Landmark Calif. Environmental Law May Be Weakened

Wednesday, 11 Sep 2013 01:15 PM

By Lisa Barron

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California's landmark law protecting the state's environment could be weakened under legislation likely to be approved this week with the help of Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown who say some of the environmental regulations are too tough on development.

Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg said Tuesday he was confident his proposed changes to the 43-year-old California Environmental Quality Act would win legislative approval this week and be sent to Brown for his signature, reports The New York Times.

Brown seems eager to sign. In the past he has called moves to rewrite the law and ease restrictions on urban projects "the Lord's work."

The law, signed by former Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, requires rigorous reviews of environmental fallout from public and private construction projects as well as detailed plans on how to minimize it. It is often cited in lawsuits to block or delay projects.

Even those who favor California's aggressive environmental policies think it's time for a change.

"Frankly, it's become a blunt instrument to stop projects by so many different people," Bob Huff, the Senate Republican leader, told the Times. "Labor uses it as a way to get project-labor agreements. Lawyers use it as a way to send their kids to college and build vacation homes."

"The original purpose, which was protecting the environment or at least looking at the impacts and mitigating them, has been treated pretty roughshod," he added.

But business leaders say the adjustments don't go far enough to help ease serious restrictions on development and are now urging lawmakers to reject Steinberg's changes.

"This is not threading the needle," Carl Guardino, president and chief executive of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, told the Times. "These are steps backwards.

Steinberg defended his legislation as hitting "that sweet spot between those who think the statute is irrevocably broken and those who believe there's nothing wrong with the statute."

He added that business groups, who started off as allies in efforts to rewrite the legislation, were being unrealistic to expect major changes.

"They could and should in my view declare victory here," he said.

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