Central Valley
Central Valley
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature

California Senate Committee Blocks Governor's Plan to Gut Environmental Law

by Dan Bacher
Representatives of environmental groups spoke out against the legislation at the hearing, supporting the staff recommendations to move the trailer bills to the regular policy process and to reject the flood and drought trailer bill language.
On May 25, the California Senate Budget Committee in a 3-0 vote temporarily blocked Gavin Newsom's legislative plan to gut the landmark California Environmental Quality Act and other laws in order to fast-track the construction of the environmentally destructive Delta Tunnel, Sites Reservoir and other infrastructure projects.

Democratic Senators Josh Becker of San Mateo and Mike McGuire of Santa Rosa and Republican Senator Brian Dahle of Redding all voted no, citing the complexity of the legislative package submitted for last-minute consideration by Governor Newsom.

The 10 bills included measures to streamline water, transportation and clean energy projects with an eye toward helping the state meet its climate goals, according to Cal Matters.

“The overwhelming agreement is that we need to build clean faster and cut green tape,” said Committee Chair Becker at the hearing. “That’s been a legislative priority for me and will continue to be a legislative priority. Although today we are rejecting the governor’s trailer bill proposals based on process, as seven days is insufficient to vet the hundreds of pages of policy nuance in these proposals, we look forward to working with the administration on all of these critical issues.”

Representatives of environmental groups spoke out against the legislation at the hearing, supporting the staff recommendations to move the trailer bills to the regular policy process and to reject the flood and drought trailer bill language.

“These are major proposals which are very broadly targeted, may not be necessary to streamline clean energy projects and may be very inadvisable given current actions today by the Supreme Court to greatly narrow application of the Clean Water Act,” said Deirdre Des Jardins, representing Climate Action California and California Water Research. “This is moving in the wrong direction for protections for the environment.”

“We can have a future where we rapidly decarbonize and also protect biodiversity. So we urge the Senate to completely reject the governor's proposed trailer bill language. Frankly, there was no reason to spring it on the legislature or the public so suddenly and at the end of the legislative session,” she concluded.

Doug Obegi from the Natural Resources Defense Council also said he supported the staff recommendation to reject the flood water trailer bill.

“The floodwater trailer bill is opposed by a broad coalition of conservation, fishing and environmental justice groups. In addition, we strongly support the staff recommendation to reject without prejudice the trailer bills regarding infrastructure and agree that those bills should be reviewed in the policy process,” he said.

Erin Wooley, calling on behalf of Sierra Club California, testified, “Thank you for the staff recommendation to reject the administration's trailer bill proposals that would reduce environmental protections and community engagement, including the 11 infrastructure trailer bills that were introduced last week, as well as the flood streamlining trailer bill. I urge you to instead move those through the policy bill process where they can be more thoroughly analyzed and subject to public involvement and engagement.”

Barry Nelson with the Golden State Salmon Association noted that the trailer bills “have a broad range of potentially very significant impacts, including for the salmon fishing industry that is shut down this year because of disastrously low salmon populations. We're here to support your staff recommendation and send those trailer bills to policy committees where of the issues they raised can be addressed properly.”

Regina Chichizola, co-director of Save California Salmon, said, “I just wanted to urge the committee to think seriously about the funding for streamlining environmental permitting, and also funding for massive new reservoirs and water diversions. I live in a community that's a tribal community that's very impacted by the fishery and what has happened with the fishery in the last ten years. And we see a lot of these proposals coming down from the governor, including the budget proposals, as being very threatening to our way of life and to clean water in the state of California in general.”

“As you know, our water rate system is pretty broken and farmers in large ag get the majority of our water. So we feel that the committee should look very seriously at public benefits for any proposals that go around environmental laws or permitting, and also budgeting of large infrastructure projects such as private reservoirs and diversions that will mainly benefit large ag and not the general public,” she commented.

In a tweet thread, Artie Valencia of Restore the Delta stated, “We completely reject the governor’s trailer bill language. When it comes to complex topics like climate change, we are far-behind in making the right decisions due to negligence to their proper legislative process and review. The trailer bills will exclude the public and could lead to the privatization of groundwater. Restore the Delta does not only oppose the-drought trailer bill, but also the judicial streamlining, delta reform act and species reclassification trailer bills. We will have a letter stating our concerns next week to you,” he said.

Salmon populations collapse due to terrible fish and water management in drought

The hearing took place at a time when once-thriving salmon populations are at their worst-ever crisis in California history. Commercial and recreational salmon fishing is closed on the ocean in California and most of Oregon and in California rivers this year due to the collapse of salmon populations on the Sacramento and Klamath rivers that was caused by terrible water management during a drought, according to independent scientists and fish advocates.

The closure of salmon fishing on the ocean and rivers this year is just one example of the many fishery disasters caused by federal and state water project diversions from Central Valley reservoirs and rivers to enrich agribusiness contractors during recent drought years.

In one of many fish kills that took place in 2021, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2022 published a monitoring report on 2021's spring Chinook salmon run on Butte Creek, a Sacramento River tributary, revealing that 91 percent of the adult fish died before spawning.

An estimated 19,773 out of the more than 21,580 fish total that returned to spawn in the Butte County stream perished before spawning. Only an estimated 1,807 adults survived to spawn in a year with a record return of fish.

Fish advocates have criticized the CDFW and other government agencies for failing to exert needed pressure on PG&E, the current owner of the hydroelectric project on Butte Creek, to release colder flows when they were needed to alleviate the massive fish kill.

Also in 2021, only 2.6 percent of endangered Sacramento River winter run Chinook juveniles survived, according to another CDFW report. These fish perished due to lethally warm water conditions caused by the failure of the federal government to release cold water to save the fish.

Delta smelt are virtually extinct in the wild

It gets worse! For the fifth year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fall 2022 Midwater Trawl Survey (FMWT) found zero Delta Smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The slender 2 to 3 inch fish that smells like cucumber was once the most abundant fish in the Delta. The smelt, found only in the Delta, is considered an indicator species that shows the relative health of the imperiled estuary.

The results of the survey were summed up and analyzed in a memorandum from James White, environmental scientist for the CDFW’s Bay Delta Region, to Erin Chappell, Regional Manager Bay Delta Region, on Dec. 29, 2022:

“An absence of Delta Smelt catch in the FMWT is consistent among other surveys in the estuary,” White wrote. “The Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring (EDSM) survey of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) caught 3 Delta Smelt among 61 sampling days (between 9/6 and 12/15) comprised of 1,997 tows.”

Despite the release of many thousands of hatchery-raised Delta Smelt in Dec. 2021 and Jan., Feb. and Nov. 2022, no Delta smelt were found in any of the surveys.

“On Nov. 29- 30, 2022, the Experimental Release Technical Team released 12,942 marked adult Delta Smelt from culture into the Sacramento River near Rio Vista,” said White. “Neither FMWT nor EDSM caught these released Delta Smelt during December sampling.”

As scientists have documented for years, the Delta smelt, salmon and other fish populations have collapsed due to state and federal government actions and policies, including the export of massive quantities of Delta and Northern California to agribusiness oligarchs in the San Joaquin Valley, the mismanagement of water flows on Central Valley rivers and dams that benefit agribusiness at enormous expense to fish and people, and the pollution of Central Valley surface and ground water by agribusiness and the powerful oil and gas industry.

Rather than gutting CEQA to expedite destructive infrastructure projects like the Delta Tunnel and Sites Reservoir, the Governor and state leaders should instead work to strengthen and enforce landmark environmental laws like CEQA and CESA, the California Endangered Species Act.

The Delta Tunnel is based on the illogical premise that diverting more water out of the Sacramento River at the town of Hood would somehow “restore” the ecosystem while providing “water supply reliability.” However, I’m not aware of any project in U.S. or world history where diverting more water out of an estuary or river has resulted in the restoration of that estuary or river.

If you think the situation with salmon, Delta smelt and other species is bad now, the Delta Tunnel and Sites Reservoir, along with the Big Ag-backed voluntary water agreements, would only make it worse.

Photo: An estimated 19,773 out of the more than 21,580 endangered spring-run Chinook that returned to spawn on Butte Creek, a Sacramento River Tributary, died before spawning in 2021. There was also a die-off of over 200 spring Chinooks in the Butte Sink in March 2022. Photo by Dan Bacher.
Add Your Comments
Listed below are the latest comments about this post.
These comments are submitted anonymously by website visitors.
Patrick Rutten
Mon, May 29, 2023 8:19AM
We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


$60.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network