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.
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.”
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education’s delay of rules meant to protect student loan borrowers from predatory practices was “arbitrary and capricious,” granting a legal victory to the state of California and borrowers who say their colleges defrauded them.
If upheld, the ruling could make it easier for students like the tens of thousands of Californians left in the lurch when for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges abruptly closed its doors to recoup their investments.
Corinthian’s 2015 collapse prompted the Obama Administration to issue new rules the following year allowing groups of students to apply for federal loan forgiveness en masse if their college closed, misled them or broke the law. The so-called “borrower defense rules” were hailed by consumer advocates and criticized by representatives of the for-profit college industry, who said they would put small vocational schools out of business.
The Trump administration has repeatedly pushed back implementation of the rules, and in August proposed a new plan that would make each individual borrower prove that their college knowingly lied to them in order to have loans discharged.
But Judge Randolph S. Moss agreed with the complaint filed by a pair of student borrowers, joined by the attorney generals of 19 states including California, that the department illegally “failed to offer a reasoned basis” for the shift in policy. The two sides are scheduled to meet in court Friday to discuss remedies in the case.
“This is a big win for students in California and the nation who were cheated of a quality education,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of student loan borrowers.
The Department of Education did not reply to requests for comment late today.
Track all of California’s lawsuits against the Trump administration here.
California’s push to pass the nation’s strongest net neutrality protections—and bring back Obama-era rules undone by the Trump administration—advanced today, one step in a high-stakes tech battle that’s being waged from here to Washington.
The bill by Democratic Sens. Scott Wiener and Kevin de Léon survived intense negotiations to pass the Democratic-controlled Assembly with overwhelming support by a vote of 61 to 18. It goes back to the Senate for a final vote before the legislative session ends Friday. If passed, it would prohibit internet service providers from slowing or speeding content based on preference or extra payment.
“The core premise of net neutrality is that we get to decide where we go on the internet, as opposed to telecom and cable companies telling us where to go,” Wiener said in a statement.
SB 822 aims to protect an open internet by replacing the Trump administration’s repeal of federal protections established during the Obama administration in 2015. It is considered the strongest set of net neutrality provisions since Obama’s were rolled back in June, and would be enforced by California’s attorney general.
Wiener and de Léon’s proposal would ban internet companies from charging businesses access fees in order to reach its online customers. It would also prohibit “zero rating,” a practice in which providers charge consumers for accessing their competitors’ content, but provide a free data incentive for accessing their own content.
Republican opponents of the bill slammed it as an overreach that meddles with a free market, creates a regulatory patchwork and invites litigation. Advocates, meanwhile, argued that such protections prevent internet service providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, from throttling internet speeds and creating so-called “fast lane” access.
Net neutrality proponents include not just technology companies such as Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Facebook, but also the Writers Guild of America and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The bill garnered national attention as it moved through the Legislature earlier this year. Facing strong opposition from internet companies and Republican legislators, Democrats anticipated a legal challenge as the state measure advanced.
In committee, the bill was heavily amended by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat. In response, Wiener almost withdrew his “hijacked” bill, which he said had been stripped of all its key protections.
But in July, the bill’s original provisions were restored and lawmakers reached an agreement to advance it together. Santiago eventually came around and joined as principal coauthor.
“This bill is about value,” Santiago said. “The question before us is, do you believe in a free and open internet?”
On the floor, Republican leaders charged regulation should be left to the feds. Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, said the issue will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the state will lose. Other opponents argued it will chill the tech industry and result in a less robust market for consumers.
“The worst possible thing we can do is to create 50 different state FCCs,” Patterson argued. “If you are really interested, the place to have this fleshed out is the federal level with federal elections and accountability. It takes several steps way too far.”
“You’re wading into an area where you have no business in,” echoed Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a Lake Elsinore Republican. “This is embarrassing.”
Lobbying was intense as Thursday’s vote neared. A group affiliated to AT&T was reportedly using robocalls to send out automated messages claiming the law would raise consumer cell phone bills. Earlier this month, Verizon was widely criticized for allegedly throttling data speeds for the Santa Clara County Fire Department during the Mendocino Complex fire, a complaint the company denied.
Ryan Singel, media and strategy fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, says public pressure clearly helped secure Assembly approval.
“While it seems like getting net neutrality passed in California should be simple, the reality is that AT&T is incredibly powerful in California’s legislature—which was made clear when the bill was gutted in committee in June,” Singel said in an email.
In recent months, more than 20 states have introduced bills aiming to restore the federal net neutrality protections. Washington and Oregon have already passed legislation.
Meanwhile, the fight on the federal front is far from over. Tech groups including Amazon, Facebook and the Internet Association this month filed briefs with the federal appeals court supporting a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission to bring back net neutrality.
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.