In a stealth effort that shocked enviornmentalists, business groups succeeded in gutting a bill in the State Assembly and inserted language to essentially repeal the California Enviornmental Quality Act (CEQA) . The measure passed the Assembly yesterday and advanced to the State Senate. But today, State Senate President Darrell Steinberg and the bill’s author, Michael Rubio, held a press conference to announce that the measure will not be taken up before the end of the legislative session next week.
Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips voiced relief, calling SB 317 “one of the worst attacks on environmental protections that we’ve seen in the 40-year life of the law.”
She added, “I think the last two weeks of attention to this latest attack has helped illuminate how dear Californians hold their right to clean air, clean water and having a say in how their communities are developed.”
CEQA was originally signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan. While critics have long contended that CEQA is sometimes abused to block worthwhile projects, the measure sought to go much farther than reforms or limiting litigation. If enacted, it would eliminate serious state environmental review for major projects such as nuclear plants and wind farms as well as community plan updates, transit projects and nonconforming development projects. If any other laws (local, state or federal) apply to a project, CEQA would essentially be cast aside.
The bill attracted strong opposition from environmental groups, labor, and California residents stateside. It is likely to be revived in the next legislative session.
The radical reforms of CEQA were supported by Governor Jerry Brown, however, who stated that “CEQA reform is the Lord’s work,” the Sacramento Bee reported.
Brown, once a Jesuit monk, has been zealous in his efforts to push through industrial-scale renewable energy projects such as large wind and desert solar developments. In a speech recently in Alpine, standing atop a mountaintop blasted away to build a power substation, Brown said opponents of big energy projects such be “crushed” –outraging East County residents protesting outside and drawing criticism across the nation.
Senate Republican leader Bob Huff claimed CEQA has been a “blunt instrument to kill projects” and called today’s announcement a “missed opportunity.”
Terry Weiner, Conservation Coordinator of the Desert Protective Council told ECM, “Although this SB 317 is dead for this legislative term, Senator Darrel Steinberg promises to bring the California Environmental Quality Act “reform” bill back for consideration next year.”
Language of Speaker Perez’s bill would “gut, not reform, certain sections of CEQA by allowing some major construction projects related to urban infill development and transit projects to be exempt from CEQA review, thereby undermining standards for transportation and housing, opening up the potential for adverse impacts to air quality in densely populated urban areas and likely lead to environmental injustice issues,” the environmental leader said.
She concluded, “All people concerned with protecting what we have left of our California quality of life need to watch for the revival of this legislation after the first of the year and be prepared to defend a law that has been in place for protection of California’s air, water, endangered species and human quality of life since 1970. CEQA does not need overhaul, it needs defending.”
If you wish to contact your Assembly and State Senate members to voice your views on weakening CEQA environmental protections, you can find their contact information in our Citizens Action Center at http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/0809soundoff .
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