Trump EPA says California must protect water better from homeless waste

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration’s environmental regulator escalated its feud with California on Thursday, accusing the state of violating clean water laws by allowing human waste from homeless residents to enter waterways, according to a letter it sent to the state’s governor.

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The letter from Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is the latest clash of many between the Republican president and Democratic officials who lead the most populous U.S. state. The issues have ranged from policy disputes to legal challenges around immigration, automobile efficiency and housing.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s letter to Governor Gavin Newsom said the governor and the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles “do not appear to be acting with urgency” to mitigate the public health risks from “untreated human waste entering nearby waters.” Wheeler said the state was “failing to meet its obligation required under delegated federal programs” and that he wanted the state to detail how it will respond.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed accused Trump of “taking swipes” at her city for “no reason other than politics.

“There are no needles washing out to the Bay or Ocean from our sewer system, and there is no relationship between homelessness and water quality in San Francisco,” she said in a statement. “I would love to have a President that wants to work with us on solutions to the challenges we face, whether that be with our infrastructure, our need for more housing, or helping people exit homelessness.”Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project and a former top enforcement official at EPA, said the agency’s current focus on homeless encampments is misdirected when it “has done so little to enforce illegal discharges from much larger sources across the US.”

EIP has found that sources like factory farms and coal ash dumps near power plants are major sources of water pollution and have not faced EPA enforcement. (Read story here)

Earlier this week, Newsom said at a United Nations Climate Summit that he was “humiliated” by Trump’s environmental record. The administration has rolled back numerous environmental protections, from the Endangered Species Act to Obama-era climate rules, that Trump has called obstacles to economic development.

A senior EPA official did not say whether Trump ordered the letter, but said “a confluence of various offices” overseeing water quality made Wheeler aware of California’s exceedences under the federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.

During a fundraising trip last week in California, Trump had threatened to have the federal government step in to “clean up” the homeless problem there and said floated the idea of the EPA going after San Francisco for allowing drainage from homeless encampments into the Pacific ocean.

Asked whether the letter was politically motivated, a senior EPA official told reporters: “The letter speaks for itself.”

Earlier this week, EPA sent a similar letter to California threatening to withdraw federal transportation funding to punish the state for not publishing pollution control plans in time.

Last week, Trump revoked California’s decades-old authority to set its own emissions standards for automobiles, prompting a lawsuit days later by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has sued the administration over 60 times on various issues.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio