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Ex-governors call for changes to environmental law

February 4, 2013 |  3:27 pm

Three of California's former governors have banded together to urge an overhaul of the state's landmark environmental law, saying the 40-year-old measure needs to be "modernized" to help speed the Golden State's economic recovery.

The message echoes that of Gov. Jerry Brown, who called for changes to the California Environmental Quality Act in his State of the State address last month.

Former Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis made their case in the pages of the Sacramento Bee on Sunday, arguing in an op-ed that CEQA has become "the favorite tool of those who seek to stop economic growth and progress for reasons that have little to do with the environment."

The measure requires developers to go through a lengthy public process detailing their projects' potential environmental effects and how those would be mitigated. Business groups have long complained that activists, labor unions -- even corporate competitors -- abuse the law by filing frivolous lawsuits to delay and kill development.

"While CEQA's original intent must remain intact, now is the time to end reckless abuses of this important law -- abuses that are threatening California's economic vitality, costing jobs and wasting valuable taxpayer dollars," the ex-governors wrote.

They suggested "requiring petitioners to disclose their economic interests; adding certainty to the CEQA time line; avoiding duplicative reviews; and lessening opportunities for unjustified litigation and delay."

Environmentalists have said the claims of delays are exaggerated. Less than 1% of all projects in the state face CEQA lawsuits, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Last year, environmentalists and labor unions persuaded legislative leaders to kill a proposal by state Sen. Michael Rubio (D-East Bakersfield) that would have streamlined environmental reviews and limited lawsuits. They argued that the measure would have effectively gutted CEQA.

Rubio has said he intends to redouble his efforts this year, and state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has declared a CEQA overhaul one of the upper house's top priorities.

ALSO:

Environmentalists, unions fear last-minute CEQA changes

State gives initial OK to $1.4 million for lawsuit settlements

Assembly speaker vows action on public pensions, 'regulatory reform'

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

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