There have been many efforts in Sacramento over the years to weaken environmental and public health laws, particularly CEQA and the California Endangered Species Act. These campaigns are driven by developers, oil companies, corporate agribusiness and other corporate 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.
The letter states, ”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,” the letter concludes.
At the joint hearing of the State Assembly Judicial and Natural Resources committees today, Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, focused her comments on how the proposed CEQA changes would greenlight the Delta Tunnel (Delta Conveyance Project) despite a woefully inadequate Environmental Impact Review. She testified how the trailer bills would particularly impact environmental justice communities in the Bay-Delta. In her presentation, she stated:
“A thorough and transparent CEQA process is essential to protecting our communities and our environment. CEQA has also been used by a number of tribes to help preserve cultural resources. Please note tribal representation is not here because they have not been time or consultation opportunity to respond. And we learned that some government agencies did not know about this trailer package until early this week.
The proposed changes to CEQA for Record of Proceedings and Streamlined Judicial Review are very problematic for the Delta region and are reminiscent of the Federal Bill introduced by Southern California Republican House member Ken Calvert in 2018 to strip Californians of due process rights by stopping the public's ability to litigate against the State Water Project or Central Valley Project. We called that effort in 2018 un-American, and these proposals are very close to weakening process protections for Delta communities to the same degree.
The Delta, according to data compiled by the California Department of Water Resources, is a majority disadvantaged/BIPOC community in both its rural and urban areas with pockets of wealth. It also contains some of the largest environmental justice communities in the state with 1/3 of Stockton living at the bottom 80-99 percentile for environmental health. This is important to understand when we consider 1) where we are at with the present Delta Conveyance EIR; and 2) the economic burden accelerated judicial review and record administration will place on our financially burdened communities should the project advance in its present form.
When California Water Fix ended and the Newsom Administration announced moving forward with a single tunnel, Restore the Delta engaged in a good faith effort with the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority for two years to work on improving the project for Delta communities. We were sincere with the effort, but DWR was not sincere with us. Our continuous questions around harmful algal blooms, salinity, and long-term changes to water quality were ignored with the Tunnel's Design and Construction Authority telling us with DWR that these items would be addressed in the EIR. They have not been addressed in the current document. Furthermore, the EIR contains no detailed mitigation plan for impacts around water quality and air quality during construction for our AB617 community, or rural Delta communities. And modeling for water supply amounts is based on historically irrelevant data as identified by the State Auditor in their recent report, rather than using the best available climate science. This EIR is the worst version of the proposed Delta Conveyance we have seen in the last 17 years.
We understand that a revised or final EIR will be issued in December. If this version becomes the final EIR, the Delta, and its significant environmental justice population, will be burdened with extreme water and air quality problems for decades. Our public health, lives, water supply, and ability to simply breathe will be impacted negatively.
Small organizations like ours can only avail ourselves of legal representation with pro bono counsel, and often by doing the work ourselves or with legal interns to assemble the legal record. Rushing procedures and adding costs to litigation effectively prohibits small groups from participating in the legal process thereby weakening democracy and due process.
So does rushing judicial review, when much of the work for legal participation is assembled within our organization by staff for legal counsel. It is unjust for environmental justice groups to be forced to keep up on legal processes with the government, special interest water districts, and high-paid legal firms with big budgets at an accelerated rate.
We oppose these trailer bills fully as a matter of fairness for disadvantaged communities.”
A recent editorial by the Sacramento Bee agreed with the environmental justice, conservation and community groups.
“Newsom proposed the mother of all trailer bills last month when he unveiled a complex plan to accelerate a range of infrastructure projects with a slew of bills to be tacked onto the budget. There are plenty of unresolved budget matters to keep Sacramento busy between now and June 15 without adding bills that should be debated over the summer,” the Bee wrote.