Good morning, California. It’s Thursday, January 28.

EJ groups flex muscle

President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued a lengthy executive order on the environment and climate change, paving the way for California to advance its ambitious agenda even as numerous roadblocks remain.

Among Biden’s directives was a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land — throwing into limbo seven Kern County leases the Trump administration auctioned off in December against California’s wishes. Biden also wants to conserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, a goal to which Gov. Gavin Newsom committed California in October. And the president plans to create a Civilian Climate Corps, evoking the California Climate Action Corps Newsom formed in September and whose first cohort began their fellowships this month.

To learn more about what Biden’s presidency means for California’s environment, check out this comprehensive explainer from CalMatters’ Julie Cart and Rachel Becker — it even includes a Magic 8 Ball that predicts his administration’s actions. According to the Magic 8 Ball, it’s very likely Biden will reinstate California’s authority to set its own auto emissions standards — an assessment Newsom appears to agree with.

  • Newsom in a Wednesday tweet: “Hey, Toyota, Fiat, Hyundai, and Subaru — hope you watched (Biden’s) remarks. … Now, before all you companies start talking about national emissions standards, why don’t you start with DROPPING your climate killing, Trump-era lawsuits against CA?”

But even with a federal government that shares many of California’s environmental goals, all is not quiet on the Western Front. Newsom has come under fire from environmental justice groups — which are gaining influence in California and nationwide — for continuing to issue fracking permits. His administration approved 1,709 new oil and gas permits in 2020, a 117% increase from the year before, according to NewsomWellWatch, a site maintained by advocacy groups.

The California Environmental Justice Alliance gave Newsom a 44% rating on a scorecard released Wednesday, blasting the governor for vetoing a bill that would have reformed the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control.

  • CEJA: We urge “Newsom to work closely with environmental justice groups to identify and act on necessary, transformative solutions to our climate and economic crises. … It would be a shame, and the governor’s unfortunate legacy, to let this moment pass us by.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,169,914 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 38,224 deaths (+1.9% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

1. Blue Shield to lead vaccine network

Alameda County health workers prepare syringes with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a distribution clinic at St. Rose hospital in Hayward on Jan. 27, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Health workers prepare syringes with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at St. Rose Hospital in Hayward on Jan. 27, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Blue Shield of California will lead the new statewide vaccine network charged with delivering doses to providers, state officials said Wednesday, adding that Kaiser Permanente will run a separate program for its members and provide additional assistance to the state. The announcement came a day after the state said a “third-party administrator” would spearhead the new system, but declined to provide additional details. That raised concerns for nine Republican lawmakers, who sent Newsom a letter Wednesday demanding more transparency about the contract.

  • The lawmakers: “While we welcome any effort to expedite the administration of vaccines, the public and the Legislature have been left in the dark on the hiring process … Californians … deserve to know why this entity was selected for this crucial job.”

A spokesman for the Department of Public Health said the contract will be finalized soon and Blue Shield will take over vaccine administration in mid-February. The insurance giant has been deeply involved in California’s coronavirus response, with its executives filling nearly half of the leadership positions on Newsom’s testing task force. The company is also a major player in state politics, spending more than $1 million to help elect Newsom in 2018 and more than $775,000 lobbying Sacramento last year.

  • Blue Shield spokesman Mark Seelig: We’re “honored to be invited by the governor to play an important role in helping to save lives and overcome this pandemic.”

2. Alleged extremist may have targeted Newsom

Image via iStock

A Napa Valley man facing federal explosives charges may have been targeting Newsom and the Bay Area headquarters of Twitter and Facebook, according to an FBI affidavit released Tuesday. Federal prosecutors charged Ian Benjamin Rogers, 43, for possessing five homemade pipe bombs, bomb-making material, 49 firearms and 15,000 rounds of ammunition, the Los Angeles Times reports. Text messages show that Rogers appeared to be planning attacks on Newsom, Twitter and Facebook in an attempt to keep former President Donald Trump in office, the FBI said. Authorities also said Rogers may be linked to the Three Percenters, a right-wing antigovernment militia group.

The news comes as other Californians face charges for taking part in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. On Tuesday, a California man was arrested for sending threatening messages to relatives of New York Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries amid the siege. And Wednesday, a federal magistrate judge refused to release a Sacramento Republican activist from jail, saying he is “a man of impulse and poor judgment.”

3. Many sex trafficking victims still behind bars

Sara Kruzan, 43, who spent 17 years in prison for killing her trafficker, now helps other victims obtain new sentences for their crimes so they can be released. Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters
Sara Kruzan, 43, who spent 17 years in prison for killing her trafficker. Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters

Although California’s criminal justice system has evolved in how it treats victims of sex trafficking, many — predominantly Black women — are still sitting behind bars for crimes they committed while being trafficked, CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons reports. Sara Kruzan, 43, spent some of her teenage years, all of her 20s and much of her 30s in prison for killing her trafficker before then-Attorney General Kamala Harris acknowledged she was a victim of domestic violence. And Keiana Aldrich, 25, spent eight years in prison for kidnapping and robbing a man who tried to hire her for pornography when she was 17. The man didn’t spend a day behind bars.

Currently, victims’ main path to release is petitioning the court for resentencing — but the process often requires a savvy attorney, something many incarcerated women lack. Other victims don’t realize they can challenge the conviction.

  • Aldrich: “People like us deserve a chance, a chance in life, and not just to be thrown away and wasted like we’re nothing.”

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The state auditor’s scathing reports on California’s unemployment department could generate more ammunition for the Newsom recall.

We must invest in college students: California cannot allow COVID-19 to disrupt access to higher education, writes Loren Blanchard, executive vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at the California State University.

Making solar energy even cleaner: As California decarbonizes its grid, transportation and housing, it can also decarbonize solar energy itself, argue Mark Bassett of Hemlock Semiconductor Operations and Mark Widmar of First Solar.

Other things worth your time

Atmospheric river storm delivers heavy rain, high winds, power outages, evacuations, flash floods. // Mercury News

Initial data for California confirm young, low-income children hit hardest by learning loss. // EdSource

Closing 5 California prisons would free up money to house former inmates, Democratic lawmaker says. // Sacramento Bee

Orange County Supervisors spent more COVID response money on sheriff staff than health workers. // Voice of OC

Supervisors approve needle exchange for drug users. // San Diego Union-Tribune

San Francisco school board tosses out 44 school names in controversial move. // San Francisco Chronicle

Ex-Facebook executive says he wants to run to replace Newsom. // SF Gate

Inside the California startup focused on ‘eternity management.’ // New York Times

Dana Point named first Whale Heritage Site in the United States. // Los Angeles Times

See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...