land, also requiring comprehensive disclosure of chemicals used in the process. The state released an environmental impact report concluding that fracking could have “significant and unavoidable impacts” on a number of fronts, including water and air quality, greenhouse-gas emissions and public safety.

The state regulations also require oil companies to expand monitoring and reporting of water use and water quality at or near fracking sites and conduct broad analysis of potential engineering and seismic effects of their operations.

The California Council on Science and Technology, a group of scientists who advise the state, issued a 2015 report that found the hazards associated with about two-thirds of the additives used in fracking are not clear. The toxicity of more than half of those additives, the report said, remains “uninvestigated, unmeasured and unknown. Basic information about how these chemicals would move through the environment does not exist.”

Oil companies dispute that fracking is dangerous and say operators are fully complying with state laws.

“We are aware of the lawsuit and will closely monitor its outcome,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, “as it could have broad impacts on the exploration and production of oil and petroleum products.”

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a federal records request today for information about the impact of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigrant children’s mental and physical wellbeing.

The Freedom of Information Act request seeks all records related to the creation of the policy and the federal government’s determination of its ability to care for the influx of children detained as a result of the policy.

The request follows a hearing last week in which federal health official Jonathan White said he warned the Trump administration of potential negative effects children could suffer if they were parted from their undocumented immigrant parents. “Separation of children from their parents entails significant harm to children,” said White. “There’s no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child.”

Last week’s Congressional hearing shows that this President and his Administration received warnings about the impacts of the family separation policy and still acted,” said Becerra in a press release. “We must have answers and accountability. We all deserve to know what went into the federal government’s inconceivable decision to separate thousands of children from their families.”

Becerra’s request targeted the Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments, and included disclosure of senior staff communications—including memorandums, emails, and notes of meetings or calls regarding the “zero tolerance” policy. He specifically is pursuing internal communications from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the current and former secretaries of Health and Human Services.

President Trump has defended the policy as necessary to stem what he has characterized as a host of societal ills resulting from illegal immigration. “It’s about keeping families together, while at the same time, being sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border,” he said in a statement.

Becerra co-leads a coalition of 18 attorneys general that sued President Trump in June over the “zero tolerance” policy. He has sued the Trump administration 39 times times since March 2017.

Note: This post has been revised to correct the number of lawsuits Becerra has filed against the Trump administration.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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Aug. 5, 2018 6:00 pm

California lawmakers move against ‘junk’ health insurance

Contributing Writer
Image via Pixabay
Image via Pixabay

Legislators in California appear ready to counter a new Trump administration move, this time on health insurance.

Last week, federal officials announced they would expand health insurers’ ability to sell so-called skinny insurance plans, short-term policies that offer only bare-bones benefits. Those plans also are called “junk” plans because of the dearth of conditions and ailments they cover—for instance, most don’t cover maternity care or cancer treatment, and some have high deductibles or exclude pre-existing conditions.

Less expensive because of the “skinny” coverage, the plans were launched under the Obama administration as a bridge to Affordable Care Act plans. They were limited to three months and could not be renewed.

The new federal rules allow low-benefit plans that don’t comply with ACA standards to last a year and be renewed for up to three years.

A proposal making its way through California’s Legislature, which returns from summer recess tomorrow, would ban such insurance in California.

SB 910, by Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez of Azusa, would outlaw issuance or renewal of any health plan shorter than 12 months in duration. ACA standards require longer-term insurance, bar denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions and mandate 10 essential health benefits.

The short-term, low-benefit plans are fine as long as you stay well, Hernandez said. But people with those plans who get sick often discover they have to pay for treatment and medication themselves. Basically, he said, that’s not health care coverage.

“California needs to ban junk health insurance policies in our state, not only because they are an affront to the basic principles of the Affordable Care Act, but also because they are dangerous and deceiving,” Hernandez said by email Friday.

Dozens of Republican legislators have either voted No on his bill or abstained, but did not articulate that opposition in hearings. Attempts to contact several of them were unsuccessful Friday.

One health care expert said he had hoped the idea of limited-benefit plans had been put to rest, after the years of policy discussion before and during setup of the Affordable Care Act.

“There are significant costs to having skinny plans,” said Micah Weinberg, president of the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute, a San Francisco-based business think tank. “People still get medical care, even if it’s not covered, so the hospitals or the state end up holding the bag.”

That means taxpayers are basically subsidizing people on limited-benefit plans, he said.

“It isn’t actually insurance,” Weinberg said. “It provides a sense that you’re insured, but if you need it, you don’t really have it.”

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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Aug. 1, 2018 2:53 pm

Trump can’t withhold federal money from ‘sanctuary’ cities, court rules

Editorial Intern
Marchers in Sacramento protest Trump administration immigration policies. Photo by Trevor Eischen for CALmatters
Marchers in Sacramento protest Trump administration immigration policies. Photo by Trevor Eischen for CALmatters

A federal appeals court ruled today that President Trump does not have the authority to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities and counties.

Upholding a lower court decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the power to allocate federal funding belongs to Congress: “The Executive Branch may not refuse to disperse the federal grants in question without congressional authorization.”

Last year, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III in San Francisco issued a national injunction against an executive order that Trump issued five days into his presidency. The president’s order directed that federal monies be withheld from “sanctuary” jurisdictions such as San Francisco.

San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara, which have declared themselves sanctuary jurisdictions, limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities, sued the Trump administration.

Orrick said Trump’s order was unconstitutional, violating the Separation of Powers doctrine and the Fifth and Tenth amendments.

Today, the 9th Circuit panel of judges agreed but removed his injunction, except in California, citing a lack of evidence to keep it in place elsewhere and returning it for reconsideration. The judges said California, specifically San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, are “likely targets” of Trump’s order and retained it for the state.

The federal Justice Department denounced the decision on funding as “a victory for criminal aliens in California.” The state “will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a written statement.

California laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration agents went into effect this year. Dozens of local governments have dissented, suing the state, joining a federal lawsuit against the policy or taking other actions.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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