State Senate leader quashes bid to change environmental law
The leader of the state Senate dashed the hopes of business groups on Thursday by quashing a last-minute campaign to make sweeping changes to California’s landmark environmental law.
At a Capitol press conference, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said that the upper house would not act on a controversial proposal to alter the California Environmental Quality Act in the final days of the legislative session. Instead, he said the Legislature would revisit the issue next year.
“This law, for all of its strengths and its faults, is far too important to rewrite in the last days of the session,” he said.
The announcement comes after weeks of talk in the Capitol about a growing movement to change CEQA. State Sen. Michael Rubio (D-East Bakersfield) had been working with a coalition of business groups to draft a proposal that he said would “modernize” the 40-year-old measure, streamline environmental review and limit lawsuits.
Business leaders argued that developers and unions use CEQA to block development of even environmentally-friendly projects, costing the state jobs and revenue.
Environmentalists and labor unions pushed back –- hard. They said the proposal that Rubio had floated around the Capitol would effectively gut CEQA. More than 30 Democratic lawmakers agreed, sending legislative leaders a letter asking them to table the issue in the final days of the session.
Ultimately, Rubio declined to introduce legislation. Still, he stood with Steinberg on Thursday outside the Senate chambers to take credit for stoking the debate.
“We achieved a significant goal,” Rubio said. “We made CEQA one of the top subjects that’s being discussed throughout this state.”
Steinberg vowed to revisit CEQA next year and to consult with business groups and environmentalists.
“We’re going to take it on, and we’re going to take it on in a big way,” Steinberg said, but “… in the only way good things really get done around here -– and that is to sit down over the course of weeks and months and grind through the tough issues and make the fair compromises.”
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento