Of vetoes and vehemence

Governor’s recent veto of SB1 criticized as playing into the hands of an anti-environmental White House

This story has been expanded from its print edition.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto of Senate Bill 1 means the honeymoon may be over with environmental groups who saw the bill as a bulwark to protect California’s water quality and endangered species from the Trump administration’s regulatory slashing.

Newsom has expressed confidence that California can protect its conservation goals in the courts—state Attorney General Xavier Becerra is currently suing the White House on several fronts—but critics argue Newsom’s veto was aimed at appeasing agribusinesses and utility contractors currently negotiating voluntary water use agreements with state agencies. Those agreements are expected to be unveiled in mid-October.

SB 1 was authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat. Its fate took on urgency in August when President Donald Trump’s latest appointee to run the U.S. Department of Interior, David Bernhardt, oversaw a drastic rewriting of the federal Endangered Species Act. Proponents say SB 1 would have created legal ground for California to force federal agencies, including the one operating the Central Valley Project, to abide by the state’s own Endangered Species Act. The Central Valley Project canal is one of two major conduits channeling water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to contractors in Southern California.

Those water contractors vehemently opposed SB 1, including Bernhardt’s former employer, Westlands Water District.

Newsom’s veto was roundly criticized by a host of environmental advocacy groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Audubon California.

“No one I know who works around water in California, who isn’t with a big water contractor, supported what Newsom did with the veto,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta.

Sean Bothwell, executive director for California Coastkeeper Alliance, characterized Newsom’s veto as a huge setback in a time of uncertainty.

“It really comes down to us standing up to protect our endangered species from what the federal government does with the Central Valley Water Project,” Bothwell told SN&R. “We lost a tool to protect that, especially our salmon, from Trump and the water contractors.”