What Does the Governor’s Veto of SB 1 Mean?
California’s state government has embraced a policy of resisting nearly every federal government policy pursued by the Trump Administration.
Legislation, executive orders, and lawsuits serve the dual purpose of forwarding the state’s progressive agenda and pushing back against federal policies from Washington D.C.
Many have expressed surprise over Governor Newsom’s veto of this year’s marquee environmental legislation, Senate Bill 1. But he was never going to sign that bill into law, especially without the last word.
Senate Bill 1 would have allowed California regulators to use scientific baselines that were in place on Jan. 19, 2017. According to the bill analysis, provisions and biological opinions under the federal Clean Air and Safe Water Drinking Acts and the federal Endangered Species Act would be protected from changes by federal agencies mainly related to water allocations and the protection of certain species.
What’s so important about that date? It’s the day before President-elect Trump was sworn into office. Another interesting note is the bill and its many provisions, were set to expire on January 20, 2025. That’s the day after President Trump would leave office if he won re-election.
The bill’s author, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins is a shrewd politician who has a track record of passing strong, progressive public policy. Senate Bill 1 was her opportunity to follow the Governor, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and other lawmakers in sending a message to Washington D.C.
But Newsom was never going to embrace Senate Bill 1 this year because it tipped the scales on major negotiations going between the federal government, state agencies, water agencies, and environmental groups.
The State Water Contractors and the large water agencies like the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California are working through massive, and hopefully beneficial, voluntary agreement negotiations. These negotiations are trying to better allocate the water allotments for urban users, environmental flows, and agriculture.
The voluntary agreements include a host of players: state agencies like the California Department of Water Resources and State Water Resources Control Board, environmental groups, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and California water agencies. The name is a dead giveaway as these agreements are one-of-a-kind, and, voluntary. Essentially, all groups are in the middle of good faith efforts and Senate Bill 1 would throw a wrench in negotiations moving forward.
One wonders if Senate Bill 1 wasn’t an attempt to directly influence some of these voluntary agreements. Just look at the language from a summary progress report on the voluntary agreements published by the California Natural Resources Agency.
In the report, the “Governance, Science and Adaptive Management Work Group” is in charge of designing a science program to help track and implement the voluntary agreements, specifically using “real-time scientific monitoring…”
Real-time scientific monitoring couldn’t be used if state regulators have the option of using 2017 baselines and the bill’s language would have thrown out current efforts to update biological opinions. Biological opinions are regularly updated every ten years.
Pacific Research Institute’s Tim Anaya recently wrote about Californians being tired of Governor Newsom “winning” during his first legislative session in office with the plethora of progressive policies that limit charter schools, impose new rent controls, and restrict independent contractors.
Senate Bill 1 wasn’t a win for the governor; it is one of the few reality-checks he’s received during a robust year of enacting legislation. His veto meant that he had to disappoint a popular and influential group in the interest of another and further proves his inability to stay out of legislative battles and public policy debates.
Newsom called Senate Bill 1 a solution in search of a problem and always said he wouldn’t take a back seat to anyone in terms of his advocacy for the environment. Vetoing this bill was just another chance for the governor to get the last word: a pattern that’s repeated itself numerous times this fall.
Evan Harris is the Pacific Research Institute’s media relations and outreach manager.