Gov. Gavin Newsom should sign Senate Bill 1 into law. Without its environmental protections, Californians will suffer

By Jerry Butkiewicz, Special to CalMatters

At least 85 different federal laws and regulations affecting California have been weakened or undermined by the Trump administration since January 2017. 

Vital clean air, water, and endangered species standards have been weakened or eliminated, while federal agencies that are supposed to protect worker health and safety are now being run by people with strong industry backgrounds.

That’s why I, along with many proponents, believe that Senate Bill 1 would safeguard our state from the anti-science, anti-environment and anti-worker deregulation derby taking place under the Trump administration.

SB 1, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, proposed that whatever action was taken at the federal level, California would continue to enforce the same environmental and worker protections that have been in effect for years. These are protections that were adopted on a bipartisan basis beginning in the 1970s, and bolstered by Obama-era policy.

I believe Gov. Gavin Newsom should sign Senate Bill 1 into law. We must find a way to protect our environment and working families in California.

The Trump Administration rollbacks pose an immediate threat to our irreplaceable coastal resources. As I write this, agencies in Washington, D.C. are weakening water quality regulations that protect our beaches and estuaries from pollution. They are repealing standards that protect threatened and endangered species off our coast, such as orca whales and sea otters.

They are threatening everything from clean drinking water to worker safety:

  • Just last week, Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, signed a rule rescinding an Obama-era policy that had broadened federal oversight to protect wildlife and our nation’s supply of drinking water from industrial pollution.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement is down since 2016, and the number of OSHA inspectors is at an all-time low. Reduced oversight of workplace hazards have become commonplace. The number of inspections of workplace heat conditions has fallen 50% in two years and inspections of dangerous chemicals and pesticides have fallen by two-thirds.
  • The Trump administration proposes to roll back species protections on the federal Central Valley Project. That will affect the State Water Project, on which San Diego and 24 million Southern Californians rely. Working families will have to pay more of their hard-earned money for our water in order to subsidize the impact of relaxed federal protections. 

Concerns were raised about whether SB 1 would limit the state’s ability to rely upon the best available science to protect our environment. Those concerns are unfounded.

SB 1 clearly states that California regulatory agencies shall make determinations based on the best scientific information available.

There was also a special interests campaign that claims SB 1 would impact the “voluntary settlement agreement” negotiations regarding the critical Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Again, there is language in the bill expressly stating that SB 1 would not affect this process. 

I am grateful to Sen. Atkins for tackling this issue. It was by no means easy, but throughout the process, she demonstrated the best of what makes a leader.

The threats to our quality of life are very real. I am concerned about the health of California’s water system and ensuring that we have adequate water to meet the growing needs of the state’s 40 million residents and our diverse economic industries including agriculture.

Clean air, clean water, the Endangered Species Act and worker health and safety are important values worth preserving. We must work together to protect California from the damaging actions of the Trump administration. That’s why SB 1 is so important.

Jerry Butkiewicz is San Diego County Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California board member, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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