Over 100 organizations send a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday, June 5 urging him not to weaken the landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other environmental laws.
There have been many efforts in Sacramento over the years to weaken environmental and public health laws, particularly CEQA. These campaigns are driven by developers, oil companies and other special interests who are trying to avoid environmental regulation altogether.
According to environmental advocates, the governor’s current proposals “pose a major threat to public health, wildlife and habitat, and the climate because they significantly impede the manner in which CEQA is enforced, eliminate the fully protected species laws, and change existing laws for the benefit of highly controversial and environmentally destructive projects such as the Delta Tunnel.”
Specifically, the bill would change the rules for preparing administrative record in some ways that are problematic; would provide expedited judicial review for certain clean energy, water, transportation, and semiconductor/micro-electric projects (“eligible infrastructure projects”) and the Delta conveyance project; and would eliminate the most restrictive category of species protection under state law while creating a new CEQA exemption for agency actions that change the listing for certain species under the Endangered Species Act.
What’s the problem with changing the rules for administrative records in CEQA cases?
The Administrative Record bill has three serious problems. First, the bill allows for a public agency to take over the preparation of the record if a petitioner initially elects to do so, but either fails to complete it within 60 days or fails to obtain an extension. If the agency assumes responsibility of preparing the administrative record, there is no rule stating that the agency would cover the costs of compiling the record. This could make it all but impossible for community and non-profit groups to use CEQA to go up against monied developers and polluters.
Second, the bill specifies that the administrative record need not include internal agency emails, even though most communications are now done electronically, and such documents can be critical to petitioners’ case. Third, the bill allows agencies to cherry-pick favorable internal emails and other documents to include in the record, and exclude unfavorable ones, thereby effectively silencing scientists and other experts within state agencies. All of these changes are designed to make it more difficult for petitioners to enforce CEQA.
What’s the problem with providing expedited judicial review in CEQA cases for certain large infrastructure projects?
The Judicial Review bill sets an unreasonably short time-period for judicial review of CEQA cases challenging eligible infrastructure projects. This shortened timeframe is inappropriate for many of the listed categories of projects, some of which will take decades to implement. Why would we attempt to rewrite such an important part of the process without proper input from the courts and from stakeholders on some of the state’s largest projects, from statewide water transfer to Delta conveyance to energy infrastructure to high-speed rail? By focusing on litigation deadlines, the bill ignores far more effective ways to expediting these infrastructure projects. Instead, policy leaders should focus on the “front end” of these projects and require better planning and siting of the projects, and early community involvement.
We agree that California needs to move forward expeditiously to address our climate needs. We also agree that we can – and should – make changes in how we build projects to provide clean energy, clean transportation, and a sustainable and reliable water supply. However, the governor’s bill would substantially weaken the right of community members and environmental organizations to enforce CEQA in court. In the absence of citizen suits, our premier environmental law could be violated with impunity. At the same time, the proposed streamlining for large infrastructure is poorly thought-out and inappropriate for many of the projects.
What’s the CEQA problem with the bill eliminating the fully protected category of imperiled species?
The CEQA Exemptions for Changing CESA Status bill would eliminate the statutorily created “fully protected” species list, and then utilize the framework of the California Endangered Species Act (“CESA”) for 37 species. The 37 fully protected species include such iconic species as sea otters, sandhill cranes, California condors, desert bighorn sheep and golden eagles. The proposal would also create a CEQA exemption for decisions on future changes to listings of the 37 species.
This decision is troubling because it would change the rules for what the Fish and Game Commission should consider when deciding to remove a species from the state endangered species list. How does limiting what the Commission should consider in delisting a species from the state endangered species list have any effect on a specific infrastructure project? It does not, but it does show how far-reaching this set of trailer bill proposals go in terms of eliminating environmental protections and public review and participating under the guise of speeding up development projects.
“We agree that California needs to move forward expeditiously to address our climate needs. We also agree that we can – and should – make changes in how we build projects to provide clean energy, clean transportation, and a sustainable and reliable water supply. However, the infrastructure proposals noted above are missing important policies that should also be examined and discussed such as improved planning and siting of projects, more robust upstream community engagement, increased investments in permit staffing at agencies, and more coordinated and efficient approvals of transmission and other key infrastructure needs that are essential to our climate resilient future,” according to the letter.