California lawmakers have launched their first pre-emptive strike to resist potential future actions from the Trump administration to reverse existing environmental protection policies. On February 23, 2017, state senators introduced three bills to roll federal environmental protections into California law. The aggressive legislative proposals come less than a week after Scott Pruitt was sworn in as the new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) following a contentious confirmation process. Under Mr. Pruitt’s direction, the EPA is expected to reverse several environmental policy initiatives from the Obama administration, including regulations related to clean air, water, and climate change.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Senator Henry Stern introduced Senate Bill (“SB”) 49. The purpose of the bill is to make the federal Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act enforceable under state law. The bill prohibits state and local agencies from implementing regulations that are less stringent than the “baseline federal standards,” which include not only the current version of the federal environmental laws listed in the bill, but also regulations, authorizations, policies, objectives, rules, requirements, and standards related to those laws that were in existence as of January 1, 2016 or January 1, 2017 (whichever is more stringent).
Senator Ben Allen introduced SB 50. The bill is intended to discourage the conveyance of federal public lands within the state of California. Under this bill, any transfer of federally protected lands would be void unless the State Lands Commission is provided with the right of first refusal or the right to authorize the transfer to a third party. The bill orders state agencies to enter into a memorandum of understanding to define a state policy for the protection of existing federally protected lands, which must prevent changes to the federal public land designation, among other goals. The bill also prohibits the recording of a void transfer of public lands and includes civil penalties of up to $5,000 for any violation.
Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson introduced SB 51. This bill is intended to protect whistleblowers and scientific research. The bill prohibits state agencies from taking disciplinary action against professionals working in environmental and climate-change fields for reporting improper governmental action regarding scientific or technical research in a public forum or to the media. The bill also orders the California Secretary for Environmental Protection to protect publicly available scientific information against destruction or censorship from the federal government.
These bills face favorable odds at the state level. The California Legislature is controlled by a Democratic supermajority, which likely will enact the existing or slightly modified versions of the bills into law. These legislative proposals are also consistent with the strategy that Governor Jerry Brown has outlined to shield the state’s environmental policies against adverse initiatives coming from Washington, and a Governor’s veto is highly unlikely.