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. Read More
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. Read More
After months of controversy over far-right speakers on the UC Berkeley campus, the US Department of Justice has weighed in. Attorneys for the department filed a brief Thursday in support of a federal lawsuit by the Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation alleging that the university’s public event policies discriminate against conservatives.
The brief cites a “grave concern” that “free speech has come under attack on campuses across the country.” It echoes criticisms of Berkeley made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a speech at Georgetown University last fall, in which he charged the university was coddling students and cracking down on speech.
Planned campus appearances by conservative firebrands Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter sparked protests last year and ultimately were canceled due to security concerns.
The events’ sponsors have pointed out the irony of speakers being shouted down in the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. But other students critique what they say is a deliberate strategy by conservative groups of booking racist, sexist and homophobic “experts” to provoke students, then crying foul when they are opposed.
UC Berkeley quickly fired back with a statement noting that the suit had already been dismissed by a judge once. (The students submitted an amended complaint, which the university is arguing should be thrown out.) “Berkeley does not discriminate against speakers invited by student organizations based upon viewpoint,” the statement reads. “The campus is committed to ensuring that student groups may hold events with speakers of their choosing, and it has expended significant resources to allow events to go forward without compromising the safety or security of the campus…The campus will continue to vigorously defend itself against these allegations.” Read More
Note: This post was updated to include an oil-industry comment.
California’s government started the new year much as it ended the last one: by filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration. This time, the state hit back against Washington’s decision last month to repeal Obama-era regulations governing hydraulic fracturing.
The rules would have required companies drilling on federal land to disclose the chemicals used during the fracking process, in which water and chemicals are pumped underground under high pressure to break oil deposits loose.
The process has been used in oil fields for decades, to establish new wells and revitalize existing ones. But the tremendous pressure applied by operators today is blamed for low-level seismic activity and for cracking open subterranean rock that protects aquifers, potentially fouling water supplies.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the lawsuit today—the 26th time California has taken the Trump administration to court. Read More
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. Read More
A resolution declaring the California Legislature’s opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore oil drilling, shouldn’t, on the face of it, be very controversial. The vast majority of Californians oppose drilling off the state’s coast. And a resolution doesn’t actually change the law anyway—it’s just a formal way to state an opinion.
But never underestimate the potential for politics to rear its head.
After news broke earlier this month that the federal government would exempt Florida from its plans to expand offshore drilling—widely seen as a move by the Republican administration to favor a state with a Republican governor—a GOP assemblywoman in California drafted a resolution saying that California wanted the same treatment.
“Protecting our California coastline has had bipartisan support for decades, and I think it’s much more impactful when someone from the same party is willing to bring colleagues together and say, ‘No. We think you should leave our coastline protected,’” said Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of Dublin.
Though Baker is a Republican, most voters in her suburban East Bay district are Democrats. Unsurprisingly, Democrats have been trying for a few years to snag her seat. They’re trying again this year—and the Assembly Democrats’ political consultant quickly seized on Baker’s resolution. Read More
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.
A federal judge in California has blocked deportation of participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, allowing those whose legal status has expired to apply for renewal until a court challenge of the Trump administration’s cancellation of the program is resolved.
The injunction essentially pauses a Trump plan to end DACA, which provides 2-year work permits and protection from removal for some young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with other attorneys general and the University of California, asked for the injunction in November while the underlying court case moves forward.
“Dreamers’ lives were thrown into chaos when the Trump administration tried to terminate the DACA program without obeying the law,” Becerra said. The “ruling is a huge step in the right direction.”
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State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León is proposing an end run for Californians to deduct the full value of their state and local taxes from their federal tax bills.
De León, a Los Angeles Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate, introduced SB 227, which would allow taxpayers to make charitable deductions to the state and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on the full amount of their contribution.
Because charitable contributions are fully deductible, this would allow California taxpayers to sidestep the new $10,000 federal cap on state and local tax deductions.
“The Republican tax plan gives corporations and hedge-fund managers a trillion-dollar tax cut and expects California taxpayers to foot the bill,” de León said in announcing his legislation. “We won’t allow California residents to be the casualty of this disastrous tax scheme.” He noted that the bill is modeled after existing laws that provide tax credits on charitable donations made to state college affordability grants, such as the Cal Grant program. Read More
The Trump administration has begun the process of opening virtually the entire U.S. coastline to oil and gas drilling, making good on a campaign promise to exploit the country’s troves of offshore energy.
The Interior Department unveiled a five-year plan to establish lease sales in federal waters off the outer continental shelf, including parcels where drilling has been banned for decades. That includes the California coast.
The plan, announced by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, envisions drilling in the Arctic, off the Hawaiian coast and in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as expanding existing exploration into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The leasing will begin in 2019 off the north coast of Alaska then move to the lower 48 states, the agency said.
Zinke told reporters on a conference call that the leasing process would expand the country’s energy independence, a policy emphasis that the agency has already made a priority on public lands. “This is the beginning of an opening up,” he said, promising that the months-long public comment period before enactment would include all stakeholders. “The states will have a voice.”
California has already been heard on this topic, loudly and often, and weighed in again today. Read More