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Project Big? Then Never Mind the Environment



February 10, 2010 -- If Schwarzenegger and the development interests that put him in office have their way, only projects without influential backing would have to meet environmental standards under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
It started last year with an Assembly bill streamlining some CEQA requirements to construct a new NFL stadium in the City of Industry. Now, it looks like wealthy developers from all over the state will be hiring lobbyists to get them CEQA exemptions.
The Governor's proposal, which will probably be included in a trailer bill to this year's budget, would exempt about 100 major construction projects across the state, both public and private, from California environmental laws.  The plan would block the power of the courts to review 25 projects each year from 2011 through 2014.  The administration-through the cabinet level Business, Transportation and Housing Agency-would have final authority over those projects.
The proposal distributes exempted projects in counties around the state-ten in Southern California, five in the Bay area, five in the southern Central Valley, and the remaining five from around the state.  Not just transportation but also refinery, water, and sewage projects could be exempted. 
Having achieved "co-equal" status in the Delta, it looks like the environment will be denied similar status in other parts of the state, at least until ignoring the environment produces impossible-to-ignore health threats.
This proposal is based on the flawed assumption that what is good for the environment is bad for business and jobs.  But even the State Building and Construction Trades Council, representing 160 unions, says that shortchanging environmental standards doesn't create more jobs.
And let's not look for things to be any better if Democrat Jerry Brown goes back to the governor's office.  Last year, Candidate Brown got a total of $50,000 in four separate donations from billionaire agribusiness power couple Stewart and Lynda Resnick.  The Resnicks already have the ear of Senator Dianne Feinstein and the influence to have 15 scientists and other experts impaneled to come back with a different answer than the current biological opinions on smelt and salmon in the Delta. 
Brown had agribusiness giants J. G. Boswell Corporation and Salyer Land Company against him 30 years ago in the last peripheral canal battle, because they thought the environmental safeguards were too strong.  It looks like he is already maneuvering to be on the same side as agribusiness this time around.