Thursday, August 23, 2012

Biz Interests in State Trying to gut CEQA laws

Shocking, shameful and not at all surprising, biz interests are trying to once again gut the 40 year old California Environmental Quality Act which subjects developments to environmental review.  This in the light of all we know about global warming, loss of habitat, including our important fisheries, loss of water quality, pollution of all sorts.  Oh, but don't hinder the swift approval of industries trhat may might and could provide jobs.  Jusst say job creation and everybody is supposed to genuflect.

Not so fast, a group of Cal. legislators is working overtime to stop this ill-conceived notion in its tracks.  Here is the article from today's Chronicle.  My comment to all this: Make the proposed changes to CEQA themselves have to go through a CEQA review.  It's what the law was designed for.

And note Jerry Brown's pandering remarks: "I never met a CEQA exemption I didn't like," and "CEQA reform is the Lord's work." 

California environmental law faces changes

Updated 11:00 p.m., Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Sacramento --
A proposal to loosen California's landmark environmental protection law is expected to be introduced at the Capitol as soon as Thursday, giving the public and lawmakers only about a week to debate and consider the controversial legislation's fate.
Backers of the proposal, largely from the business community, say the California Environmental Quality Act passed in 1970 needs to be updated because it has become cumbersome, and some individuals and groups misuse the law to stop or delay development for non-environmental reasons.
Republicans in the Legislature have long sought changes to the environmental law, commonly known as CEQA, and this year some Democrats, including Gov. Jerry Brown, signaled that they are open to discussion.
At a news conference last month, the governor said, "I've never seen a CEQA exemption I didn't like." And on Wednesday in San Francisco at a news conference for his ballot measure to raise taxes, Brown said of the proposal that has been circulating: "To tell you the truth, I have not read it. In fact it's not even clear we have a final draft yet. But look - CEQA reform is the Lord's work."
Environmental groups say the proposal is an attempt to gut the law in the waning days of the legislative session to avoid public input and scrutiny. The Legislature's two-year session comes to a close Aug. 31.
Typically, it takes at least several months - often longer - for a proposal to be vetted by committees and then go to a vote of the Legislature. But nearing the end of a session, controversial proposals sometimes are inserted into bills and pushed through.
While the bill has yet to be introduced, people both for and against it expect language that would alter the environmental law to be inserted into SB317 by state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield. That bill pertains to fish management in the Kings River, and amendments to the bill with the new language were released by proponents late Wednesday.

An influential law

CEQA is the cornerstone of California's environmental protection efforts. It was signed into law by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, and has been a model for other states and even for some changes in federal law. Under the law, a project that will have a significant effect on the environment is subject to an environmental impact report.
Members of the public can comment on that report, and government agencies preparing the report must respond to those comments. Once the impacts are identified - they can range from traffic congestion to public health problems and damage to the environment - the developers must take steps to mitigate those impacts.
Perhaps more than any other, the law is responsible for how communities across California look today.

Eliminating reviews

Business leaders called the law an important tool that provides the public with an assessment of the environmental impacts of projects, but said it needs revisions.
"Since CEQA became law, many other environmental and land-use laws have been passed by multiple agencies at the federal, state and local levels, creating duplicative and overlapping processes, standards and mitigation requirements which often result in lengthy project-permitting delays and uncertainty," said Bill Allen, CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., in a letter to lawmakers supporting the proposal.
Under the proposal, projects that meet the requirements of an existing land-use plan - which has met CEQA mandates - would be exempt from going through the law's rigorous environmental review process. Backers say that eliminates duplication, but opponents say it means the public will not have a chance to weigh in on - and force changes to - large projects that will affect them or the environment, including power plants and hazardous waste dumps.
Exemptions from CEQA may also apply to two of the governor's biggest priorities: high-speed rail and the proposed tunnels to move water under the delta, environmentalists said.
"It would be really devastating for California and probably the rest of the nation for the kind of precedent this would set," said Jena Price, legislative director for the Planning and Conservation League.

Previous measures

She said attempts to alter the environmental law frequently emerge at the end of the legislative session, but previous measures have not gone as far as the current proposal.
"This is one of the more, if not the most, egregious attempts to gut CEQA I have ever seen," Price said.
Other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, already have called on their members to contact leaders of the Legislature to block action on the measure even before it's an actual bill. Business groups, too, have asked members to call lawmakers, but to urge them to make changes in the law. Variations of the proposal for exemptions have been passed around the Capitol for more than a week. On Monday, a coalition of business groups, developers and some labor unions held a press conference to outline what they would like to see in a proposal.
Their ideas are reflected in the amendments.
But environmentalists are pushing back, and on Tuesday a group of 33 lawmakers sent a letter to the Democratic leaders of the Legislature calling for no changes to CEQA without first going through the full public process.

What is CEQA?

The California Environmental Quality Act, passed in 1970, is the cornerstone of California's environmental protection policies. A public agency must determine whether a proposed project would have a significant environmental impact. If so, the project becomes the subject of an environmental impact report, on which the public can comment. Those comments must be addressed, and the report must include ways to mitigate impacts on the environment.
Wyatt Buchanan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: wbuchanan@sfchronicle.com

Comments:  
 
greendogdemo

greendogdemo

8:39 AM on August 23, 2012
Most shocking that Gov. Brown "never saw a CEQA exemption [he] didn't like." Of course he never saw a 3 Strikes law he didn't like either. Oh, Jerry, we really want to like you.
   
hepstein

hepstein

7:06 AM on August 23, 2012
WOW!! This is the second time this week I agree with Gov. Brown. CEQA desperately needs to be reformed or rescinded. The out of control CARB should be disbanded.
   
sffoghorn

sffoghorn

6:47 AM on August 23, 2012
If a Republican governor proposed this, the Democrats would oppose it vigorously. This is why Obama is poised to lose in November, because priorities that Democrats run on are end up worse when the Democrats are in office. This law was signed by Ronald fricken Reagan for chrissake, and now a Democrat is gutting it. How far have we descended into the corrupt pit of corporate dominance!
jenniferp

jenniferp

6:46 AM on August 23, 2012
"California environmental law faces changes"? Bad headline (not the reporter's fault). Nothing in this story shows that a majority in the Legislature is likely to approve this change to CEQA. If there is likely to be majority support in the Legislature for this change, let's hear about it, please. Otherwise a headline like: "Legislature to consider last-minute proposal to weaken California environmental law" would be more appropriate.
   
hollybliss

HollyBliss

6:40 AM on August 23, 2012
"The business community" meaning "billionaires and those that profit from collecting interest from the those that buy what's built."

This smells like an attempt to grab more northern California water for a certain senator's biggest contributor.
   
hexaprotodon

hexaprotodon

6:37 AM on August 23, 2012
If anything, California's environmental protection laws (and enforcement) should be strengthened.
   
nico415

nico415

6:34 AM on August 23, 2012
One word: REAGAN
How dare conservatives question the Almighty? What's next...will they raise taxes to hire teachers???

helpmeout

10:32 PM on August 22, 2012
Just imagine what developers will get away with once CEQA is watered down...SF waterfront beware, here come 8 Washington's ugly sisters
   
frenchjr25

frenchjr25

8:07 PM on August 22, 2012
CEQUA also deals with historic preservation. The delays do get a bit ridiculous but at the same time developers need to start using more common sense when designing projects. Why tear down a historic building when there are plenty of empty lots already? Why cut down century old trees when buildings can be built around them?

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