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Overhaul of Environmental Law Dead for the Year

California's State Capitol Building
Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics

A last-minute effort at the State Capitol to overhaul California’s complex environmental review process for development projects is dead for the year. A big push from business and labor groups to reform the law came to an abrupt halt today.

Most people either love the California Environmental Quality Act, (CEQA), or hate it. CEQA supporters say it protects the state from sprawling development. Critics say it’s often abused to block projects for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment. They’ve been lobbying strongly for changes to CEQA before lawmakers adjourn for the year at the end of next week.

The result has been fierce pushback from environmental groups and more than 30 Democrats like Assemblyman Jared Huffman. “It is a terribly overreaching and devastating proposal that has no business being part of our legislative process in the final five or six days of session," said Huffman.

That message apparently worked. Bakersfield Democratic Senator Michael Rubio, who’s been leading the effort inside the Capitol, joined Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg to promise CEQA changes next year. Rubio referenced a comment this week from Governor Jerry Brown, a frequent CEQA critic who called efforts to change the law “the Lord’s work.”

Earlier today Rubio said, “listen, folks – the Lord’s work is not done overnight, nor is it done in two weeks. But we need to roll up our sleeves, get to work.”

Rubio and Steinberg say they’ll work with supporters and critics to craft thoughtful changes to the law. But Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff says by not acting now, Democrats are missing a critical opportunity to help the state’s struggling economy.

“We’ve had unemployment just south of 11 percent. We’re two-and-a-half points higher than the rest of the nation. We need to create jobs. This is a way to create jobs now," said Huff.

With the CEQA overhaul off the table, attention will now turn to two other big issues in the final week of session: changes to California’s pension and workers compensation systems.

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