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.”
California already has taken its first shot at countering the Trump administration’s plan to deny funding for reproductive health services to any organization that provides abortions or makes referrals for the procedure.
This week California led a coalition of 19 states and the District of Columbia in backing a Planned Parenthood motion for an injunction to halt the federal plan. The states’ brief was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Trump administration today is expected to release the details of its proposal to change the requirements for the funds, known as Title X money, effectively taking it away from groups like Planned Parenthood and instead awarding it to groups advocating natural family-planning methods and abstinence-only education.
According to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, California receives about $20.4 million a year in Title X money, which helps provide family-planning and other reproductive health services to roughly 1 million low-income Californians.
“Medical care is a matter between a woman and her doctor, not the President or the Vice President,” Becerra said in a March 18 statement.
According to reports from the New York-based nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy group, roughly half of the pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. The rate of unintended pregnancies would jump by 66% without publicly funded contraceptive services, a Guttmacher report said—and unplanned pregnancy rates for teens would be 73% higher.
The Institute said Planned Parenthood is the source of birth control for about a third of all low-income women who get it through the Title X program.
“Title X is not abortion care,” said Jennifer Conti, a Stanford physician who provides abortions. “One of the things even my close friends and relatives don’t understand is that Title X funds have never been used to provide abortion care. This seems like a punitive rule for groups like Planned Parenthood.”
Conti said what rankles her most about the proposed rule is the restriction on discussing where patients can get an abortion.
“This new rule would force us to lie to our patients,” she said. “Not that we couldn’t discuss abortion—but not being able to discuss how to carry out an abortion or where to get it, I think that puts patients’ lives in danger.”
The Orange County anti-sanctuary uprising takes the national stage today, as a coalition of politicians are in Washington to talk Republican political strategy with President Trump.
It’s a big day for these conservative California politicos, who come from a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1 in the Legislature and the GOP voice has been largely muted. About a dozen of them were invited to attend an afternoon meeting in Washington with Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and ICE director Thomas Homan.
They’re gathering to discuss how to attack California’s sanctuary law passed last year that places some limits on cooperation with federal immigration information requests.
Dozens of cities and counties across California have passed resolutions or joined a federal lawsuit opposing that law, with the epicenter of that opposition in Orange County. It began with the small city of Los Alamitos, which passed a local ordinance that breaks state law. Other cities haven’t gone that far, but at least 13 of the 34 cities in Orange County have joined the resistance with statements of support. And the county board of supervisors voted to join the federal lawsuit against three California sanctuary laws.
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel is part of the group meeting with the President, and so is the mayor of Los Alamitos, Troy Edgar. In an email, Edgar outlined what he hopes to discuss with Trump:
“First, I plan to thank him for our mutual interest in upholding the Constitution and I look forward to contributing to this dialogue on sanctuary and immigration law and policies,” Edgar said. He also hopes to get some financial help in fighting a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against Los Alamitos’ ordinance, and any impending lawsuit that might be brought by the state of California.
“There will continue to be a significant price that comes with beginning this revolt in California,” Edgar said. “Any assistance that our city can be provided by direct or indirect funding would be appreciated.”
By early afternoon, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown weighed in:
🤥 @realDonaldTrump is lying on immigration, lying about crime and lying about the laws of CA. Flying in a dozen Republican politicians to flatter him and praise his reckless policies changes nothing. We, the citizens of the fifth largest economy in the world, are not impressed.
— Jerry Brown (@JerryBrownGov) May 16, 2018
Opposition to the sanctuary law is one of the few issues where Republicans have found a little political traction in California, and they plan to make immigration one of their cornerstone issues in the upcoming midterm elections.
The GOP faces an uphill battle for voters in California. They actually come in third in percentage of the state’s voters—with just 25.9 percent of registered voters, the Republicans not only trail the Democrats’ 44. percent but also are outnumbered by 29.4 percent of independent voters who choose no-party or other party affiliations.
According to Politico, the anti-sanctuary contingent includes Steel, Edgar, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, Riverside County Assembly member Melissa Melendez, and Los Alamitos City Council member Warren Kusumoto, along with some municipal and law enforcement officials.
The standoff between California and the Trump administration over automobile emissions standards continued this week, despite reports that the president ordered two federal agencies to begin negotiating with the state.
Trump met with automakers last week, and industry officials reportedly told the president they hoped he could sort out differences with California, which sets its own emissions standards.
In practice, the state’s stringent requirements have been adopted as a benchmark in the national fuel-efficiency standard. The auto industry earlier agreed to make cars gradually more fuel efficient, adding that no one wins if there are two sets of emissions standards.
That agreement, established during the Obama administration, is under review by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, which have signaled an intention to roll back the standards.
According to a report by the Associated Press, Trump left a meeting with auto executives Friday and directed the two agencies to enter talks with California to resolve the issue.
No one from the administration has yet contacted the California Air Resources Board, which regulates automobile emissions, according to spokesman Stanley Young.
California and more than a dozen other states are suing the federal government to prevent any reduction in the standards.
Note: This post was updated to clarify which rules California sets.