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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It’s too soon to say if the Trump administration’s decision to impose stiff tariffs on cheap Chinese solar panels will make it more difficult for California to dramatically ramp up renewable energy.
But the move—which adds a 30 percent tax on imported solar components—will certainly make it more expensive.
Reaction in the state has been swift. The residential and utility-scale solar industries are key players in California, with manufacturing and installation companies based here and thousands of jobs dependent on what is the fastest-growing energy sector.
The Solar Energy Industries Association, an advocacy group, estimated the tariffs could kill as many as 23,000 jobs nationwide this year and would discourage investment. An estimated 100,000 Californians are employed in some facet of the solar industry.
Sen. Bob Wieckowski represents a Bay Area district that’s home to a handful of solar companies affected by the tariffs.
“Local employers are already saying it will have adverse effects on their ability to install more solar panels because of the rising costs,” Wieckowski said.
The administration’s decision did not single out Chinese products, but companies in China are, far and away, the leading exporters of solar panels and cells. China’s strategy to ramp up production and increase innovation has driven down the cost of solar energy and made renewable sources much more competitive.
The lower costs, along with federal and state tax incentives, have allowed the burgeoning adoption of residential rooftop installation.
That market shift has come at the right time for California, which has a target of deriving 50 percent of its energy from clean sources by 2030. In the state Air Resources Board’s recent accounting of greenhouse-gas emissions found that the electric sector was a success story, cutting the most emissions in 2016. The agency concluded that California’s large utilities are already at or near the state’s 2020 goal of 33 percent renewable energy.
Solar is driving much of that reduction. So much so that some in the Legislature have called for even more ambitious targets. State Senate leader Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat, has proposed that California be required to go all-in: 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
De León lashed out at the tariff decision in a tweet, saying, “Trump is willing to harm 50,000 American #solar jobs—the equivalent of the entire US coal sector—and raise your energy bills to cater to his coal industry donors. Bad for America, bad for the economy and terrible for our children’s futures.”
The solar tariffs are set to phase out after four years, dropping from 30 percent in the first year to 25 percent in the second, 20 percent in the third and 15 percent in the fourth.
The Trump administration indicated that its action was intended to protect American companies. But domestic solar manufacturing is sluggish, at best. The bulk of the business in the United States, aside from installation and sales of solar gear, is elsewhere on the supply chain, centered on manufacturing materials other than panels.
“It boggles my mind that this president—any president, really—would voluntarily choose to damage one of the fastest-growing segments of our economy,” Tony Clifford, chief development officer of Standard Solar, said in a prepared statement.
In a meeting about school safety and guns, President Donald Trump pivoted to some favorite targets: California and immigration. He said he might remove immigration and border officers from the Golden State and predicted that the result would be “a crime mess like you’ve never seen,” CNN and other news outlets reported today.
He mentioned gangs as a problem that the federal government was trying to address, with “no help from the state of California,” where one foreign gang establishes “franchises.”
“They’re doing a lousy management job, they have the highest taxes in the nation and they don’t know what’s happening out there,” Trump said.
Trump made his remarks in a session with state and local officials who had dealt with shootings at schools. He did not explain how he believed gangs and school shootings were related.
He went on to say, “the sanctuary city situation, the protection of these horrible criminals …. If we ever pulled our ICE out and said, ‘Hey, let California alone and let them figure it out themselves,’ in two months they’d be begging for us to come back.”
“I’m thinking about doing it,” he said, without offering details about a specific plan.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has filed more than two dozen lawsuits against the Trump administration on a range of issues, said the state works “in concert with federal laws” and defended its pursuit of those who commit crimes.
“We’re going after drug dealers, sex traffickers. We don’t stop doing that. My division of law enforcement is doing that right now,” Becerra said in a statement. “What we won’t do is change from being focused in public safety – we’re in the business of public safety, not deportation.”
Protestors wearing dolphin, shark and polar bear costumes joined the throngs who descended on Sacramento Thursday to speak out against the Trump administration’s proposal to expand oil drilling in federal waters off the California coast.
After a rally outside the state Capitol they marched to a library a few blocks away where the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hosted the sole public meeting on the proposal in California. The agency is holding one meeting in each coastal state.
The format frustrated some attendees. Instead of the typical government hearing where long lines of people wait to comment at a microphone, visitors were directed to mill about a large room where federal employees were stationed at about a dozen tables. They explained different aspects of the national offshore drilling program—how leases are approved, how much money it brings to the U.S. economy, how the government responds to and tries to prevent oil spills—and answered questions from the public. A table with computers and comment cards was available for visitors to formally submit comments to the government.
But environmentalists—many wearing blue shirts saying “Californians against offshore drilling”—had traveled from around the state to attend the meeting and craved an opportunity to sound off.
“That one table? For hundreds of people?” Sharolyn Hutton of Eureka said, looking at the computer table set up for public comment.
At one point a few protestors began shouting in the middle of the room, “This is ridiculous! This is shameful!”
John Romero, spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the format was meant to provide more meaningful dialogue between the public and the government.
A representative from the Western States Petroleum Association stopped by the meeting. He noted that Californians use almost 2 million barrels of oil each day. “We want to make sure folks understand our enormous energy consumption here,” said Bob Poole, the associations director of production.
The oil association president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, issued a statement saying that the exploration of potential drilling sites in federal water “is the first step in helping California increase our energy security through potentially increasing our domestic energy production. Currently, we import over 1 million barrels of oil in super tankers from overseas locations each and every day.”
California’s elected officials have already made clear that they oppose more drilling off the coast and will try to block it by making it difficult to transport oil through state waters, which extend three miles off the coast. With bipartisan support the Assembly passed a resolution Thursday criticizing the Trump Administration plan and the State Lands Commission, which oversees oil drilling in state waters, sent the federal government a letter this week saying it is “vehemently opposed” to more oil and gas drilling in the Pacific ocean.
California has joined a group of states suing two federal agencies for suspending a 2015 rule that extended the definition of streams and wetlands entitled to protection under the Clean Water Act.
The “waters of the United States” rule was adopted in 2015 to better define which bodies of water are covered under federal law, both for protection against development and depletions and as a bulwark against pollution.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today that he sued the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bringing the number of suits filed by California against the Trump Administration to more than two dozen.
“The California Department of Justice will not spectate as this administration attempts to undo yet another critical environmental protection,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will do what is necessary to defend the Clean Water Rule and our right to clean water. The Rule was legally promulgated, based on science, and will help protect our precious water resources.”
The Obama-era regulation was intended to apply rigorous science to more clearly spell out which waterways were protected and to put an end to a free-for-all in which states applied differing interpretations. The new definitions included floodplains and streams that do not flow year-round.
Those rules were strenuously opposed by developers, who said they swept up much of the undeveloped land in California.
In addition to the lawsuit brought by attorneys general from 11 states, the suspension of the 2015 regulation has been challenged by a host of environmental organizations.