Following through on President Trump's promise to his base to call California to task for its homeless problem, recently appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, sent a letter to Governor Newsom today threatening punitive action for "significant" air and water quality problems in the state.
"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," Wheeler writes in the letter. "Indeed, press reports indicate that 'piles of feces' on sidewalks and streets in these cities is becoming all too common. The EPA is concerned about the potential water quality impacts from pathogens and other contaminants from untreated human waste entering nearby waters."
As the New York Times reports, Wheeler is giving California 30 days to respond to a series of accusations, one of which suggests that San Francisco regularly dumps sewage into the Bay and the ocean. Wheeler also makes note that the state has received $1.16 billion in federal water funds over the past five years, implying that these funds might be in jeopardy.
Per KPIX, the letter includes the assertion about "the City of San Francisco’s years-long practice — allowed by the CalEPA — of routinely discharging more than one billion gallons of combined sewage and stormwater into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean on an annual basis."
Last week it wasn't human waste that was of primary concern to Trump in some casual remarks, it was hypodermic needles on the streets getting washed somehow into the ocean. As Mayor London Breed quickly responded, this isn't possible with SF's current drain and sewer systems. "To be clear, San Francisco has a combined sewer system, one of the best and most effective in the country, that ensures that all debris that flow into storm drains are filtered out at the city’s wastewater treatment plants. No debris flow out into the bay or the ocean," she said in a statement last week.
Wheeler's letter contradicts Breed, suggesting that San Francisco's combined stormwater discharges "do not receive biological treatment" and therefore could contain human pathogens.
The President is cutting clean air and clean water standards, restricting our ability to regulate car emissions, and denying climate change even exists. He’s cut funding for homelessness and affordable housing. In SF, we’re meeting the challenges on our streets. https://t.co/3jaKRIOn8R— London Breed (@LondonBreed) September 19, 2019
Senator Dianne Feinstein also responded to Trump's comments, telling him to "work with us, not against us" on homelessness, and saying it is a national problem, not a state one.
The president this week attacked two of California’s cities. Never before have I seen a president go out of his way to attack a state. The president should be looking to help.— Senator Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) September 19, 2019
We’re all working hard to fight homelessness, so I say to the president, work with us, not against us. https://t.co/c5TBVQeqRV pic.twitter.com/Me0slEnkHY
Also it's highly suspect that Wheeler is questioning California — a national leader in creating tough fuel emissions standards to improve air quality — about its air quality barely a week after Trump was trying to roll back the state's emissions standards. The letter only makes passing reference to air quality, focusing primarily on water contamination.
Is there any doubt that all the concern and purported evidence in Wheeler's letter is just hollow bluster motivated by Trump's political whims — and his desire to shame a state that overwhelmingly did not vote for him?
As Newsom puts it in a tweet, Trump "persistently weaponiz[es] our government to attack political opponents."
An overarching theme coming out of the White House:— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 26, 2019
Trump persistently weaponizing our government to attack political opponents.
The Director of Natl Intelligence, the DOJ, the EPA...all being used to attack those that stand in his way.
This is about retaliation. Nothing more. https://t.co/eF0adb1qt1
It remains to be seen what, if any, actions the EPA plans to take if Newsom does not respond adequately to Wheeler's so-called concerns.