Freeze time to date Obama left office: California legislature enters the Twilight Zone
It’s bad enough that California’s state government is suing the federal government over nearly everything that President Trump does, but now it’s trying to get Californians to sue each other over everything Trump does.
That’s what Senate Bill 1, set for a hearing today in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, would do. Sweepingly titled the California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2019, SB1 aims to freeze time at the moment President Obama last occupied the Oval Office.
Somebody in Sacramento has been watching too many “Twilight Zone” marathons.
The SB1 plan would require state regulatory agencies to monitor all changes to federal regulations and determine whether they are “less protective” than the time-frozen Obama standards that were in effect on Jan. 19, 2017. If so, the agencies can issue “emergency regulations” to force a return to the “baseline” standards. To enforce this regulatory system, the law creates a new private right of action. That means anybody can file a lawsuit to force enforcement.
While this might make for a very entertaining “Twilight Zone” episode, or possibly a reboot of “L.A. Law,” in real life it’s going to be a clustered-up mess.
Consider what the bill would do to water policy. The 2017 regulations related to threatened species of fish would be frozen, regardless of current biological opinions or new scientific evidence. SB1 would blow up a number of voluntary agreements about water supply that have already been painstakingly negotiated.
“SB1 will restrict water deliveries to the Central Valley and make California even more unaffordable,” warned the California Water Alliance, which called the legislation “dangerous.”
The California Chamber of Commerce doesn’t care for it, either. CalChamber labeled the bill a “job killer” for its potential negative impact on growth, employment and investment decisions.
And then there’s the litigation. An analysis of the bill for the Assembly Appropriations Committee notes that there would be “increased unknown, but potentially significant Department of Justice (DOJ) litigation costs associated with defending a state agency against a challenge to a regulation, representing a state agency in citizen lawsuits for non-compliance with the bill’s mandates or DOJ taking action against an entity in violation of the bill.”
Businesses would face unknown costs, too. A “private right of action” to enforce the law can become a tool for shakedowns, given that it’s often less expensive to settle than to fight.
Some California lawmakers may want to preserve the Obama administration in amber and gaze at it wistfully in every office of state government, but they should snap out of it before they hand over unlimited power to unelected, unaccountable regulators.
SB1 requires the California Air Resources Board, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Occupational Health and Safety Board and the Department of Industrial Relations to regularly assess and publish, at least quarterly, a list of changes made to the federal standards that could have an impact on California. The agencies are required to provide an assessment of whether the change is “less protective” of public health and safety, the environment, natural resources or worker health and safety.
If the change is “less protective,” the agencies are required to consider adopting the “baseline” standard from the Obama administration. “Emergency regulations” enacted under this law would not be subject to review by the Office of Administrative Law. There’s no oversight at all.
However, regulators don’t always get it right. Ask some of the truckers who were put out of business by CARB’s Statewide Truck and Bus Rule, a regulation adopted in 2008 based on the feared death risk from “fine particulates” emitted by current-technology diesel engines. The death estimates were calculated in a report by a staffer who had lied about his academic credentials, having actually purchased his Ph.D. in statistics from a diploma mill for $1,000.
Lawmakers would be reckless to empower unelected regulators to issue emergency regulations, without oversight, that can affect the availability of water and the cost of everything that’s manufactured or transported in California.
Interestingly, SB 1 has a built-in sunset date of Jan. 20, 2025, which would be the end of President Trump’s second term.
Somebody should probably tell the Democratic presidential candidates that California has conceded the 2020 election. It will save them a lot of money on TV ads.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.
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