LOS ANGELES — You would be forgiven for believing that California, the most populous state in the nation and the seat of resistance to the Trump administration’s agenda on environmental and other issues, files a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency just about every week.
In fact, the Golden State did more than that during this short post-Memorial Day week. It filed two lawsuits against the Trump administration.
This week, Xavier Becerra, the state’s litigious attorney general and a former House Democratic leader, filed back-to-back lawsuits against the EPA over labor and pollution policies.
In the first lawsuit, filed Wednesday, California joined New York and Maryland in suing the administration for indefinitely delaying a rule meant to improve training for farm workers handling pesticides.
For Becerra, the issue was personal. “My dad was a farm worker growing up. I've been around [agriculture] and farm working all my life,” Becerra said in an interview with The Post. “It's a far better world, but we still know that there are pesticides and there are dangers out there lurking for people who work in the fields. So when the administration decides to diminish standards that are not only commonsense but are critical, it's incumbent upon us to act.”
In the second suit, which will be filed on Thursday, California will lead other states in suing the EPA for failing to enforce a 2016 rule seeking to limit emissions from landfills of volatile organic compounds, which help form smog, and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, which contribute to atmospheric warming.
California has enjoyed a string of courtroom successes against Trump administration efforts to deregulate environmental policy. Becerra’s office claims it has 10 legal victories on environmental issues across federal agencies.
But it is unclear yet whether any of these wins will be lasting. Many of the initial legal challenges from California and other progressive states have been spearheaded on procedural grounds.
Such is the case in California’s two suits this week. It and other left-leaning states argue EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt suspended the pesticide training requirements without giving the public the opportunity required by law to comment on the policy change.
And with the landfill-emissions regulation, California said the EPA missed a mandatory September 2017 deadline to approve or disapprove of California's state-level plan for complying with the requirements.
An EPA spokesperson said the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Becerra believes he and other progressive attorneys general will still prevail if and when their courtroom challenges turn to the substance of Pruitt’s regulatory rollbacks themselves given that, he said, the science behind the rules is on their side.
“Fortunately, we've had a lot of success against the EPA and this administration on environmental issues on procedural grounds, but I'm pretty confident that on substantive grounds we'll have success as well,” Becerra said. “You don't just initiate and actually promulgate a rule unless you've got evidence to sustain it. So if there's evidence to sustain it, that means if you re-examine it you're still going to probably find some evidence.”
For California, the two new lawsuits make for nine against Pruitt’s EPA and 19 more broadly against the Trump administration on the environmental front.
In fact, it may seem like California is obsessed with suing the EPA, but the number of lawsuits is not an unprecedented when it comes to a state attorney general suing the agency. In fact, Pruitt himself sued the EPA 14 times during former President Barack Obama’s time in office.
Might Becerra beat Pruitt’s record? “I don't know how long it took him,” Becerra said, “but he's making it easy.”
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— Pruitt watch: Scott Pruitt continued to point fingers at his agency staff and political rivals in a podcast interview with the Washington Free Beacon about the recent ethical scandals surrounding him. “Some of the things that have been in the media are decisions made by career staff, processes that were at the agency that there weren’t proper checks and balances. So I’ve actually made changes at the agency,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt also specifically addressed questions about his travel and the $43,000 phone booth that was installed in his office. “The whole secure phone system was not something I was involved with. I didn’t approve that,” he added. “And the same thing on travel. Different issues where I’m having to answer questions about decisions that others made. And that’s not an excuse, that’s just reality.”
— Meanwhile in his own podcast interview: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke once again defended his use of the phrase “konichiwa” to greet a congresswoman of Japanese descent during a hearing in March. In an interview with Breitbart Radio on Monday, Zinke said he thought it was an “appropriate greeting.”
“I grew up in a little logging, timber town, railroad town in Montana and a lot of my family lived through the years of the internment camps. I’ve long since had friends that were Japanese families that went through that,” he said during the interview. “I’ve been to the Japanese War College at Etawah Jima and saying 'konichiwa' past ten o’clock as a greeting, I don’t think it’s any different than greeting anybody else in a language that’s respectful… I grew up in Montana saying ‘good morning,’ saying ‘good afternoon.’ I think it’s an appropriate salute."
— Companies take first steps to drill in ANWR: "Two Alaska Native corporations and a small oil services firm together have applied to do extensive seismic work next winter in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge," The Post's Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin report, "the first move toward development there since Congress voted late last year to open up the pristine wilderness to oil and gas drilling." But while the Trump administration has been pushing hard to develop the refuge, its Fish and Wildlife Service's initial response to the consortium’s permit application was scathing. “This plan is not adequate,” the agency said in a reply to the seismic application, adding that it showed “a lack of applicable details for proper agency review.”
— Dianne dinged in Senate primary race: Environmental group 350 Action Group endorsed Kevin de León, the California legislator who is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Senate primary. De León "has been a strong champion of clean energy—and an effective one, using his power in Sacramento to make change happen against the strong opposition of the fossil fuel industry,” The group’s co-founder Bill McKibben said in a statement. “He won’t just vote the right way in DC, he will make the climate justice debate come alive!”
— Steeling themselves for steel tariffs: The Trump administration is set to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the European Union and potentially on Canada and Mexico this week, the New York Times reports, after temporary exemptions expire and trade talks are stalled. The three "said they were unsure whether the tariffs would go into effect on Friday, but were readying retaliatory measures that would impose equal harm on American consumers and businesses in case they are triggered,” per the report.
— McCarthy's moves: Former EPA chief Gina McCarthy will lead the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, or C-CHANGE, a new climate change and policy center at Harvard. “Climate change isn’t about saving the planet and it’s not about politics, it’s about our kids and making sure they have the opportunity for a healthy, sustainable world,” McCarthy said in a statement.
— Weather whiplash: Record colds in April in the Midwest and Great Lakes region has leaped to record heat in just a few weeks. “Much warmer-than-normal weather has covered almost the entire Lower 48 states during May,” The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. “A preliminary analysis indicates it may well become the warmest May on record passing 1934, which coincided with the Dust Bowl.”
Update to previous post: this radar loop covers a fascinating evolution between #Alberto's pre-landfall/post-landfall structure. Looked more hurricane-like AFTER landfall than it ever did over water. Not unprecedented, but always interesting to see. @UMiamiRSMAS @capitalweather pic.twitter.com/XRrB1kGtgD— Brian McNoldy (@BMcNoldy) May 29, 2018
— It’s not every day you see a tropical depression over Indiana: When such storms make landfall, "they usually start to wither and die out,” Brian McNoldy writes for The Post. “But not Alberto. In fact, it looks much more like an actual tropical storm or hurricane Wednesday than it did when it was over the Gulf of Mexico... the forecast is for it to remain a tropical depression even as it crosses the Lower Peninsula of Michigan into Canada.”
Lower south, rainfall from Alberto triggered floods and mudslides and compromised a dam on Lake Tahoma in North Carolina. Early Wednesday morning, “the National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for McDowell County downstream of Lake Tahoma,” The Post’s Angela Fritz reports. “A mudslide compromised the dam and prompted mandatory evacuations downstream… Engineers inspected the dam in daylight on Wednesday morning and found it was safe for people to return to their homes. Before that it was at a ‘level 1’ emergency, which means the dam has either failed or is about to fail.”
— “Are we going to die?:” The Howard County Police and Fire departments in Maryland released some of the 911 calls they received over the weekend during the flooding in Ellicott City. Officials said dispatchers from the county’s rescue department’s answered 1,122 calls on Sunday in a seven-hour period from 3:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., The Post’s Dana Hedgpeth reports.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service confirmed the chance of Sunday’s catastrophic rainstorm happening was indeed 1 in 1,000, The Post’s Samenow reports, based on the agency’s preliminary analysis. It’s the second time in two years Ellicott city has seen such a deluge, though Samenow noted the "amount of real estate affected by such extreme rainfall was even more extensive for the 2018 event, compared with that in the 2016 one.”
— Electric future: There were a record 3.1 million electric vehicles on the road worldwide last year, and that’s expected to triple by 2019, the International Energy Agency predicts in a new report. The report, published Wednesday, found that in 2017, the number of electric vehicles jumped 54 percent from the previous year. About half of the electric vehicles sold last year were sold in China, and the United States has the second-highest amount of sales with about 280,000 last year, per the Washington Examiner.
— No split at the top of Exxon: ExxonMobil shareholders rejected a proposal to split the company’s roles of chairman and chief executive, Reuters reports. CEO Darren Woods, who took over in January 2017 from predecessor Rex Tillerson “has struggled to recover from failed bets taken by [Tillerson], that resulted in billions of dollars in write-downs and a stock price that has lagged peers,” per the report.
— Exxon vs. New York: Exxon is hoping that the next New York attorney general will come to a “different conclusion” on the company’s role in climate change. “I hope whoever comes in steps back and takes an objective look, looks at the discovery they’ve had, looks at our position, what we’ve done and comes to a different conclusion,” Woods told reporters after the company’s annual meeting in Dallas, Bloomberg News reports. Schneiderman, who stepped down earlier this month amid allegations of assault, was in the midst of an investigation of about whether Exxon misled investors about climate change. The New York attorney general's office vowed earlier this month that there would be “no changes” to the state’s environmental work.
— Meanwhile at Chevron: Shareholders rejected two climate change resolutions at the company's annual meeting on Wednesday. The first of the proposals would have had the company try to cut its methane emissions while the other would have required the company reduce its production of its bread-and-butter, fossil fuels.
— Oil watch: Brent crude oil prices jumped to above $77 a barrel on Wednesday after reports that Saudi Arabia, as well as other OPEC states and allies plan will extend oil supply cuts through the end of the years, per Reuters.
— Tesla got a Consumer Reports recommendation after all: After the magazine said it could not give its seal of approval to its first mass-market electric car due to a braking issue, "Tesla beamed a wireless software update to the Model 3s on the road that improved their braking, and the impact was swift,” the New York Times reports. “After testing the car again, Consumer Reports reversed the verdict on Wednesday, only nine days after its original report was published, and gave the car a ‘recommend’ rating.”
- The House Science, Space an Technology Committee holds a field hearing on earthquake mitigation.
- S&P Global Platts's 13th annual Northeast Power and Gas Markets Conference begins.
- The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds a discussion on solar jobs and the economic impact.
- The United States Energy Association holds an event on coal mine drainage.
- The Citizens' Climate Lobby's 9th annual international conference and lobby day June 10-12.
— 4,645: That's the number of deaths linked to Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, according to a Harvard study published earlier this week. Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, memorialized the figure on a baseball cap: