California has long been known as the Golden State — the destination for entrepreneurs and dream-seekers and home to Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Through groundbreaking environmental leadership, we have also earned a reputation as the green state. In 2010, California celebrated the 40th anniversary of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which over the years has contributed to cleaner air, cleaner water and better environmental protection for our communities.
Unfortunately, CEQA has not aged gracefully and is now tarnishing our golden sheen. In the decades since passage, more than 120 additional environmental laws have been adopted at the state and federal level. This complex multi-layering of laws has made the CEQA process excessively duplicative, jeopardizing community renewal, job-creation and projects that would improve the environment.
Instead of serving as a vehicle to study projects and mitigate potential environmental impacts, some interest groups have morphed CEQA into a tool for stopping and/or fatally delaying projects. All too often, lawsuits are brought or threatened for non-environmental reasons. Ironically, in many cases, these lawsuits seek to halt environmentally desirable projects like clean power, infill and transit. In these situations, interest groups use CEQA to work at odds with — instead of in concert with — other environmental laws of the State.
The Chamber has helped spearhead a statewide effort to achieve responsible, thoughtful CEQA reforms to preserve the original intent of the law — environmental protection — while stamping out some abuses for non-environmental reasons. This coalition of business, labor, schools, hospitals, clean technology companies and local government has united around a package of modernization proposals to:
- Integrate environmental and planning laws;
- Eliminate duplication;
- Focus CEQA litigation on compliance with environmental and planning laws; and
- Enhance public disclosure and accountability
Action on CEQA modernization is one of the biggest steps the state Legislature can take to improve our economy and our environment at a faster pace. Time is running out for Sacramento to act before the end of the 2012 session on August 31. I encourage every member who has contact with a legislator during the next nine days to advocate on behalf of these vital reforms and assertively reject the false notion that these changes are an effort to "gut" CEQA.
These changes will allow California to remain a leader in environmental stewardship, while at the same time promoting responsible investments in schools, clean technology, roads, mass transit, hospitals, infill development, housing, businesses and new jobs. Green and golden are not mutually exclusive goals. Together, they have helped make California great.
And that's The Business Perspective.
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