Feinstein, Costa Support Weakening of CA Bill Blocking Trump Rollbacks of Environmental Regulations

U.S. Representative Jim Costa |  

By Dan Bacher |

Big California water districts and agribusiness-friendly Democrats are supporting two provisions to weaken California's environmental protections in Senate Bill 1, state legislation that would protect imperiled Sacramento winter-rum and spring-run Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, green sturgeon and other endangered and threatened fish species from attacks by the Trump Administration.

SB 1, the California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2019, ensures that “protections afforded to Californians under federal environmental and labor laws and regulations as of January 2017, remain in place in the event that President Trump weakens or repeals any of those federal laws or regulations.”

The legislation would lock in protections in effect as of January 2017 under the federal Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act and Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act.

On September 6, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressmen Jim Costa (CA-16, John Garamendi (CA-03), TJ Cox (CA-16) and  Josh Harder (CA-10) sent a letterto Governor Gavin Newsom urging him to include two amendments to Senate Bill 1 (SB1), a piece of legislation that Costa claimed “would have profound impacts on the long term availability of water in the Valley.” Costa also co-authored an op-edwith Rep. Cox on the issue that was recently published in the Fresno Bee.

Many fishing and environmental groups are supporting SB 1 — and oppose the stripping of key provisions in the bill, as proposed in the letter. The Westlands Water District, Metropolitan Water District and other big water districts support weakening the provisions in the bill that protect endangered species from the pumping of more water from the state and federal water project pumps in the South Delta. 

“We applaud Senate President Pro Tempore Atkins for protecting  California’s environment against President Trump’s rollbacks of overarching federal regulations through SB 1. However we urge you to insist on two amendments to the bill to preserve the viability of potential voluntary agreements over proposed outflow requirements for the San Joaquin and Sacramento River,” the lawmakers wrote.

The first provision of the bill that the legislators oppose is Section 3c, which would retain current biological opinions regarding permitting decisions. The legislators said it “would prevent the state from incorporating the latest science and other information in permitting decisions.”

”This provision would freeze in place the state and federal water project incidental take permits and biological opinions that were developed over 10 years ago, regardless of whether more recent science or other related policies such as outflow requirements suggest modifications to the permits (proposed new section 2076.7 of the Fish and Game Code.) Without additional flexibility, this provision would severely restrict voluntary agreements whereby water users would support additional flows and habitat improvements for salmon and other imperiled fish in return for salmon and other imperiled fish in return for salmon level of water supply reliability,” they wrote.

The second provision they oppose is Section 2 of the bill that would require the Bureau of Reclamation to comply with the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

“Given significant legal uncertainty over where the State can modify the application of federal law, this provision would generate years of litigation and uncertainty over which environmental standards apply to the Central Valley Project. In the midst of such fundamental uncertainty, it will be impossible to develop any voluntary settlements of Sacramento and San Joaquin River outflow standards,” they claimed.  

In a statement, Congressman Costa also said, “We have the opportunity to work together to address California’s water problems. We should be looking to the future where updated science can help us make the right decisions on how to allocate our precious water resources. Unfortunately, unless amended, Senate Bill 1 would take us in the wrong direction. I urge the legislature to amend the bill before it reaches the Governor’s desk.”  

Sierra Club California, other environmental groups and fishing organizations including the Golden Gate Salmon Association (CSBA) oppose the stripping of endangered species and other environmental protections from Senate Bill 1.

“The needs of ALL Californians are reflected in #SB1,” the Sierra Club California said in a tweet in support of SB 1. “Unfortunately the perennial opponents of the Endangered Species Act continue to attack this essential bill. SB1 doesn’t stop VSAs. It stops Trump’s anti-ESA efforts. A vote against this bill is a vote with Trump.”  

“We’re hopeful that (the governor ) appreciates the grave threat, not only to salmon, but the other native species in California if Secretary Bernhardt gets his way and diverts more water to his friends in the San Joaquin, “ John McManus, President of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, told the Los Angeles Times.  

In an interview with me, McManus took issue with the contention of Senator Feinstein and Congressmen Costa, Garamendi, Harder and Cox that SB 1 “would prevent the state from incorporating the latest science and other information in permitting decisions.” 

“That letter cites new science on species that won't be used if SB 1 goes into effect,” said McManus. “This is completely false. SB 1 would allow the state to review and revise any of the species protections adopted. The state would be able to use any and all science to protect its wildlife."

Second, McManus pointed out that “all of the new science that has emerged since the salmon biological opinion of 2009 points to the need for more protections, not less. There’s no new science that’s credible that suggests we need less protections for salmon and other wildlife in the Central Valley.”

Third, “when you look at signers of the letter, it can’t be any surprise that Feinstein is the first to sign. What’s shocking and disappointing is to see John Garamendi, whose district includes salmon habitat and rivers in the Sacramento Valley, take the position that the state shouldn’t have authority over the state water. Here’s Garamendi arguing with the others that the federal government should be immune to any form of state oversight. Many people would consider that as being disloyal to California and selling out our natural resources,” said McManus.

It is unclear where Governor Gavin Newsom stands on this legislation at this time. I have requested a comment from the Governor’s Office — and I will add it to this article if and when the Governor’s Office responds.   

The battle over the legislation takes place at a critical time for imperiled Delta fish species and Central Valley salmon and steelhead. The Delta smelt continues to move closer and closer to extinction. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2018 midwater trawl survey, for the first time ever, yielded no Delta smelt. Likewise the spring 2019 kodiak trawl survey produced a record low number of Delta smelt.

The Delta smelt, found only in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, is an indicator species that demonstrates the health of the San Francisco Bay Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. If the smelt goes extinct, other West Coast fish species are likely to follow.   

For more information on the fall 2018 midwater trawl survey, please read my article in the Sacramento News and Review: http://www.newsreview.com/… 

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