Feinstein Calls For Investigation Into EPA

Tensions Continue Between California And White House Over Environment

KCBS Radio Morning News
September 27, 2019 - 11:46 am
Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Photo credit: Chuck Kennedy/MCT/Sipa USA)

(KCBS Radio) - California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is asking the head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s oversight body to investigate after the agency threatened to withhold transportation funding from the state.

In a letter to acting Inspector General of the EPA Charles Sheehan, Feinstein writes she is concerned that the threat is, “nothing more than a pretext to attack California, rather than a good-faith effort to help improve California’s air quality.”

The EPA accused the state of failing to comply with the federal Clean Air Act in a letter to the California Air Resources Board on Tuesday. The agency said the state has the worst air quality in the country, with 34 million people living in areas that do not meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

The agency also referenced 130 open state implementation plans that were supposed to address air quality issues within the state, and said the backlog could be used to justify a cut in federal highway funding as well as other restrictions on California.

State officials quickly fired back, saying many of those open implementation plans were in limbo because the EPA itself has delayed in approving them. In her letter, Feinstein cited a plan from Coachella Valley that she says is currently awaiting EPA approval, not county action.

Feinstein also says some of the plans the EPA claims are incomplete are actually in progress and proceeding on schedule.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has called the EPA’s threat “pure retaliation” and says, "the White House has no interest in helping California comply with the Clean Air Act or to improve the health and well-being of Californians.”

The threat is the latest in an ongoing battle between state and federal officials over environmental regulations. The criticism of California’s air quality came just days after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revoked the state’s authority to set its own stricter emissions standards, a power the state has held for decades under a waiver included in the Clean Air Act.

That timing should raise eyebrows, wrote Feinstein.

“It would certainly seem counter-intuitive for EPA to sanction California for poor air quality while at the same time attempting to remove one of California’s biggest tools to improve its air quality.”

California is leading a lawsuit in coalition with 22 other states and several major cities to block the NHTSA’s move.

In the last couple weeks, federal and state officials have also traded barbs over water quality in California. The EPA sent an oversight letter to Newsom Thursday saying the state is failing to meet federal water standards and officials in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles “do not appear to be acting with urgency to mitigate the risks to human health and the environment that may result from the homelessness crisis.”

It came after President Trump told reporters that pollution – and particularly used needles – was flowing into the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco saying, “they have to clean it up. We can't have our cities going to hell."

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has disputed his claim and says she is “sick” of the President taking swipes at the largely Democratic city.