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.
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.
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.
Note: This post has been revised to correct the number of lawsuits Becerra has filed against the Trump administration.
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.”
- Short-term insurance expansion 'bad news for small businesses', by Mark Herbert, California Director for Small Business Majority on Aug. 8, 2018
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.