Arnold's budget dealing: a public health issue?
Earlier this year, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hunkered down with legislators in budget negotiations, the result was a delay of regulations to crack down on cancer-causing diesel pollution from construction and farm equipment. It was a provision intensely sought by business interests, but one with little effect on budgetary or fiscal matters.
Now, once again, environmentalists are sounding the alarm that eco-issues are on the table in the budgetary arm wrestling that has paralyzed Sacramento in recent weeks.
Eight major advocacy groups wrote Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders on July 16 asking that they resist efforts to insert into the budget a provision that could enable the building of new power plants in the Los Angeles Basin.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District, a regional agency, is pushing the provision, incorporated in a stalled Senate bill, SB 696. The air district has been prevented by a recent court ruling from giving out emissions credits for power plants until it fully analyzes the environmental impact. Republican and some Democratic legislators, along with the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, want any new budget deal to overturn the court decision.
South Coast officials said they view new power plants as necessary to serve a growing population and prevent blackouts. But as a result of lawsuits brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups, the agency has delayed the permits for power plants, as well as for hundreds of other businesses, until the credits issue is resolved.
According to the July 16 letter from the Sierra Club, the American Lung Assn. and other groups, overturning the court decision in the budget deal would "add 10 tons per day of dirty particulate pollution to the Los Angeles Air Basin. ... Our organizations have argued strenuously against 11th-hour budget proposals to weaken environmental and public health laws that have nothing to do with the state budget."
Two other issues are also reportedly on the table. Bill Magavern, director of the California branch of the Sierra Club, said Schwarzenegger wants to insert a provision in the budget to overturn the State Lands Commission's denial of a plan to expand offshore oil drilling off Santa Barbara.
And, Magavern said, the governor is also seeking to use the budget deal as a vehicle for his earlier proposal to abolish a key scientific review agency, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which evaluates the impacts of chemical contaminants.
Aaron McLear, the governor's press secretary, said: "We don't comment on budget negotiations. Once there is a final agreement, we will share that with the press."
-- Margot Roosevelt
Photo: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a July 2 news conference on the budget. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times