The California Chamber of Commerce calls it a “job killer” bill. State water and agriculture interests have lined up solidly against it. Still, Senate Bill 1 is moving through the California Legislature despite concerns that it threatens water supplies and will result in a flurry of lawsuits.
It passed the Senate in May and faces one more committee hearing in the Assembly before heading to the floor for a final vote.
Bill Could Endanger Collaboration
Drafted as a hedge against possible Trump administration actions, SB 1 would essentially freeze state regulations in place if environmental and labor laws are rolled back at the federal level. Supporters say it will allow California to preserve environmental and worker protections until state agencies can evaluate the impact of changes.
“SB 1 locks California into our failed regulatory system that has not worked for anyone and has guaranteed nothing but lawsuits and delays.” —Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition
But opponents are warning that parts of the bill endanger collaborative efforts, endorsed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, to update California’s contentious water use policies.
“As written, SB 1 locks California into our failed regulatory system that has not worked for anyone and has guaranteed nothing but lawsuits and delays,” says Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.
The bill’s impact on endangered species regulations is raising the greatest concerns. Voluntary water use agreements allow for some flexibility in protection levels, based on the unique conditions of a given water project.
Voluntary Water Agreements Could Collapse
Wade says those agreements have been developed with input from scientists, farmers, environmentalists, and other stakeholders as well as the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Natural Resources Agency.
“They provide an agreed-upon amount of water for river flows as well as new environmental projects and other improvements — paid for by farmers, water districts, and other users — that will help get maximum benefit from the water,” he says.
Since SB 1 locks in protections that were in place as of January 2017, Wade says the bill would result in the collapse of the agreements.
Author Defends Her Bill
“I knew this was going to be difficult,” Senate Pro tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said at a recent committee hearing for the bill, referencing its complexity. She said her goal for the bill is to maintain environmental standards that were established through bipartisan consensus decades ago.
Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D – Sanger) voted in support of SB 1.
“This bill ensures we keep those common-sense protections,” Atkins said. “SB 1 is California’s insurance policy against the exploitation of our natural resources and our people.”
A broad swath of environmental groups agrees with Atkins. In an online statement, the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife says the bill “will allow California to continue on its path of economic and environmental sustainability — and reject the false choice that economic progress must come at the expense of public health, the vitality of our natural surroundings, and a healthy environment for all.”
Chamber: A Job Killer Bill
Listing SB 1 on its influential “Job Killer” list, the California Chamber of Commerce says the bill “undermines current state efforts to utilize science-based decision-making to manage and provide reliable water supplies for California and protect, restore, and enhance the ecosystems of the Bay-Delta and its tributaries.
“It further increases the potential for costly litigation by creating new private rights of action under California law.”
Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R – Fresno) voted against SB 1.
The county governments of Fresno, Kings, Madera, and Merced oppose SB 1. An expansive coalition of water agencies also opposes the bill.
“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,” the groups wrote in a letter to Atkins.
One Step from Final Vote
SB 1 received approvals in recent weeks in the Assembly’s Environmental Safety, Natural Resources, and Judiciary committees. It now awaits a final hearing by the Appropriations committee. If passed, the bill will move to the full Assembly.
The Legislature will return from summer recess Aug. 12.