SACRAMENTO — Concerned about threats by the Trump administration to weaken environmental and whistle-blower protection laws, California lawmakers introduced three bills Thursday to try to keep federal standards as they are — at least in this state.
Senate Democrats unveiled the bills a week after Scott Pruitt — a climate change skeptic — was sworn in to run the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
While California’s policies on the environment typically go beyond what federal regulations require, state lawmakers said there are areas in which California policies rely on the federal groundwork.
For example, the state uses the federal Endangered Species Act to protect orcas, humpback whales, California red-legged frogs and certain other endangered or threatened animals. California also uses federal standards to measure the amount of lead in drinking water.
Under SB49, the state would adopt those currently strong federal regulations as state law. Another bill, SB50, would make it difficult for the Trump administration to sell or transfer any of the nearly 46 million acres of federal lands within California to private developers. A third, SB51, would extend whistle-blower protections.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said the bills would help protect California from Trump’s “alarming” words and actions. California’s Legislature, led by a Democratic supermajority, has positioned itself at the front of the Trump resistance, particularly on threats to the state’s immigration and climate-change policies.
“He denies climate change,” de León said Thursday at a news conference in the park outside the state Capitol. “He wants to dismantle core environmental protections, weaken the EPA and fast-track new fossil-fuel developments on public lands. Congress is racing to roll back landmark protections like the Endangered Species Act. ... We aren’t going to let this administration or any other undermine our progress.”
Republicans were not uniformly opposed to the effort. Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine (San Diego County), said he supports SB50 and believes other Republicans would be eager to vote for it because it’s about states’ rights. He said he may even ask to be a co-author.
“I don’t think the federal government should hold all this land,” he said, “and states should have first dibs.”
But he said the other two bills follow this year’s theme in the Legislature of picking a fight with Trump.
“And we're going to lose,” Anderson said. “Our state can’t go it alone.”
Here are details from the three bills introduced Thursday:
• SB49, by de León and Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park (Los Angeles County), would make current federal air, climate, water, worker safety and endangered species standards part of state law.
• SB50 by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, would give the State Lands Commission the right of first refusal if any federal lands in the state are proposed for sale or transfer. Allen said the bill would prohibit county recorders from recording a deed of transfer unless the State Lands Commission verified that the state was first offered the land or allowed to find its own buyer.
“I know people in this state care a great deal about the preservation and protection of public lands,” Allen said.
• SB51 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would extend whistle-blower protections to federal lawyers, engineers and scientists who are working in California. The bill would also direct state environmental and public health agencies to preserve information or data, even if federal authorities order it to be censored or destroyed.
“It is shocking to me that we need to pass legislation to protect science,” Jackson said. “Science is there to provide us with facts and realities from which we make policies, not the other way around.”