When he vetoed a bill to protect California’s air, water, and workers from the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks, Governor Gavin Newsom described it as “a problem in search of a solution.”
If the governor can’t see the problem, maybe he needs to get the prescription checked on his Google glasses. The problem has been in the White House for almost three years, and he’s determined to dismantle California’s environmental and labor safeguards.
The bill that Newsom so casually dismissed, S.B. 1, would have allowed California to maintain Obama-era standards for worker safety, wildlife protection, and clean air and water. In vetoing it, Newsom sided with his billionaire agribusiness donors — and Donald Trump — against ordinary Californians and endangered species.
Trump has vowed to let agribusinesses pump more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, leaving less for the 25 million California residents and endangered species that depend on it. His administration even helpfully hid a report that suggested his plan would threaten the existence of Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, and orcas.
Agribusinesses cheered Trump’s plan, and lobbied against S.B. 1, which would have stopped Trump’s rollbacks of environmental protections for the Bay Delta. Disappointingly, the opposition of wealthy growers appears to be a big part of why Newsom blocked S.B. 1’s passage. At a time when California desperately needs courageous leadership, Newsom opted to act like a politician.
He also indulged in a hypocrisy worthy of “I’m an environmentalist” Donald Trump. At Climate Week in New York City, Newsom touted his support for green growth, telling audiences that “California’s economy did not become the fifth-largest in the world in spite of our environmental regulations. We flourished, in part, because of them.” But by vetoing S.B. 1, Newsom actually bowed to industry pressure and blocked what would have been a bulwark against Trump’s destructive, vindictive rollbacks.
Instead, Newsom’s veto means California must continue playing whack-a-mole, filing lawsuit after lawsuit to defend against Trump’s attacks. California taxpayers have already spent millions funding such lawsuits.
This is not the time for politics as usual. California needs a leader with moral clarity and the courage to act on it. We’ve seen Governor Newsom display those qualities before. More than a decade before Medicare for All became a litmus test in the Democratic presidential primaries, then-mayor Newsom instituted universal health care for San Francisco residents, including undocumented people. It was, he told Time magazine, his “moral obligation” to protect the health and safety of Californians.
Governor Newsom waited a long time to lead California. It’s no secret he’s personally ambitious. The real question is, can he bring that same ambition to resisting the Trump administration’s devastating environmental agenda?