Republican legislators use CEQA as ransom in budget negotiations

(Cross-posted from Groundswell, the California League of Conservation Voters blog.)

Five Senate Republicans are holding the state budget hostage and the ransom they are asking for is the gutting of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), our state’s flagship environmental law.

Their proposal would sharply limit the rights of California citizens and local government agencies to enforce critical environmental protections. (See a CLCV analysis of the proposal here).

The Los Angeles Times broke this story, and explained some of details of the proposal:

The proposal would sharply limit Californians' ability to go to court to challenge a construction project's environmental impact report — a document critical to final approval. The state attorney general would still be able to file such lawsuits.

Citizens would keep limited rights to file litigation, but only by making a deposit to the court of $50,000, or 1% of a construction project's costs if that amount is smaller.

Telecommunications companies seeking to expand their broadband networks would receive exemptions from environmental rules for related construction. Such a change would be a boon to firms like AT&T, which has contributed a total of $38,100 in campaign money to the five Republican senators since 2009.

CEQA was voted into law over 40 years ago in order to give all citizens a voice in what happens to their communities. For decades, CEQA has helped to keep major decisions over how to use local land at the local level—where the impacts are the greatest.

Because of the fact that CEQA has given citizens more transparency and more say over big, risky projects that impact the health and wellbeing of their community, it has been a prime target of attacks by those opposed to environmental protections. Year after year, these opponents use the state budget process to twist arms, call in favors, and try to make back-room deals to weaken CEQA.  This year is no exception.

If the California legislature and state agencies want to change our environmental laws, they have a process in place to do so—and do so in a transparent way. Those serious about changing California’s environmental laws should use the democratic process to debate them and to then make decisions they’ll be held accountable for.

The budget is no place for CEQA “reform.” We need to stand together and commit to strengthening the laws that protect our communities, not weaken them. The budget vote is ongoing so action is needed today. Email Governor Brown today to urge him to reject any effort to use the closed door budget process to extract major concessions to the public health, safety and environmental safeguards in CEQA.