Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a surprise package of “budget trailer bills” late last week designed to limit permitting requirements for contentious projects such as the Delta Conveyance Project and Sites Reservoir. Newsom’s proposal encompasses various topics intended to streamline California’s infrastructure development but, in the process, undermines bedrock environmental laws that protect imperiled wildlife.
Among the trailer bills causing concern is one that seeks to repeal four statutes that have long designated species as “fully protected,” purportedly in order to enhance species conservation and improve permitting for essential infrastructure projects.
“These trailer bills establish a dangerous precedent for imperiled wildlife in California,” said Ashley Overhouse, water policy advisor with Defenders of Wildlife. “This policy change, announced on Endangered Species Day of all days, is exclusionary, undemocratic and could spell disaster for the San Francisco Bay Delta estuary.”
Defenders of Wildlife, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and more than 70 other conservation organizations, formally responded to the administration with an opposition letter sent on May 22. The conservation coalition requested that the trailer bills be subjected to the normal legislative process, which includes measured policy hearings, open consideration of amendments and public deliberation in both the State Senate and Assembly.
“Defenders of Wildlife is gravely concerned that the Newsom administration is rushing major policy changes through a closed-door process that effectively sidelines meaningful public engagement and transparency,” said Pamela Flick, Defenders of Wildlife California program director. “While we strongly support investing in climate resilience, it’s imperative that such investments be made in an equitable, transparent manner that does not undermine fundamental environmental laws or proper public process.”
The letter underscored that the environmental community was not involved in the development of the bills, whereas the legislative process provides conservation groups and other stakeholders with an opportunity to engage formally.
The California budget must receive approval from both the Assembly and the Senate by June 15. Given the state’s budget shortfall and the inclusion of this expansive trailer bill language, Defenders and its partners will vigilantly monitor this process.