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California, Trump Administration Will Clash Over Environmental Policy

USFWS Pacific Southwest Region / Flickr

USFWS Pacific Southwest Region / Flickr

Serious clashes over environmental policy between California and President-elect Donald Trump’s administration are likely. Legal experts say to expect increased tension and litigation. 

Legally, California’s environmental rules and programs could be challenged in a variety of ways by the Trump administration – putting at risk wildlife and coastal protections, land use regulations, and pollution controls. Rick Frank, director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center at UC Davis, says federal law prevails when in conflict with state or local law under the preemption doctrine.

“The preemption doctrine can and does arise in a variety of contexts and the whole controversy over oil by rail is one of them,” says Frank.

He says while California hasn't taken on a regulatory role in limiting oil shipments by rail, local governments have. Benicia’s rejection of oil trains might not prevail under a Trump administration.

A court also recently upheld a miner's criminal conviction for violating California’s law that bans suction dredge mining. The miner, who was on federal land, had claimed California's ban was preempted by a federal mining law. The US Department of Justice weighed in, arguing against federal preemption. Frank says under a Trump administration, that's not likely to happen. 

Frank says the ramifications of what regulations might be challenged won’t be known until more appointments are made.

“For example, who’s going to be the solicitor, the chief lawyer at the US Department of Interior? Who’s going to be the Assistant Administrator of US EPA in charge of Climate Change Programs?”

He says under Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, changes to the Endangered Species Act could be the most immediate and have the most profound effect in California. 

Environmentalists say Congress is already taking a stab at weakening the Endangered Species Act with a national water bill aimed at giving more water to San Joaquin Valley farmers.

“I would be surprised if there aren’t efforts to make a serious run at limiting the scope of it, if not fully eviscerating the Endangered Species Act. I think it’s the first federal environmental statute that’s going to be in the crosshairs of the Republican controlled federal government.”

Ironically, Frank says any changes to the statute under the Trump administration could bode well for California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to build two tunnels to carry water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to Central and Southern California.

Federal permits will be required for the proposal to move foward under the Endangered Species Act.

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