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Is Schwarzenegger reneging on curbing sprawl?

November 11, 2008 |  6:37 pm

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the nation's first law a few weeks ago to cut global warming emissions from sprawl development and transportation, he made major compromises with the state's powerful building interests, causing several key environmental groups to withdraw their support.  Under Senate Bill 375, certain projects, if included in regional climate plans, were exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a law requiring a detailed review of environmental consequences.

Now, according to sources in the state legislature, the Schwarzenegger administration is proposing to waive all greenhouse gas and pollution restrictions for large transportation and flood projects as part of the "economic stimulus" package proposed for the legislature's special session, convened last week.

Under the administration's proposal, any transportation project funded "in whole or in part" with bond funds would be exempt from comprehensive environmental reviews. That would include most new roads and freeway expansions, which will facilitate millions of new car and truck trips, adding tens of thousands of tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide and other pollutants to the atmosphere.

The proposed exemptions have shocked environmentalists, concerned by the fact that 38% of the state's global warming emissions come from transportation, much of it from the rapid growth of driving. The state has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas pollution by 15% below today's level in the next 12 years -- a goal that policymakers say will require curbing sprawl.

But  builders want the exemptions so they won't be subject to environmental lawsuits. Recently, the state's transportation agency, Caltrans, lost a lawsuit challenging a major east/west highway into the Sierras because it failed to consider resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

-- Margot Roosevelt