Top California environment official leaving state government
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Jared Blumenfeld, California’s top environmental regulator and a key climate adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom, will leave the administration at the end of the month, Newsom announced Friday.
Newsom, a Democrat, appointed Blumenfeld as secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency on his first day in office in 2019. Blumenfeld will become president of the Waverley Street Foundation, a $3 billion climate initiative funded by Laurene Powell Jobs.
As head of the state’s environmental agency, he was responsible for departments that regulate air pollution, water use, recycling, toxic substances, pesticides, environmental health hazards like extreme heat.
Yana Garcia, special assistant attorney general focused on environmental issues in the California Department of Justice, will take over as head of the California EPA next month. Blumenfeld said the agency now rivals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its staff and budget.
Blumenfeld was one of the most public-facing members of Newsom’s administration, representing the state at international conferences and public hearings. He was personally named in a lawsuit by the Trump administration challenging California’s ability to link its emissions trading program with a similar one in Canada.
In an interview with The Associated Press Friday, Blumenfeld said he made a checklist when he took the job of things he wanted to accomplish, including less headline-grabbing items like reforming the state’s broken Department of Toxic Substances Control and cleaning up contaminated drinking water.
The last item on his list was to start cleaning up the Santa Susana Field Lab, he said, a contaminated Southern California site that was once home to nuclear research and rocket engine tests. He helped negotiate a cleanup deal with Boeing that was approved by a regional water board this week over the objection of some environmentalists, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But the first year of Blumenfeld’s tenure was also spent defending California’s climate policies against threats from the Trump administration, including an effort to revoke California’s ability to set its own vehicle emissions rules. The state has since won that power back under the Biden administration.
He also oversaw the water board as it responded to California’s latest drought and the air board as it put together a road map to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. California’s climate goals are among the most ambitious in the nation, particularly a requirement that 100% of new cars sold in the state be electric or zero-emission by 2035.
Few of the agency’s major actions have been without criticism, particularly among environmental justice advocates who say the state needs to move more boldly and faster to shut down fossil fuel production and limit harmful emissions in disadvantaged communities.
“I feel both the urgency and the impatience of communities, and we’ve tried to match that,” he said, pointing to a ban on a toxic pesticide and an ongoing effort to stop oil drilling near homes and schools.
Mabel Tsang, political director for the California Environmental Justice Alliance, thanked Blumenfeld in a statement for “uplifting oil and gas health and safety concerns.” She called Garcia, who will take over the job, a “proven climate justice leader.”
Blumenfeld and Newsom have a long relationship; he led San Francisco’s environmental department from 2003 to 2010 when Newsom was mayor.
“I know that Jared will continue to be a dynamic force for change in the fight to tackle pollution and forge a cleaner, greener future for our state and the world,” Newsom said in a statement.
Looking to the future, Blumenfeld said California needs to make it easier and faster to launch clean energy projects.
“We have to speed up the process of getting the infrastructure in the ground to make sure that we can translate our vision into reality and at the moment there’s way too much red tape,” he said.
Blumenfeld previously worked as regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration.
After he left, he launched his own firm advising clean tech clients, according to his state bio.
Garcia will be paid $232,000. Before joining the attorney general’s office, she was an attorney at Earthjustice and Communities for a Better Environment.