California has a reputation for having some of the nation's most aggressive rules on workplace safety, consumer protection and environmental quality — regulations that force companies to make costly adjustments to the way they do business worldwide.
Now some of those companies, banking on congressional gridlock and sympathetic Republican leaders in the House, are fighting back. And officials in Sacramento worry that some of the state's landmark laws may be in danger.
At the top of their worry list is a measure with bipartisan support that would strengthen federal environmental laws on dangerous chemicals, but at the price of rolling back a pioneering California law that tries to protect consumers from the most toxic materials. State leaders are scrambling to fend off the bill, which they say is written so broadly that it also could undermine California's clean water laws and its effort to combat global warming.
"We are alarmed," said Debbie Raphael, director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. "We have programs in place that are very effective and have moved the marketplace to benefit not just California but the entire world. This … puts all that at risk."
The U.S. government has the power to block the laws of California or any other state if the statutes have an impact on interstate commerce or otherwise interfere with federal authority. But Washington has tended to do that sparingly. Democrats there typically don't have a problem with the state's liberal policies, and Republicans have preferred to avoid infringing on states' rights.
But Republicans have taken up the argument that they need to curb such regulatory trailblazing to protect the rights of other states, particularly deep-red ones that don't want their industries faced with either following California's rules or being cut off from the country's biggest market.