Trump Governs by Grudge in California

Californians don’t vote for Trump, and he’s showing them what he can do about it.

The Editorial Board, NY Times

In 1961, at a news conference three years before he became the Republican presidential nominee, the right-wing Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, surveying the progressive tendencies of voters in New York and its neighbors, was moved to observe: “Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.”

President Trump may be forgiven for feeling the same way about California, a state that gets the president’s goat more than any other. He lost the state by about two to one in 2016, and a new poll by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, says he’s likely to do even worse next time, maybe falling short of even 30 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, he is being hammered on a regular basis by California’s energetic attorney general, Xavier Becerra. As of late last month, Mr. Becerra had filed or joined 60 lawsuits against the Trump administration, on issues ranging from the environment to immigration to the census, where legal action by California and other states blocked the administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the census survey.

For the last few weeks, Mr. Trump has been deep into retaliation mode, occasionally for reasons of policy, more often out of pique. His decision last month to try to revoke California’s historic right to set its own fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards was largely a policy matter, part and parcel of his effort to roll back President Obama’s aggressive clean car rules. That effort would be rendered incomplete as long as California maintained the right to set its own higher standards, which govern a huge chunk of the car market now and would do so going forward unless somehow Mr. Trump, in plain violation of the original Clean Air Act, got rid of it.

Two other recent actions by the administration seem more spiteful. On Sept. 24, Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, sent a letter to the state accusing it of failing to meet federal air quality standards and threatening to withhold billions in federal highway funds if California did not do more to clean up its air. Two days later, Mr. Wheeler sent another letter charging California officials with failing to address multiple instances of discharges exceeding federal standards under the Clean Water Act, including pollution from trash, drug paraphernalia and human waste left on the pavement by homeless people in big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Mr. Trump has blasted state officials for being too tolerant of the homeless, but has offered no concrete solutions and actually cut funding for housing in his recent budgets.)

It is true that California has dirty air. According to the American Lung Association, seven of the country’s 10 metropolitan areas with the worst ozone or smog pollution are in California. There are several reasons: California has a warm climate, a lot of people and vehicles, huge agriculture and fossil fuel industries, and mountainous terrain that traps pollutants in the skies above populous areas. California has long been aware of the problem; that is, in fact, precisely the reason it asked the federal government for permission, in the late 1960s, to set its own strict air pollution standards, permission the Trump administration is now seeking to revoke.

But no similar threats were sent to three dozen other states that, according to The Washington Post, contain counties that failed to meet those national benchmarks for air pollution. Nor were any threatening letters sent to the estimated 3,500 community water systems elsewhere in the country that failed to comply with federal water quality standards.

So what, really, is the purpose of Mr. Wheeler’s public scoldings? To portray Californians as uniquely irresponsible? To deflect criticism from Mr. Trump’s own sorry environmental record? It’s hard to tell, but knowing Mr. Trump and his jealousies, he must hate it that when the world seeks evidence that America cares about climate change, it looks to state capitals like Sacramento and Albany and Olympia, and not Mr. Trump’s Washington. Also, Hillary Clinton’s four million vote margin in the state more than accounted for his national popular vote loss.

Meanwhile, as Mr. Trump’s handmaiden, Mr. Wheeler has done the reputation of his agency no favors. There have been times in the E.P.A.’s long and controversial life when it fell down on the job by abdicating its regulatory responsibilities, as it did during Ann Gorsuch’s reign under President Ronald Reagan. There have been times when it has been accused of overreach simply for carrying out its responsibilities under the nation’s basic environmental laws. But never, so far as we can recall, has it been so obviously deployed as an instrument of political retribution.

Californians fear that more such warfare lies ahead. Rumors abound in Sacramento that Mr. Trump is poised to use the federal Endangered Species Act to roll back protections for California’s migratory salmon and other species by pumping more water from California’s Central Valley to farms and cities. To preserve the delicate balance now in place, the State Legislature last month approved a remarkable bill that would have allowed the state’s own endangered species protections to override anything that Mr. Trump proposed to do. Though a strong environmentalist, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill because he said it would limit his own efforts to find a compromise among the water users.

Even so, the Legislature’s action sends a strong message to Mr. Trump: Leave us and our environment alone.

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