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Newsom breaks with Democrats on environmental ‘Trump insurance’ bill

Senate Bill 1 sought to lock in place clean water, air and labor law that existed on Jan. 19, 2017, the day before President Donald Trump took office.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In a break with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Gov. Gavin Newsom sided with farmers and water agencies Saturday by rejecting legislation aimed at blocking the Trump administration from rolling back endangered species protections.

Over Newsom’s objections, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins pushed forward with votes on what is the most significant legislation she ever authored, the “Trump insurance” bill.

Senate Bill 1 sought to lock in place clean water, air and labor law that existed on Jan. 19, 2017, the day before President Donald Trump took office. The bill was set to expire in January 2025, when Trump would be scheduled to leave office after a second term.

Most importantly, Atkins’ bill would have locked in the protections of the federal Endangered Species Act. Trump is seeking to roll back endangered species protections and increase water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Central Valley farmers.

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In a statement, Newsom said he supports the “principles behind Senate Bill 1: to defeat efforts by the President and Congress to undermine vital federal protections that protect clean air, clean water and endangered species.

“Senate Bill 1 does not, however, provide the state with any new authority to push back against the Trump Administration’s environmental policies and it limits the state’s ability to rely upon the best available science to protect our environment.”

Newsom’s statement signals that he will veto the bill if it reaches him. Although the bill won final legislative approval, Atkins had not taken the formal step of sending the bill to Newsom on Saturday night.

Update: Atkins responded with a statement: “SB 1 is the product of a full year’s worth of work, so clearly I am strongly disappointed on its impending fate.”

While calling Newsom a “partner,” Atkins disputed his interpretation of the legislation, saying: “SB 1 also clearly states that state agencies shall make determinations based on the best scientific information available.”

The measure was opposed by major farm groups, the Westlands Water District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, manufacturers, oil companies and the California Chamber of Commerce.

Many of Newsom’s allies, including environmentalists, most of organized labor and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti supported it.

Atkins had amended the bill several times in an effort to neutralize opposition and reportedly was uncertain whether to press ahead with the legislation as late as Friday, the last day of the Legislature’s 2019 session.

But after gaining passage with a 48-22 margin in the Assembly and meeting with environmentalists into the early morning hours on Saturday, she opted to put it to a final vote in the Senate knowing that Newsom was opposed. The Senate approved it 26-14 after midnight Saturday.

“She believes this is a really good bill. She believes in the substance of the bill,” said Kim Delfino, California Director of Defenders of Wildlife, who was among the group that met with Atkins before the vote. “She hoped the governor would believe in her.”

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On Saturday, Defino said Newsom “missed an opportunity” by signaling his opposition.

“SB 1 gave him stronger tools to fight the rollback of environmental protections,” Delfino said.

Newsom administration officials, water contractors, farmers and environmentalists have been meeting to find solutions to the state’s forever battles over water. Water contractors had threatened to walk away from that voluntary process if Senate Bill 1 became law.

Newsom called Atkins “an extraordinary leader on the environment and for our state at large,” and said he looks forward to a “continued partnership” with her to “ensure California can continue to protect our environment and our workers against federal rollbacks, and push back against Trump’s anti-environment agenda.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. 

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