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.

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Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump

Feb. 2, 2018 1:35 pm

Trump administration considering tearing up plan for the California desert

Environment Reporter
The Mojave Desert. Image by Shane Burkhardt via FLICKR

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.

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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.”

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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:

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.

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May 15, 2018 4:22 pm

Auto mileage and emissions: Will Washington and California be negotiating?

Environment Reporter
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is expected to revise the standards for auto emissions and fuel efficiency. Photo by MichaelGat via Flickr

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.

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