Lawmakers urge legislative leaders to oppose CEQA changes
Dozens of lawmakers are urging legislative leaders to oppose a last-minute campaign by business and labor groups to make key changes to California's landmark environmental law, asking their bosses to table the issue in the final two weeks of the session and revisit it next year.
In a letter to Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), 33 lawmakers said major changes to the California Environmental Quality Act deserved "serious, thoughtful and transparent deliberation," a debate that is unlikely in the harried, final days of a two-year legislative session.
"Like many important laws, CEQA is not perfect and could probably be improved while retaining
its many benefits -- but only if such improvements are undertaken in a good-faith process and are
crafted very carefully," the lawmakers wrote. "Unfortunately, the proposals we have seen and heard about reflect major changes that have not been vetted and are being advanced by special interests in an end-of-session power play."
Business and labor groups have been pushing for changes to CEQA, saying it was time to modernize a 40-year-old measure that is often used to block even so-called green development. They say organizations often abuse the environmental law to kill projects, costing the state jobs and revenue.
While lawmakers have yet to introduce legislation, a coalition of business groups, led by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, unveiled a proposal Monday that they said would maintain CEQA as "the state environmental law" but eliminate regulatory redundancy and limit legal challenges.
Democratic lawmakers, however, said that CEQA was "too important to change without careful, thoughtful analysis."
Both Pérez and Steinberg have suggested they were open to changes before the session comes to a close Aug. 31.
Republicans, who have long sought changes to the environmental law, see an opportunity in working with Pérez, who needs their votes to pass his top priority: a bill that would close what Democratic leaders call a corporate tax loophole in order to raise $1 billion for scholarships for middle-class college students in California.
-- Michael J. Mishak and Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento