Thursday, November 01, 2012

(BN) California Environmental Law Marked for Biggest Change Since ’70

California lawmakers may consider the biggest overhaul of the state's environmental laws in 42 years with an eye toward speeding up proposed development projects, Governor Jerry Brown and state Senator Michael Rubio said.

Brown, a 74-year-old Democrat, said he expects lawmakers to vote next year on changes to the California Environmental Quality Act, the 1970 law that requires the state and local governments to weigh environmental consequences when considering approval of public and private projects.

California's environmental laws place limits on development, require a unique blend of gasoline to reduce smog and will impose a statewide cap on greenhouse-gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2020. The largest U.S. state by population, with an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent in September, is frequently accused of being unfriendly to business.

Changes in the law are "very important" to spur economic development, Brown said yesterday in Los Angeles at a forum to promote Proposition 30, a ballot measure to raise taxes for education.

"There are many people who work very well under CEQA and don't want to change it," Brown said about the environmental act, responding to a question from the audience. "And yet, changes are needed."

Brown didn't disclose specifics. His aides referred questions to Rubio, a Bakersfield Democrat who is working on a bill to amend the law.

Streamline Reviews

Rubio said he wants to streamline environmental reviews to avoid long delays on projects such as the proposed extension of the subway in Los Angeles and student housing near the University of Southern California, which was stymied by a rival developer's lawsuit.

Days before the end of the legislative session in August, an industry organization pressing to modify the law, led by Carl Guardino, chief executive officer of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and Jim Earp, executive director of California Alliance for Jobs, failed to persuade lawmakers to make changes.

In 2011, Brown and Democrats in Sacramento offered changes in the environmental law as part of a proposed deal with Republicans to put higher taxes for education on the ballot. Republicans in the state Legislature rejected the overture.

Brown signed a bill last year to waive provisions of the law for a proposed football stadium in downtown Los Angeles, arguing that environmental challenges shouldn't be allowed to delay the project indefinitely.

This year, Brown proposed exempting California's planned $68 billion high-speed rail project from the law. Under pressure from environmentalists, the governor backed down from the idea.

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