In yet another strike against California, the Trump administration accused the state of “failing to protect Californians from degraded water,” specifically citing concerns about waste from homeless populations getting into sewer systems.
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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote to California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday alleging the state has not addressed water pollution tied to the homelessness crisis in major cities like San Francisco, specifically when the sewer system can overflow during heavy rain and release untreated water into other areas like the San Francisco Bay.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE
A man lies under a blanket by an umbrella in Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco, Jan. 21, 2016.
(MORE: Trump on homelessness problem in California cities: ‘Clean it up’ )
The letter specifically cites a report on NPR last year that cited a local news investigation describing concerns with trash, used needles from drug users and human waste on the streets. The letter also cites at least 23 instances in recent months where water districts in California released water that exceeded the allowed levels of pollutants like copper or cyanide.
“The EPA is aware of the growing homelessness crisis developing in major California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the impact of this crisis on the environment. Indeed, press reports indicate that ‘piles of human feces’ on sidewalks and streets in these cities are becoming all too common,” Wheeler said in the letter.
“The EPA is concerned about the potential water quality impacts from pathogens and other contaminants from untreated human waste entering nearby waters,” the letter added.
Newsom’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday morning.
A homeless man sleeps in front of recycling bins and garbage on a street corner in San Francisco, Aug. 21, 2019.
EPA has made several announcements focused on California in recent weeks, including revoking the state’s waiver to set fuel efficiency standards and threatening to withhold federal funds, but it isn’t the only time the administration has clashed with the state.
When traveling in California last week, President Donald Trump accused state and local leaders of failing to address homelessness in major cities like Los Angeles and California. Trump and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson recently rejected a request from California state leaders and mayors for additional resources to address homelessness.
(MORE: Trump targets California for plan to deal with homeless on ‘our best streets’)
The administration and the state have also clashed frequently in court since Trump came into office; the California attorney general says they have filed 60 lawsuits to block decisions under the current administration.
Last Friday, Trump said the EPA would tell San Francisco the city is violating environmental laws by failing to address pollution flowing into the ocean from homeless encampments.
“It’s a terrible situation — that’s in Los Angeles and in San Francisco,” he told reporters on Air Force One. “And we’re going to be giving San Francisco, they’re in total violation, we’re going to be giving them a notice very soon.”
“EPA is going to be putting out a notice,” he said. “They’re in serious violation.”
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Cars drive past the a homeless encampment along a street in Berkeley, Calif., May 22, 2019.
He added, “They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.”
In response to a question about whether the administration was singling out the state for political reasons, a senior EPA official said “the letter speaks for itself” in laying out the agency’s environmental concerns.
Wheeler also told reporters at an unrelated event Thursday morning that he has been looking into the issue of drinking water in California since he was asked about it in a congressional hearing in March and that he has discussed the issue of state oversight of water programs with the White House.
(MORE: Trump admin ramps up fight with California, threatens to withhold federal funds)
“It is our largest state and they do have very significant environmental problems as a result of being our largest state and they also are capable and well-funded and the expectation is that they should be able to carry out those laws,” the official told reporters.
In 2011, the Obama administration issued a similar letter to the state of Wisconsin raising concerns about the state’s oversight of discharged water that could violate federal clean water rules. An EPA senior official told reporters many water systems around the country have problems with storm-water discharge but that most states will work with EPA to resolve any violations.
Wheeler asked state officials to respond in 30 days outlining how they will address the concerns described in the letter.