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California Senators Introduce Environmental Bills to Counter Potential Rollbacks from Trump Administration

California Senators recently unveiled three bills intended to work around the Trump Administration’s expected rollback of decades-old federal environmental, natural resources, and public health laws. SB 49 would make current federal clean air, clean water, endangered species, climate, and worker safety standards enforceable under state law, and would also authorize citizen suits under state law if federal standards are weakened or federal citizen suit provisions are repealed; SB 50 would establish a policy to discourage the conveyance of federal public land in California to owners other than the federal government; and SB 51 includes proposed whistleblower protections for federal employees working in the environmental sciences and climate change-related fields. A brief summary of each bill is included below. We will track these bills and provide updates as they move through the Legislature. Additional background information can be found on Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León’s website.

SB 49

SB 49 (sponsored by Senate Leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Senator Henry Stern (D-Agoura Hills)) is currently titled The California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2017. It states that the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, along with their respective implementing regulations, establish baseline standards for the protection of the environment and public health. SB 49 takes these baseline federal standards — as they existed as of January 1, 2016, or January 1, 2017, whichever are more stringent — and would prohibit state and local agencies from amending or revising their statutes and regulations to be less stringent than the applicable federal baseline. In addition, to the extent a California agency has not yet established a standard or requirement for a given air or water pollutant, but a baseline federal standard already exists for that pollutant, SB 49 would require the agency to establish the California standard to be at least as stringent as the baseline federal standard. Further, under the bill, state and local agencies may continue to establish laws that are more stringent than the baseline federal standards, as previously authorized.

With respect to endangered and threatened species, SB 49 would require all species currently listed as endangered or threatened pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act, to be listed as endangered or threatened (if not already listed) under the California Endangered Species Act. Further, any incidental take permits issued would be required to contain conditions at least as stringent as any relevant baseline federal standards, including but not limited to any federal incidental take statement, incidental take permit, or biological opinion in effect as of January 1, 2016 or January 1, 2017, whichever is more stringent.

SB 49 would also mandate the incorporation of federal citizen suit provisions set forth in the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Endangered Species Act into analogous state statutes, if the federal government relaxes federal standards or repeals these federal citizen suit provisions. The citizen suit provisions would be in addition to existing enforcement remedies available under state law.

In regards to labor, SB 49 would prohibit state agencies charged with protecting workers’ rights and worker safety from amending or revising their laws to be less stringent than the standards and requirements established pursuant to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, federal Mine Safety and Health Act, and other federal statutes relating to worker rights and protections, as those laws existed as of January 1, 2016.

SB 50

The intent of SB 50 (sponsored by Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica)) is to discourage conveyances of federal public lands to private developers for resource extraction. SB 50 states that any conveyances of federal public lands in California would be void ab initio (meaning “from the beginning”) unless the California State Lands Commission, which oversees federal public lands, is provided a right of first refusal to the conveyance, or the right to arrange for the transfer of property to another entity. The Commission would be authorized to contest any unauthorized conveyances and seek declaratory and injunctive relief in the event it was not offered the right of first refusal. SB 50 would also prohibit the recording of any deeds relating to conveyances of federal public lands unless the Commission certifies that the conveyance meets SB 50 requirements. In addition, the Commission would be required to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Wildlife Conservation Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to undertake efforts to protect against any future unauthorized conveyance or any change in federal public land designation, including lands designated as federal monuments under the federal Antiquities Act.

SB 51

SB 51 (sponsored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara)) finds that “[t]here are new efforts underway to limit the freedom of scientists and other professionals working for the federal government to report improper government activity, as well as to restrict or prohibit their freedom to publish scientific information and to freely associate with other parties.” SB 51 therefore includes measures to protect federal engineers, scientists, and other professionals working in environmental sciences or climate change-related fields from losing their California licenses or credentials. Specifically, SB 51 would prohibit licensing boards from taking disciplinary action against these federal employees who report censorship, destruction of scientific information, or other wrongdoing by the federal government, or who communicate the results of scientific information or technical research in a scientific or public forum.

If you have questions about how these proposed bills could impact you or what you might have to do to comply, please contact us for assistance.