As a resident of California, I’ve been following this story, and wrote up the latest development for New York:
Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has generally been more interested in relaxing rather than strictly enforcing laws regulating pollution. Keeping water clean, in particular, has not been a priority, as the Los Angeles Times observes:
“Earlier this month, the agency [EPA] announced that it was rolling back Obama-era protections on wetlands and streams — regulations that environmentalists said are necessary to protect drinking water but that farmers and developers have long opposed.
“Under Trump, the EPA has also delayed setting a drinking water safety standard for a class of cancer-causing chemicals, known as PFAS, that has been found in public water systems throughout the country.”
So the EPA’s suddenly stern attitude about water pollution in California, which it blames partly on the homeless, is pretty clearly just another front in the administration’s ongoing war with the Golden State:
“The Trump administration notified California officials on Thursday that it is ‘failing’ to meet federal water-quality standards, attributing this in part to homelessness.
“An oversight letter addressed to Gov. Gavin Newsom alleges that San Francisco, Los Angeles and the state “do not appear to be acting with urgency to mitigate the risks to human health and the environment that may result from the homelessness crisis.”
“EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler warned that the agency is ‘concerned’ about the state’s handling of public water systems.
“’The agency is aware of the growing homelessness crisis developing in major California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the impact of this crisis on the environment,’ Wheeler wrote. ‘Based upon data and reports, the agency is concerned that California’s implementation of federal environmental laws is failing to meet its obligations required under delegated federal programs.'”
You may recall that Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the coal industry, and also a former aide to Senator James Inhofe, author of that great environmentalist tome, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.
It’s clearly not a coincidence that on a recent fundraising trip to California, the president spent considerable time mocking the Democrats who govern the state and its largest cities for a homelessness crisis that he and his allies attribute to excessive regulation — particularly environmental regulation. This was his parting shot, as reported by NBC News:
“From Air Force One, Trump, who had been in California for a two-day fundraising trip, blamed the homeless population for environmental issues. ‘There’s tremendous pollution being put into the ocean,’ he said, noting ‘there are needles, there are other things.’
“’We’re going to be giving San Francisco — they’re in total violation — we’re going to be giving them the notice very soon,’ Trump said.
“’The EPA is going to be putting out a notice and you know they’re in serious violation and this is environmental, very environmental,’ Trump said. ‘And they have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.'”
Wheeler’s letter indicates that Trump wasn’t just trolling Californians and the homeless when he complained that homeless people keep wealthy people like himself from going about their important business. In theory, the EPA could take over enforcement of clean water rules in the state, though that would be pretty bad for clean water. But the targets of the administration’s ire are pretty hot about it, as Nathan Click, Governor Gavin Newsom’s spokesperson, told the Washington Post:
“’The president is abusing the powers of the presidency and weaponizing government to attack his political opponents,’ Click said. ‘This is not about clean air, clean water or helping our state with homelessness. This is political retribution against California, plain and simple.'”
There’s a lot of that going on, particularly when it comes to environmental protection:
“In recent weeks, Newsom and other top California officials have denounced Trump for targeting the state on several fronts. In the past month alone, the administration has moved to revoke the state’s long-standing right to limit air pollution from cars, began investigating an agreement with four automakers for possible antitrust violations and threatened to withhold federal highway funds if California does not do more to clean up its air.”
Just yesterday, California attorney general Xavier Becerra announced he was participating in a 17-state effort to stop the administration’s evisceration of the Endangered Species Act. It’s the 62nd federal lawsuit Becerra has launched against Team Trump.
By sheer coincidence, Wheeler’s “notice” to California came out the same day as a Los Angeles Times analysis of new polling data suggesting that Trump is “on track for the poorest showing by a Republican presidential candidate in the state since the Civil War.” POTUS almost certainly could not care less.