Fighting for CEQA Reform

CEQA Reform has been a key initiative of North Bay Leadership Council. This year, in an effort to achieve meaningful CEQA reform, NBLC has joined a Coalition of like-minded business groups from across the state that are working to do just that. Business surveys have put CEQA reform in the top issues needed to improve the business climate in California. The legislative session closes at the end of August with legislators moving legislation in a mad rush to beat the deadline.  During this mad rush, we remain hopeful about the legislature achieving genuine CEQA reform, focused on fixing the legal abuses of CEQA, including transparency and standing issues, as well as better integrating CEQA with existing environmental and planning laws.   
This Coalition has been pushing hard on achieving a solution, and the letter below was sent to every member of the California Assembly and Senate. As this situation progresses, we will keep you abreast of important news around this effort and ask for your help.

August 20, 2012

To: Governor Jerry Brown
Senate President Darrell Steinberg
Assembly Speaker John Perez
Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff
Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway

Re: CEQA Modernization

We have been encouraged by recent comments from the Governor and Legislative leaders expressing your support for some form of CEQA reform. As a coalition of labor, schools, hospitals, clean technology companies, local government and business, we support efforts to modernize CEQA and commend you for taking on this vitally important issue.

We believe it is possible to accomplish responsible, thoughtful CEQA reforms that preserve the original intent of the law – environmental protection – while stamping out certain abuses of the law brought for non-environmental reasons.

We reject the notion promoted by some that any and all CEQA modernization attempts are automatically an attack on the environment. This all-or-nothing posturing is what is preventing California from moving forward with environmental protection policies that foster – instead of inhibit – responsible job creation, economic growth and community renewal that are critical to achieving the dual goals of responsible growth and economic prosperity.

As you evaluate CEQA reforms, we urge you to consider the following principles:

1. Modernize CEQA to Integrate Updated Environmental and Planning Laws

  • When the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was enacted 40 years ago, the wide array of local, state and federal environmental and land use regulations that are now on the books didn’t exist. CEQA was essentially it.
  • In the 40 years since, Congress and the Legislature have adopted more than 120 laws to protect environmental quality in many of the same topical areas required to be independently mitigated under CEQA, including laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, GHG emissions reduction standards, SB 375 and more.
  • Despite these stringent environmental laws and local planning requirements, public and private projects throughout the state are commonly challenged under CEQA even when a project meets all other environmental standards of existing laws.
  • Many lawsuits are brought or threatened for non-environmental reasons and often times these lawsuits seek to halt environmentally desirable projects like clean power, infill and transit. CEQA is even working at odds with – instead of in concert with – important environmental laws like SB 375 and AB 32.
  • CEQA should continue to serve as the state environmental law for environmental impacts not regulated by standards set forth in other environmental and planning laws adopted since 1970.
  • However, where a federal, state or local environmental or land use law has been enacted to achieve environmental protection objectives (e.g., air and wetlands protections, etc.), CEQA review documents like EIRs should focus on fostering informed debate (including public notice and comment) by the public and decision makers about how applicable environmental standards reduce project impacts.
  • State agencies, local governments and other lead agencies should continue to retain full authority to reject projects, or to condition project approvals and impose additional mitigation measures, consistent with their full authority under law other than CEQA.

2. Eliminate CEQA Duplication

  • As originally enacted, CEQA did not require further analysis of projects that already complied with CEQA-certified plans such as General Plans. But a 1987 court decision dramatically changed CEQA’s application.
  • We should return CEQA to its original intent and not require duplicative CEQA review for projects that comply with approved plans for which an environmental impact report (EIR) has already been completed – particularly since existing laws also require both plans and projects to comply with our stringent environmental standards.
  • Local governments and other lead agencies should continue to retain full authority to reject projects or to condition project approvals and impose additional mitigation measures, consistent with their full authority under law other than CEQA.

3. Focus CEQA Litigation on Compliance with Environmental and Planning Laws

  • CEQA lawsuits should focus on compliance with CEQA’s procedural and substantive requirements, including adequate notice, adequate disclosure, adequate mitigation of environmental effects not regulated by other environmental or planning law, adequate consideration of alternatives to avoid unmitigated significant adverse impacts.
  • CEQA lawsuits should not be used to challenge adopted environmental standards, or to endlessly re-challenge approved plans by challenging projects that comply with plans.
  • Environmental and other public advocacy efforts to enact environmental protection laws should not be affected by any CEQA reform, and refocusing CEQA on how compliance with standards and plans will reduce impacts can also inform advocacy efforts to revisit standards or plans.
  • Finally, “real” environmental lawsuits – seeking to enforce true environmental objectives – can still be pursued against agencies that fail to make regulatory or permitting decisions in compliance with standards and plans. However, the current system of broad brush CEQA lawsuits that can be filed by any party for any purpose to challenge any or all environmental attributes of projects that comply with standards and plans are an outdated artifact of the “anything goes” environment of 1970, which now hinders both environmental improvement and economic recovery.

California is and can 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.

We look forward to working with you on this effort.

North Bay Leadership Council
California Alliance for Jobs
Silicon Valley Leadership Group
Bay Area Council
California’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing
California Hospital Association
Transportation California
Southern California Association of Governments
AGC California
Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation
Los Angeles County Business Federation
Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
Valley Industry & Commerce Association
Orange County Business Council
San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership
Central California Council
California Building Industry Association
San Francisco Chamber of Commerce
California Business Properties Association
Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce
California Retailers Association
California Business Roundtable

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