For basic background, start with The weigh-in: Environment
Trump order could open California coast to oil and gas drilling—but state leaders unveil a plan to thwart that
published Apr 28, 2017
President Trump today signed an executive order that could open waters off the California coast to new oil and gas drilling, triggering a volley of outrage from state officials scrambling to craft legislation to thwart future drilling.
“It is stunning for us to learn this morning that the new administration in Washington is considering opening up California’s waters to new drilling,” said Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, the state Senate’s Democratic leader. “We will oppose those efforts.”
The order instructs U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review locations in the Pacific for lease sales—areas that were placed off limits at least through 2022 by President Obama. The last time federal oil leases were offered off California was in 1984.
The battle could shape up as a war of words—the state has no jurisdiction over how Washington manages its mineral estate in federal waters, which begin three miles off the coast. California has authority over the Pacific from the beach to the three-mile limit. But Democratic legislators weighed in with a significant potential roadblock, preparing to introduce a bill next week that would prohibit the State Lands Commission from approving any new infrastructure that supports offshore oil and gas development.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who chairs the Lands Commission, issued a statement saying the agency is “unequivocally resolved to create an environmental rampart along California’s coast. California’s door is closed to President Trump’s Pacific oil and gas drilling.”
Offshore rigs generally pump crude through submerged pipelines to onshore receiving facilities, joining an extensive network of pipelines that move the oil to refineries. The proposed bill, while not stopping the drilling outright, would make it more expensive for companies to operate and could limit the volume of oil shipped at a time when the low price per barrel is already discouraging new exploration.
Democratic state Sen. Hanna-Beth Jackson, who is sponsoring the legislation, said a return to offshore oil exploration would take the state back to an “outdated, retro, madman era” and does not align with California’s values.
“This not a distant or abstract issue,” she said. “This is deeply personal.”
Jackson represents Santa Barbara, where the memory of the massive 1969 oil spill that despoiled beaches and killed wildlife is still vivid. The area was hit again in 2015, when a pipeline failure sent more than 140,000 of crude oil onto the beach at Refugio State Park.
State officials have long sought a permanent ban on offshore drilling, citing potential disruption to California’s $44 billion coastal economy. They have been joined by political leaders from Oregon and Washington in calling for legislation that would permanently protect the Pacific’s offshore waters from energy exploration.
“New oil drilling along our coasts is unnecessary and dangerous,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, one of two Democrats representing California. “There’s no reason to expose more coastal economies to the risk of disastrous spills so oil companies can drill for hard-to-reach fossil fuels. Rather than signing reckless executive orders, the president should focus on investing in safer, cleaner energy sources.”
Trump’s plan, which is certain to face legal challenges, also call for new leasing in the Atlantic and the Arctic Seas.
In signing the order, Trump said the directive would lead to prosperity and energy security: “It’s going to lead to a lot of great wealth for our country, a lot of great jobs for our country.”
California sues Trump administration to stop it from delaying oil royalties
published Apr 27, 2017
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas in filing a lawsuit this week against the U.S. Department of the Interior for delaying the implementation of a rule intended to ensure that the taxpayers —and states— receive appropriate royalties from mining and energy companies leasing federal lands.
The so-called Valuation Rule closes loopholes that allow coal companies to maintain artificially low prices, according to Becerra, and tightens regulations that require oil and gas companies to pay required royalties. The rule went into effect on Jan. 1 but the Trump administration postponed it from taking effect until litigation is resolved.
The states’ lawsuit claims that the action is invalid because the rule had already gone into effect.
Federal officials projected that royalty collections would increase by more than $78 million annually. Since 2008, California has received an average of $82.5 million annually in all royalties from federal mineral extraction within the state.
California Air Board thumbs nose at Trump administration, vows to stay the course on car emissions
published Mar 24, 2017
Saying ‘a deal is a deal” the California Air Resources Board voted today to endorse the stringent automobile emissions standards hammered out with federal agencies five years ago, vowing to go to court if the Environmental Protection Agency follows through on a threat to undo the regulations—and then blocks the state from setting its own standards.
In a unanimous vote in a public meeting at Riverside, the board used strong language to send a message to Washington that California will resist any effort to rollback fuel economy and emissions standards. The move does not change the status quo, but affirms once again that the Golden State is not prepared to accept backsliding on emissions agreements and will, if necessary, pursue a waiver to go its own way.
The hours-long meeting was civil but pointed, with air board commissioners flatly telling the representatives of the auto industry that they made a big mistake in lobbying the Trump administration to revisit an agreement reached in 2011 that set nationwide emissions standards and raised the average fuel efficiency of cars to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025.
“What were you thinking when you threw yourselves upon the mercy of the Trump administration to try to solve your problems?” chided Mary Nichols, board chair.
Another board member grew animated, wondering aloud why a midterm review of the deal was necessary, saying nothing had changed.
“To me a midterm review is an off ramp opportunity,” said Hector De La Torre. “It’s turned out pretty damn well. There is no damn off ramp. Why would we take the off ramp? This is the right way to go, to stay on track here.”
He then echoed what numerous California officials had said regarding the state’s willingness to fight the Trump Administration in court to preserve air quality targets.
“If a divorce is going to happen at some point, we are going to litigate that divorce strongly,” De La Torre said. “When your parents are fighting, you can see which one has their act together and which one doesn’t. A deal is a deal. There were three parties at that table back in 2012, we are going to continue to exercise our authority under that deal until WE decide that deal is no longer valid.”
At issue are the 2022-2025 vehicle miles-per-gallon requirements set last summer by the outgoing Obama administration. The rules raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, up from 27.5 mpg in 2010.
The Trump administration says it will re-evaluate the standards over the next year. The president has maintained that environmental regulations are hampering U.S. automakers and costing American jobs. John Bozzella, who represents an industry trade group, has urged California to stay in line with federal standards. “There is more effective way forward than regulatory systems that are different,” he said.
But the strict guidelines are a critical part of California’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thus worth fighting for.
“If Washington continues down this road,” Gov Brown wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, “California will take the necessary actions to preserve current standards and protect the health of our people and the stability of our climate.”
State coastal agencies urge pushback against federal cuts to research and grant programs
published Mar 20, 2017
Leaders of California’s three coastal conservation agencies are calling the Trump administration’s proposed budget a threat to the state’s environmental and economic future, and urged California’s congressional delegation to push back against deep cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The letter—sent on behalf of the Coastal Commission, Coastal Conservancy and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission—said the proposed cuts would gut programs that provide grants for communities to invest in protection from flooding and sea level rise, as well as support for critical research and training.
“Eliminating NOAA’s core state grants program when California and all other coastal states are at increasing risk from these growing threats is shortsighted at best,” the letter said. “Most important, it will put California’s economy, coastline, and quality of life for millions of residents at risk.”
The letter cited the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, administered by NOAA, which helps fund coastal infrastructure and recreational access to the coast. The program is especially important, the letter said, because the grants are matched by the state.
Coastal Commission Director Jack Ainsworth, speaking at the last commission meeting, said the proposed funding cuts represent about 10 percent of the agency’s budget and would likely lead to layoffs. The state received $2.7 million from the program in 2016.
Trump administration freezes fuel-economy standards, leaving California in the lurch
published Mar 15, 2017
President Trump traveled to Detroit today to announce that his administration was shelving the Obama administration’s aggressive fuel-economy standards for cars—standards that California has been relying on to spur the production and sale of energy-efficient, electric and hybrid cars, thus reducing greenhouse gases.
The Trump administration says it will re-evaluate the standards over the next year. The President told automakers his priority was freeing them of regulations so they could build more cars. “If it takes an extra thimble of fuel, we don’t want that to stop you,” he said.
It was seen as an ominous sign for California, which had compromised with automakers and the Obama administration and resisted setting its own miles-per-gallon standard because the federal government adopted a higher standard nationwide. With the Trump administration appearing ready to unwind that deal and lower fuel economy standards, California is expected to invoke its right to seek a waiver to keep the higher standards. If the Trump administration refuses, that could ignite a lengthy court battle.
“If Washington continues down this road,” Gov Brown wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, “California will take the necessary actions to preserve current standards and protect the health of our people and the stability of our climate.”
The Los Angeles Times also reported that state Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed legal action this week asserting its need for more stringent emissions rules. “Any weakening or delay of the national standards will result in increased harms to our natural resources, our economy, and our people,” the filing says.
State official offers climate scientists a Golden State parachute: If Trump doesn't want you, California does
published Mar 14, 2017
Just as the Trump Administration is proposing significant cuts to federal agencies that employ climate scientists , a California official is in Washington D.C. this week, aiming to poach skittish federal researchers.
Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, intends to stand outside the Energy Department tomorrow and the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday to pass out fliers advertising dozens of jobs solving pressing environmental issues in California.
“If climate scientists and experts want the opportunity to continue doing important work for the good of our planet, my message is simple: Come West, California is hiring,” Picker said in a statement.
The PUC, the California Air Resources Board, and the California Energy Commission are hiring scientists to work issues related to climate change, in a state where the issue has the rapt attention of the governor and much of the Legislature.
Picker may be stampeded with resumes from prospective candidates. Proposed Trump administration budget cuts call for reducing the federal EPA’s budget by 25 percent and eliminating 3,000 jobs, and reducing or defunding renewable energy and carbon emission reduction programs at the federal Energy Department. Other agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expect to have their climate change research projects discontinued.
“On climate action, there’s a dark cloud hanging over Washington right now,” Picker said.
California’s aggressive move to hire federal researchers comes on the heels of an executive order President Trump signed yesterday to make the executive branch “more efficient.” It requires a six-month review of all 440 federal agencies to see whether some or all of their functions could be jettisoned—including an evaluation of whether any agency’s function would be better left “to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise.”
Trump budget-cutting to target California coastal and bay protection
published Mar 13, 2017
The Trump Administration’s budget-cutting plans reportedly include eliminating funding for restoration and protection of the San Francisco Bay, and programs that help California coastal communities prepare for climate-related threats.
The administration has proposed slashing budgets of nearly every federal agency, but protections for the environment appear to be especially hard hit.
The Washington Post reported that the proposed budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is to be cut by 17 percent, with sharp decreases in programs that pertain to climate science and adaptation to its effects. If the cuts are instituted, the California Coastal Commission could stand to lose about 10 percent of its overall budget, or about $2 million, according to agency spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz.
The grant programs are critical in assisting local governments to fund projects that prepare coastal towns to withstand damage from severe storms and sea level rise.
Among the programs targetted, according to the document, are NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management grants and Regional Coastal Resilience grants, Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency grants, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, and the Sea Grant program.
The preliminary budget for the Environmental Protection Agency calls for the elimination of the $4.8 million San Francisco Bay program, which funds wetlands restoration and beefing up protection of the shoreline, at risk for sea level rise. The proposed cuts, reported by Reuters, would need the approval of Congress.
The San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund was established in 2008. That EPA grant program has allocated nearly $45 million to pay for projects to restore wetlands, improve water quality and reduce polluted runoff.
Trump has characterized the EPA as regulation-happy, complaining the agency uses “totalitarian tactics” that restrict industry and cost Americans jobs.
EPA poised to roll back fuel efficiency standards, undermining California's climate goals
published Mar 10, 2017
The anticipation continues to build as California officials spent another week waiting for the expected rollbacks of vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency standards to come from the Trump Administration—moves that could have serious repercussions for California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.
At issue are the 2022-2025 vehicle miles-per-gallon requirements set last summer by the outgoing Obama Administration. The rules raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025, up from 27.5 mpg in 2010.
In a separate action, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is widely expected to loosen the emission rules for cars, which have for a number of years been identical to California’s stringent standards. That has been assumed to occur at any time, but Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, told a Sacramento audience this week that although she’s hearing the same rumors, she has no particular insight into what the federal agency might do. “They aren’t asking me.” she said.
So expected was the move that a state senator introduced a resolution opposing “any efforts by the current administration and Congress of the United States to deny, rollback, or otherwise undermine the waiver authority.”
But, by the end of the week, the shoe had failed to drop.
The EPA itself has been strangely quiet, although Pruitt on Thursday week confounded scientists around the world when he said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change. “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box. “But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”
In fact, there is little debate about carbon dioxide’s role in climate change, as the EPA’s as-yet unpurged website concludes, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”
A group of Democratic senators earlier in the week urged the EPA not to change the emissions rules, saying in a letter, “These automobile emissions standards are economically feasible and technologically achievable for the auto industry.”
Car manufacturers disagree, and have lobbied the Trump Administration to revisit the standards and build in more flexibility.
“America should be putting cars that burn too much gasoline in the rear-view mirror,” said Anna Aurilio, Legislative Director for Environment America.“Unfortunately, EPA’s potential action may be a green light to keep making cars that dirty our air, endanger our health and threaten out children’s future.”
The complicated, litigated process of the interwoven regulations was consolidated under the Obama Administration. Both the EPA and California’s air board set their own greenhouse gas standards, while the U.S Department of Transportation sets the fuel efficiency rules, known as CAFE standards. Taken together, fuel economy and emissions are set out in what’s known as the National Program, which covers vehicle emissions and fuel economy from 2017-2025.
What might be afoot, according to Simon Mui, an analyst with the National Resources Defense Council, is both agencies working in concert to weaken both fuel efficiency and emissions rules at the same time “At that point,” he said, “the California standards would be the one shining star holding things up.”
That’s because the state has the right under the Clean Air Act to set its own emissions standards for new cars if it deems the federal guidelines insufficiently strict. (The law also allows other states to adopt California’s rules, which more than a dozen have done.) To do so, California’s air board must request a waiver from the EPA, which it has done for more than 50 years.
Such waivers have been the bedrock on which much of California’s climate change goals stand and are critical for the state to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals. The state’s emissions from passenger cars and light trucks have been reduced by more than 30 percent since 2009, when California expanded its use of the air quality waiver.
But after Pruitt refused to endorse California’s special waiver privilege, the state has girded itself for this sort of battle with federal officials, having hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to represent it.
Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the state air board, noted that the state has received more than 100 waiver in the last 50 years, adding, “California’s unique ability to set and enforce its own standards on mobile sources is critical for California to protect public health, and has benefitted the nation.”
Trio of state bills would keep federal environmental safeguards here even if feds drop them
published Feb 23, 2017
Fear has a way of focusing the mind.
Democrats in the California Legislature, wary of as-yet unknown environmental policies to come from the Trump White House, aim to preempt potential federal rollbacks by introducing a trio of bills maintaining existing state protections—both for the environment and for the scientists who study it.
“Californians can’t afford to go back to the days of unregulated pollution,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León of Los Angeles said at a press conference today. “So we’re not going to let this administration or any other undermine our progress.”
De León introduced SB 49, which instructs state and local agencies to at least maintain current standards for clean air, water and drinking water regardless of how federal policy may change. It also prohibits removing protections that are covered for now under the federal Endangered Species Act and worker safety rules.
Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica offered SB 50, which would revise state policy to make it more difficult to sell federal land to developers, instead requiring it to first be offered to the State Lands Commission.
The third bill, introduced by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, would help shield the right of environmental and climate change scientists—be they public employees or working for government contractors—to speak to the media and report agency wrongdoing. SB 51 protects them from losing their professional licenses or being brought before state boards for doing so. It also seeks to insulate scientific information from censorship or deletion by federal agencies.
State needs Trump administration to continue goosing clean energy with federal dollars
published Feb 19, 2017
President Trump is a big booster of the country’s fossil fuel sector, pledging to revive the coal industry and advance oil and gas drilling. But given his outspoken skepticism about the dangers of climate change, questions abound about whether he’ll be inclined to keep allocating federal dollars to either support large scale renewable energy projects or to incentives consumers to buy electric cars and install rooftop solar system.
Those federal programs have helped to make renewable energy more affordable to Americans and, in California, have been an impetus to propel the state toward its ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gases. But they also perpetuate what critics have labeled a nanny state, where government interjects itself into the market and tries to influence which products consumers buy.
Currently purchasers of electric vehicles are eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credits—a critical incentive if California is to meet Gov. Brown’s intent to decarbonize transportation (he has decreed that 15 percent of the state’s new car fleet will be zero-emission by 2025.) Federal aid also helps homeowners make their homes more energy efficient, a critical component to achieving California’s goal that all buildings operate twice as efficiently by 2030.
Federal grants, loans and tax breaks have been fundamental to bootstrapping California’s robust utility-scale renewable energy industry. Even as some these Treasury and Energy Department programs phase out, the state’s clean energy developers will require subsidies to stay afloat. At the same time, experts parsing the president’s proposed tax overhaul have suggested that cutting corporate tax rates will lessen the need for write-off that drove investors to pour billions into solar companies.
Any lessening of investment in large scale wind, and especially solar, will be a blow to California renewable goals, in a state where legislators will be considering a new bill by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León that would mandate the state run on 100 percent clean energy by 2045.
Rains wash away drought desperation—but not pump plan for the Mojave
published Feb 9, 2017
The state’s years-long droughts has eased, with the latest measurements show that only 4 percent of California still experiencing severe drought—down from 82 percent a year ago. That takes the sting out of making tough decisions about who gets water when there’s more of it to go around. And as a result, the state may not need as much help from the federal government if water is flowing.
But the soggy state of the state today doesn’t mean that state officials to keep their hands in their pockets when it comes to seeking funding.
Included in President Trump’s proposed infrastructure priority list is $250 million for the Cadiz water project in the Mojave Desert—a project that would pipe water to a half-million customers in Southern California. The idea is opposed by conservationists who say aggressive pumping of groundwater would deplete the region’s already-tapped aquifers. It has so far been blocked by the federal Bureau of Land Management. That might change.`
State environmentalists dread thought of losing fed emissions waivers
published Jan 31, 2017
California officials have discerned a chilling signal that the Trump administration may be willing to halt the state’s unique authority to impose its own vehicle emission rules—a move that could undercut its pioneering effort to battle climate change.
The threat arose during the confirmation hearing for Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt was asked by California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris if he would pledge to continue the EPA’s decades-long policy of granting California waivers from the federal Clean Air Act, giving the state the right to set its own more stringent clean air standards. Pruitt—who as Oklahoma’s attorney general sued the EPA more than a dozen times—refused to commit to continuing California’s authority, instead saying he would have to study the issue.
The waivers have been the bedrock on which much of California’s climate change goals stand. The state’s emissions from passenger cars and light trucks have been reduced by more than 30 percent since 2009, when California expanded its use of the air quality waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
The ability of the state to chart its own course has brought California to a place of national and international leadership in combating climate change, often without the partnership of recalcitrant elected officials in Washington. In many cases, California’s regulations have become the de facto federal standards.
Fran Pavley, the recently retired Democratic state senator who authored most of California’s climate change legislation, said in an interview that the state would “absolutely not” have been able to achieve the current greenhouse gas reductions without waivers. Losing that flexibility under the Trump administration would be a crushing blow to more than a decade of carefully crafted policies, which stitched together across multiple state and local agencies, aim to reduce California’s carbon footprint and dramatically reshape how the state generates and uses energy.
The clean air waivers also play a critical role in improving public health across California—and although they’ve helped clean pollutants from the air, large parts of the state still have air quality that violates federal ozone thresholds.
“There is no way that the 10 million Californians living in areas with smoggy air will be able to breathe healthy air without the state keeping (waiver) authority,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air. Read the full CALmatters story:
Obama left state vulnerable to coastal drilling
published Jan 22, 2017
Gov. Jerry Brown sent a letter to President Obama as he was leaving office, asking him to permanently place California’s coast off limits to drilling.
“California is blessed with hundreds of miles of spectacular coastline; home to scenic state parks, beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife and thriving communities,” Brown wrote. “Clearly, large new oil and gas reserves would be inconsistent with our overriding imperative to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and combat the devastating impacts of climate change.”
The federal government already announced it would not auction federal leases until after 2022, if at all. But Obama declined to make that permanent, even as he ruled out energy exploration in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
Thus far the Trump administration has not signaled its intentions.
The weigh-in: Environment
published Jan 20, 2017
As a man who made a name for himself as a New York real estate developer, President Trump has not been terribly specific with his views about environmental issues—aside from remarking that the country has too many restrictive laws aimed at protecting the environment.
How can Trump and California ever get along? If the two were speed dating, they wouldn’t even stop at each other’s table. Trump-the-businessman was philosophically opposed to mandates and government intrusion into corporate practices. That reluctance puts him sideways with California’s hybrid approach to achieving environmental policy goals, an interdependent web of regulations, incentives and market-based solutions. Cap and trade, which puts a price on carbon and aims to provide incentives for polluters to lower emissions, is the best example—and the bedrock tenet of California environmental policy. Trump, who has said he opposes a tax on carbon, has mocked the notion of climate change.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
It’s not clear whether Trump’s promises of federal spending on infrastructure projects will give a boost to two of Gov. Jerry Brown’s pet projects with environmental implications: a bullet train running much of the length of the state, and the Delta “Twin Tunnels” water project. Federal support would be critical to both: the state’s Natural Resources Agency last year commissioned a study of the economics of the tunnels, which concluded that the project wouldn’t be economically feasible unless the federal government footed about a third of the estimated $16 billion cost.
The new President seems suspicious of the dense science that informs most environmental policy. The brainy California governor is never more thrilled than when delving into an esoteric analysis of global warming scenarios. The two have views that seem diametrically opposed.