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Environmental, Labor Groups Prepare to Fight CEQA Changes

Governor Brown and legislative leaders say a major goal this year is updating California’s 43-year-old environmental protection law. But a group of environmental and labor organizations is making it clear they’ll fight any effort to change the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA.

Sarah Rose, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, was one of several speakers at a Tuesday rally outside the state Capitol. “The California Environmental Quality Act gives every community a voice in development, whether it’s where to locate an incinerator or power plant, CEQA gives every Californian a right to weigh in,” she said. “Those who would like to see California’s environmental laws deregulated seem to want to silence that voice.”
 
Businesses pushing for CEQA changes says they don’t want to weaken its environmental protections. A coalition called the CEQA Working Group insists its goal is blocking lawsuits designed to slow down or stop construction projects that have met environmental standards. “It's clear there are increasing abuses of CEQA brought for non-environmental reasons and there is no question that these abuses are costing our state jobs and economic growth we need,” CEQA Working Group chair Carl Guardino said in a statement.
 
The Senate’s top Democrat agrees. “CEQA is a great law, but any great law can use a review and can use updating,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who introduced an outline of a bill updating CEQA last month. “CEQA has protected California’s natural resources and has helped keep our environment clean. At the same time there have been instances – many instances – where the process takes too darn long.”
               
Steinberg’s bill outline would speed up environmental reviews for renewable energy projects, bike lanes, mass transportation initiatives and other “green” projects, as well as cut back on lawsuits designed to slow down and block construction, among other changes.
 
A coalition of environmental and labor groups isn’t buying the argument, though. Speaking at the Capitol rally, Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation said he’d work to block every effort to update CEQA. “[The law] protects us from massive amounts of pollution in California. It makes our workplaces safer, and it makes our communities cleaner,” he said.
 
It’s not clear when Steinberg’s bill will be fleshed out beyond an outline, but Governor Brown has made it clear he’ll push for a CEQA update this year, at one point calling CEQA changes “the Lord’s work.”
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