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.
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.”
In a meeting about school safety and guns, President Donald Trump pivoted to some favorite targets: California and immigration. He said he might remove immigration and border officers from the Golden State and predicted that the result would be “a crime mess like you’ve never seen,” CNN and other news outlets reported today.
He mentioned gangs as a problem that the federal government was trying to address, with “no help from the state of California,” where one foreign gang establishes “franchises.”
“They’re doing a lousy management job, they have the highest taxes in the nation and they don’t know what’s happening out there,” Trump said.
Trump made his remarks in a session with state and local officials who had dealt with shootings at schools. He did not explain how he believed gangs and school shootings were related.
He went on to say, “the sanctuary city situation, the protection of these horrible criminals …. If we ever pulled our ICE out and said, ‘Hey, let California alone and let them figure it out themselves,’ in two months they’d be begging for us to come back.”
“I’m thinking about doing it,” he said, without offering details about a specific plan.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has filed more than two dozen lawsuits against the Trump administration on a range of issues, said the state works “in concert with federal laws” and defended its pursuit of those who commit crimes.
“We’re going after drug dealers, sex traffickers. We don’t stop doing that. My division of law enforcement is doing that right now,” Becerra said in a statement. “What we won’t do is change from being focused in public safety – we’re in the business of public safety, not deportation.”
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.