In the face of threats to our country’s environmental and public land laws, California conservation organizations are working to create a “green shield” around our state.
River activists held a summit meeting in late 2016 to discuss how best to protect the state’s rivers. And on February 18, the Planning and Conservation League held a gathering in Sacramento to work on a plan of action to address water, land use, energy, climate change, transportation and other key issues that may be adversely affected by our new president and the Republican Congress.
At that conference, Friends of the River Senior Advocate Ron Stork said, “The Trump Administration clearly has no respect for some of the bedrock institutions of this country.” Stork went on to describe policies and institutions dating as far back as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration that could come under assault in the coming months and years. In urging attendees to build a shield around our state, Stork noted California can inspire other states to do likewise.
Federal pre-emption of state law is considered a real threat under the new administration, especially since some of the state’s environmental laws and regulations are stronger than their federal counterparts. Protecting our California environment may require the state to speak up strongly for states’ rights. Environmental groups are heartened by the appointment of new Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is expected to help defend the California Environmental Quality Act along with air quality standards, carbon emission laws and water quality laws and regulations.
Several opportunities were noted by conference attendees. One was to push for progressive, low-impact green infrastructure and protection of the public trust to be included in any federal infrastructure program. Another was to partner with agricultural interests on one of their main concerns – loss of farm labor through changes to immigration law – in exchange for their support of environmental protection.
Other suggestions included strengthening the state’s Endangered Species Act since the federal act is under threat, and stepping up citizen and state-level enforcement of environmental laws.
As noted in our Wild and Scenic River article, we’re concerned about what the changes in Washington may mean for our local environment, especially in terms of the laws that currently protect rivers, public lands, and water quality. We will continue to engage with our partners and colleagues across the Sierra and the state to ensure that our communities continue to have a healthy environment that enhances our local economy and quality of life.
New state wild and scenic legislation introduced
To help strengthen state law in the face of federal threats, Assemblymember Laura Friedman introduced AB 975, which proposes two modest changes to the state Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In large part, the bill is aimed at providing protection for rivers that are both federally and state-protected in case federal law is weakened.
Currently, state protection of rivers in the California Wild and Scenic River system is limited to the river up to the first line of riparian vegetation. AB 975 strengthens protection of designated rivers by defining “immediate environments” to include the river and adjacent lands within a quarter-mile on each side of the river – the federal standard. It’s important to note that state protection is triggered on private land only when a state agency must consider a permit or grant application.
AB 975 also expands the extraordinary values recognized in the state system to include the additional values recognized in the federal system. These include historical, cultural, geologic, ecological, botanical, hydrological, and other “similar” values.
Foothill Conservancy has joined other river conservation organizations in supporting the bill, which passed out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on March 15. Friends of the River is the bill’s sponsor.