Say it ain’t so… As mentioned briefly in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s State of the State address, the governor has yet ANOTHER outrageous proposal to exempt large projects from California’s bedrock environmental regulations. (Read CLCV’s press statement responding to the State of the State.)

According to existing language (which won’t be final until the full budget proposal is released Friday) this proposal would direct the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency (BTH) to select up to 20 private projects (along with 8 alternate projects) from across the state that require preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR) because they have identified potential or actual significant impacts on the environment. These projects have only been examined by BTH for the number and quality of jobs that might be created and the size of the capital investment made by the project.

Within 40 days after the list has been announced and provided to the public, BTH will hold at least one (that’s right, there’s only the guarantee of ONE!!!) public hearing to consider public comments on the selected projects. The bill would also give permission to the Legislature to submit official comments to BTH.

Within 20 days of the public hearing deadline, BTH will announce its final selection of projects which will receive complete immunity from any judicial review of the certification of an EIR for one of the selected projects if it is certified within 1 year of enactment of the bill.


This proposal is wealthy developer’s dream come true. It allows one agency to select private projects and then steamroll over the rights of the public to find out more about potential health and environmental impacts of those projects and demand mitigations for those impacts. Dozens of communities throughout California could lose their Constitutional rights to raise questions about and ultimately challenge huge private projects in their backyards.

Of course, we’ve heard this song and dance before. As explored in CLCV’s recently released 2009 Environmental Scorecard, demands for exemptions to California’s fundamental environmental quality laws book-ended the 2009 legislative session. Time and again during the tortured, ongoing budget negotiations, the governor and a small right-wing minority of legislators held the budget process hostage in order to attempt to extract concessions from legislative leaders.

From the CLCV Scorecard:

“If CEQA exemptions for highway projects were one bookend of the 2009 legislative session, AB 81 x3 (Hall) was the other. Introduced only 48 hours before the final day of the session, the bill exempts a proposed 75,000-person football stadium in the City of Industry from any further environmental review and from the two pending lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Promises of new construction jobs and a new NFL football team trumped respect for the rule of law, and the bill passed the Assembly. As he did with the highway projects in January 2009, Senator Steinberg first refused to hear the bill, and gave the parties to the lawsuits thirty days to settle their differences. The city of Walnut settled, but the other plaintiff, a group of eight citizens, did not, forcing Steinberg to follow through on his commitment to the Senate to hear the bill. It passed with the minimum number of votes needed and was ceremoniously signed by Governor Schwarzenegger.”

So, can legislators be expected to go along with this new set of proposals to chip away at CEQA in the name of short-term economic gain, as they did with the stadium bill, or will they resist this obvious attempt to gut California’s bedrock environmental quality law? See below for the response from Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg at today’s afternoon press conference responding to the Governor’s State of the State:

Reporter Question: [Given the CEQA exemption made for the football stadium last year, and the governor’s proposal for environmental exemptions for big projects]… “How much of a commitment are you making to protect the environment?”

“We’re not going to go down that road. We can debate the stadium issue; that was the exception to the rule, because of the timing issues… But if we spend our time having a divisive and ideological debate about California’s landmark environmental laws, as opposed to taking the billions of dollars in our coffers and getting them out the door, we are missing an opportunity… Many of these projects are for weatherization… these are jobs! The first job of government is to take the resources you have and put them to work for working people.”

Bass :
“I want to address the stadium issue… It was in my district… I was a supporter of that. People in my caucus were worried about it, that it would be sending a signal… in no uncertain terms, I viewed it as an absolute exception, but in no way were we going to allow that to send a symbol…. at least in [Governor Schwarzenegger’s] speech, I haven’t seen the details, but the way it’s proposed it that we would give authority and not even know what the projects are… it’s an excuse to avoid environmental laws. I can’t imagine either one of those areas moving forward.”

We’ll post more information about the proposals soon, but for now, here’s how the issue has been covered in the press thus far:

Sacramento Bee 1/6/10
“Prepared text of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s State of the State address”
“There are four proposals to spur job growth that I will introduce… you will receive a measure to streamline the permitting of construction projects that already have a completed environmental report.”
(Archived video will be available later on the Governor’s website)

Los Angeles Times 1/6/10
“Schwarzenegger to propose spending $500 million for worker training”
“He will propose that lawmakers give him the power to inoculate developers of about 20 large projects from lawsuits over environmental regulations if they have already obtained approval of required plans to address environmental effects. That is similar to what the governor and lawmakers did in the fall for the City of Industry football stadium project. At the time, lawmakers said they did not intend for that legislation to set a precedent.”,0,3819397.story

San Francisco Chronicle 1/6/10
“Governor to outline jobs plan in speech”
“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will announce a job creation package and renew calls for reform to the state’s budget process and tax structure during his final State of the State speech today. Sources familiar with the jobs package the governor will unveil today said it includes a proposal to eliminate some environmental regulations that have been targeted by Republicans in past negotiations.”

Posted on January 6, 2010


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