California Dems vs. Congressional Republicans over Endangered Species Act

Delta Smelt (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

California Democrats are readying themselves to battle Republicans in Congress over potential attempts to roll back regulations under the Endangered Species Act.

Last month, the Oroville Dam’s spillway malfunctioned, sending gallons of water rushing through an area affecting nearly 200,000 residents. The damage — beyond the spillway itself — is estimated to be in the millions.

However, certain U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations under the Act, which protects endangered species like the 3-inch Delta smelt, and which require property owners to consult with the agency before carrying out construction or repairs, could present roadblocks to fixing the damages.

According to the San Bernardino Sun, “Section 7 consultations” specifically allow wildlife agencies to determine how projects are carried out in order to prevent harm to protected species.

Last month, congressional Republicans took aim at the Endangered Species Act because it could prevent necessary projects from taking place — and also, possibly, because of longstanding grievances over the diversion of water from farms to the Delta smelt because of the Act.

California Democrats are now pushing back with a state bill that would prevent federal changes from affecting the protection of endangered wildlife at the state level.

The California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2017, introduced in December by Democratic state Senators Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles) and Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park), would require the Golden State to implement environmental laws that are equal to or even more stringent than regulations set into law under federal environmental laws.

According to the San Bernardino Sun, the bill, SB 54, seeks to ensure that California maintains and strengthens protections for air, water and endangered species, including for worker safety laws.

“This is the least we can do to protect our state,” Sen. Stern reportedly said before the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on April 5, the San Bernardino Sun notes. The committee reportedly voted 5-2 to move the bill forward.

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year would reportedly trim $1.5 billion, or 12 percent, from the Interior Department’s budget, which could directly affect the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — a move that has some California environmentalists concerned.

However, others have argued that existing state and federal regulations already go too far.

Some who support the Democratic bill reportedly contend that the Endangered Species Act is in need of reforms that would provide farmers and other property owners with incentives to protect wildlife.

The bill’s next stop will be at the State Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

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