California Senate Bill 49 (SB 49), part of the Preserve California legislative package, has been cleared by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and was scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 25, 2017. Authored by California Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and Senator Henry Stern, the California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2017 would require the State of California to adhere to federal environmental regulations established by the Obama administration. The bill was passed in anticipation of these regulations being weakened or rolled back by the Trump administration. The bill has proved controversial, being highly praised by environmental groups but encountering severe opposition by industry groups and leaders. SB 49 was introduced alongside SB 50, the Public Lands Protection Act, and SB 51, the Whistleblower and Public Data Protection Act, which protect public lands from private developers and protects federal employees from reporting unlawful or unethical actions by the federal government, respectively.
SB 49 would make current federal clean air, climate, water, worker safety, and endangered species laws enforceable by the State of California. Specifically mentioned are the Clear Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Water Pollution Control Act, and Endangered Species Act. However, the bill also includes “other federal laws,” which are those “relating to environmental protection, natural resources, or public health.” It is unclear how these laws would be selected as falling under the definition in practice. The bill prevents the State or any agency from enforcing standards more lenient than the current federal guidelines, and would allow them to create stricter standards.
Additionally, in a particularly controversial provision, SB 49 allows for private rights of action to sue by “a person in the public interest to enforce the standards or requirements adopted” by SB 49. This section of the bill is expected to undergo debate by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The California Chamber of Commerce released a memo in opposition of SB49, labeling it as a “Job Killer.” Also opposed to the bill are the Chemical Industry Council of California, the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, and the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, among others.
The California Chamber of Commerce argues that the bill is “a premature, overbroad, and vague response to things that could happen in the future while in the present creating substantial uncertainty for businesses… and correspondingly greatly increasing the potential for costly litigation.” Among other concerns, and as an example of how the State’s infrastructure and resources are not developed to handle the current federal requirements, the Chamber of Commerce cites how the endangered species list would nearly double, despite the fact that the State does not currently have forms or a protocol for these species. This could create costly delays for builders.
Additionally, the Chamber describes the reference to “other federal laws” as “problematic” because it is not specific enough. Interpretation of which federal laws fall under the category of being “relating to environmental protection, natural resources, or public health” would fall upon the California courts, which already are burdened with heavy dockets and budget restrictions. Industry would be tied up in numerous court battles, especially because of the individual right to sue.
According to the Chamber, SB 49 also appears to violate California’s “single-subject rule” principle (Cal. Const. art. IV, § 9.) This rule states that a bill should only “embrace” one subject, which shall be expressed in its title. SB 49 addresses at least four subjects, addressing directly three of them in its title.
Support from Environmental Groups
Many environmental groups have embraced SB 49, seeing it as a broad sweeping piece of legislation that will help California maintain its current environmental standards and progress. Drastic structural and policy changes to the federal EPA have already occurred, such as a 40% budget cut, staff reassignments, and freezes on policies implemented near the end of the Obama administration, along with cuts to regional offices. Along with SB 50 and 51, the Preserve California legislation has been lauded as a “firewall” against environmentally harmful policies by the Trump administration.
This blog article was researched and written by Brown University Class of 2018 student Aisha Keown-Lang. Ms. Keown-Lang is studying biology and political science at Brown University with the goal of going into bioethics and public health. Her special interest in genetics stems from her research in the Li Lab at UCSF and the Gerbi Lab at Brown. After having worked with children in the Providence school system for nearly three years, her commitment to improving scientific literacy and expanding health services in underserved communities remains strong. Ms. Keown-Lang is currently a writer for Brown’s Science Cartoon Program (SciToons), which aims to communicate scientific research and ideas to a diverse audience.
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