The state Legislature wants to hedge its bets against the Trump administration rolling back environmental and labor laws.
Called an “insurance policy against the exploitation of our natural resources and our people” by Senate Leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 1 would strengthen state environmental and workplace regulations in case the federal government weakens them.
Environmental groups strongly support the effort.
Many agricultural and business groups oppose. They are concerned the law’s language is too broad and too vague.
SB 1 sets Jan. 19, 2017 — or the day before Donald Trump became president — as the baseline level of at least seven federal laws. If the federal government rolls back standards found in those laws, the bill would allow corresponding California laws to restore those standards.
Protections SB 1 seeks to maintain water and air quality, endangered species, and labor regulations.
The bill has passed the Senate and is making its way through the Assembly.
Atkins Defends Bill
“I knew this was going to be difficult,” Atkins said at a committee hearing Tuesday (June 18) referencing the bill’s complexity.
She noted federal environmental laws were passed on a bipartisan basis decades ago.
Sen. Andreas Borgeas opposes SB 1.
“This bill ensures we keep those common-sense protections,” Atkins said. She also agreed to amendments to include a 30-day notice and comment period. If a California agency goes beyond the original federal standards, it would need to go through a full administrative review.
Supporters, like the Defenders of Wildlife, note that California may already have stronger environmental and labor protections than federal law. But, if federal laws are weakened, there is a timing “gap” before the state laws take over. SB 1, they hope, shortens that gap.
Atkins’ office agrees that the state offers stronger laws in some areas, but in others, federal rules are the standard.
Chamber: A Job Killer Bill
The California Chamber of Commerce called the bill a “job killer.”
While not specifying which industries are in jeopardy, the chamber opposes the bill because it might reduce the state’s water supply, and could lead to “costly litigation” for businesses.
Sen. Melissa Hurtado supports SB 1.
“Our opposition to the bill is not with the Author’s intent to protect California’s air, water, biodiversity and citizens from any federal changes that undermine the state’s existing standards. Our criticism is focused solely on the significant and entirely avoidable negative consequences resulting from language in the bill,” the chamber wrote in an opposition letter.
The bill is also opposed by a coalition of business, agriculture, and water groups.
SB 1 Impact on Water
One thing Atkins has to work through is the potentially different biological opinions between state and federal officials on water issues.
“SB 1 takes a sweeping approach that eliminates due process, creates the potential for protracted litigation, and could undermine current state efforts to use innovative new science-based decision-making to manage water to both provide reliable water supplies for California and protect, restore, and enhance the ecosystems of the Bay-Delta and its tributaries. Therefore, we urge your consideration of your specific concerns,” a number of water groups wrote Atkins in a letter.
Additionally, the county governments of Fresno, Kings, Madera, and Merced oppose SB 1.
Another contentious point is whether SB 1 would “undermine” existing water agreements, the Cal Chamber says.
Atkins said recent SB 1 changes would alleviate concerns regarding voluntary agreements made by various water agencies. Opponents are not convinced.
The bill (not to be confused with the gas tax bill SB 1 of 2017) passed the Senate and is being heard in Assembly.
The full Senate approved the bill 28-10 on party lines. Valley Democrats Anna Caballero (D-Salinas) and Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) voted in favor; Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) voted against.
The Assembly environmental safety and toxic materials committee passed the bill Tuesday (June 18), 6-1. The Valley Assembly delegation split on party lines — Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) voted in favor; Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) voted against.
It has two more committees to clear before a floor vote. Next is the natural resources committee on Monday (June 24).