| The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) now regulates much of the environmental procedures in the state, especially for new contstruction projects. It requires projects to go through a fairly vigorous environmental review process. Though it was passed in 1970, it was a relatively weak law until the California Supreme Court construed the law broadly in Friends of Mammoth vs. Board of Supervisors of Mono County. Republican Attorney General Evelle Younger, wrote a brief in favor of the more powerful CEQA, and is generally credited for giving CEQA real teeth.
But today's Republicans would picket Younger, saying that he hates Americans or some such nonsense.
Years of exemptions from California's principal environmental protection law are being crafted in the Capitol by the Schwarzenegger administration and lawmakers in both parties, who believe speedy approval of dozens of projects, public and private, will create jobs and spur economic growth.
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Environmentalists say the proposed end-run around the California Environmental Quality Act constitutes one of the most significant changes to CEQA since the law was written 40 years ago and inspired environmental legislation across the country. CEQA is a frequent target of lawsuits and legislation.
The proposals are supported by manufacturers, builders, engineers, developers, business interests and others. They say their intent is to expedite construction of numerous, still-unknown projects and jumpstart the weak economy. The proposals restrict the power of the courts to review the projects and give final authority over the projects to the administration. (CapWeekly)
It is telling just how far the environmental movement has fallen in that the current Governor, a Republican who likes to style himself an environmental champion, is seeking to neuter the law.
The process Schwarzenegger has in mind would be disastrous for future environmental review. The first kick in the shins to CEQA was the LA stadium deal, which the Governor and Ed Roski shoved through the legislature last year. Now, since that was so successful, Arnold figures that he'll just do that again, this time with a huge long list of projects rather than just one.
This process results in a willy-nilly approach to environmental review, offers favors to those with political or financial clout, and shrouds the process in secrecy. And with every supposed "vital project that will kickstart the economy," our environmental laws get a little weaker.
"We said at the time that they would encourage more of these proposals, and it's done exactly that," said Bill Magavern of Sierra Club California. "We're seeing a stepped-up attack on CEQA this year, and I think we're seeing development interests using the recession as an excuse for the CEQA rollbacks that they have been gunning for."
Democrats across the state are facing pressure to green light the projects as jobs projects. But, for years we have had these restrictions, and developers were able to comply. During the bubble, developers complied (grudgingly), but said that the process slowed down the huge expansion. (Imagine the vacant lots of houses sans CEQA).
CEQA is a vital component of our environmental system. You can't call yourself green by simply voting Aye on AB32 and then systematically deconstructing the focus of environmental regulation. Democrats should think twice before they jump into bed with the developers on this. There are serious long term policy consequences. But even for a term-limited legislator, they should understand that the politics isn't as easy.
Over the flip, I've posted the vote on the LA Stadium Deal. You can find the full details of the bill here.