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Environmental law not changing

State leader says rules ‘far too important’ to rewrite in session’s last days

Posted: August 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 24, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

SACRAMENTO — Legislative leaders said Thursday they have dropped plans to overhaul California’s environmental regulations in a way that would have made it easier for developers and local governments to build new projects.

California’s business community made a highly visible push this month to loosen the state’s landmark law, known as the California Environmental Quality Act.

On Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told a group of reporters that the effort would not go forward this year, despite legislative language introduced a day earlier.

“This law, for all of its strengths and its fault, is far too important to re-write in the last days of session,” said Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

A proposal that would reform the law to reduce frivolous lawsuits and redundant oversight has been circulating in the Capitol for several weeks.

“It’s frustrating to hear that CEQA reforms have stalled once again,” said Jonas Peterson, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp. “I believe (Senate Bill) 317 was a responsible bill which contained meaningful reforms, removed opportunities for abuse and still preserved the original intent of CEQA — environmental protection.

“Our business community deserves action on this issue sooner rather than later,” Peterson said.

“We’ve always said that our coalition is committed to pursuing our effort as long as needed,” said Jim Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs. Earp was one of several California businesses and government interests that held news conferences to call for support of the CEQA reforms this week.

“While we were pleased to offer our policy suggestions if legislators were going to take action this year, we are prepared to continue our efforts over the long-term,” Earp said.

Critics of CEQA, who say the 1970 law is outdated, found an unlikely ally in Gov. Jerry Brown, who this week called streamlining the law’s many requirements “the Lord’s work.”

On Wednesday, a bill by Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, was amended to include the four-point reform proposal. But on Thursday, Rubio was sanguine about the apparent change in plans.

“‘The Lord’s work’ is not done overnight, nor is it done in two weeks,” Rubio said. The state Legislature’s current session ends Aug. 31.

Rubio and Steinberg called for a special legislative session to address the issue next year.

The Reagan-era law plays a key role in determining whether new projects go forward in California.

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