Tuesday, December 23, 2008

California to Create CEQA Exemptions for Construction Projects

E&E reports (Debra Kahn, E&E reporter)

State Democratic leaders appear to be yielding to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan for easing environmental restrictions as a way to kick-start job-generating construction projects.  Schwarzenegger (R) proposed exempting certain infrastructure projects from the California Environmental Quality Act last month, saying policymakers had to be "creative" in stimulating job growth in light of the state's budget deficit....California has taken significant steps in the last few years to incorporate climate change concerns into CEQA requirements. State Attorney General and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown (D), for example, pressured businesses and local governments to take emissions into account when planning development.  Now, the state's environmental red tape [i.e. environmental assessment process] is becoming the first regulatory casualty of the recession as Schwarzenegger seeks to create jobs.  As part of a budget fix, the Legislature last week adopted Schwarzenegger's proposal to expedite $1.5 billion in infrastructure bonds, including $700 million for local roads and $800 million for public transit. It also passed a bill exempting eight construction projects from some CEQA requirements....The eight projects included in last week's bill would span the state, from Sacramento County to San Diego County. They would be worth $14 billion and would create nearly 260,000 jobs, Steinberg said. That's in addition to the projects funded by accelerated bond money and another $3 billion from the gas tax increase that would go to transportation projects...."Not only will these projects keep people and goods moving, they will create thousands of good construction jobs," Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D) said in a statement. "Did we gut CEQA? No. Communities trying to keep their air and water free from contamination aren't the problem -- the recession is." Other environmental concerns are also being pushed aside in the short term, including the California Public Utilities Commission's approval last week of the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, a controversial project that Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Lori SaldaƱa (D) both opposed in its approved form. Climate Wire

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