SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California lawmakers on Friday positioned themselves to tackle changes to the state's landmark environmental regulatory law, which has long been a source of conflict among business, environmentalists, labor groups and local governments.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, proposed a bill on the last day for lawmakers to introduce legislation. Steinberg said his SB731 will make it easier to build so-called infill projects and limit "document dumps" aimed at delaying projects.
"This measure sets the framework to encourage smart, environmentally sound growth by streamlining the environmental review process without compromising the quality of life Californians deserve and expect in our communities," Steinberg said in a statement.
Democrats are renewing their efforts to modernize the California Environmental Quality Act after a proposal failed last year. Gov. Jerry Brown, who supports CEQA reform, once called streamlining the law's many requirements "the Lord's work."
"Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays," Brown said last month during his State of the State address.
The Reagan-era law plays a key role in determining whether a project goes forward. The business community has long complained that the act stifles development and encourages frivolous lawsuits, but environmental groups have resisted efforts to change one of the strictest environmental laws in the nation.
A coalition of business, labor and government organizations has been pushing for changes that would make it easier for developers and local governments to build new projects. The CEQA Working Group had found a champion in Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, who resigned Friday to work for Chevron Corp.
The group said it is pushing for moderate reforms that preserve the law's intent while eliminating misuses that hurt job creation and community development.
"Almost everyone agrees that CEQA is a great law that has been abused for primarily non-environmental purposes," Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and co-chair of the CEQA Working Group, said in a statement.
Steinberg's bill proposes to expand infill developments to reduce urban sprawl; expedite the review process for investments in clean energy, bike lanes and transportation projects; set minimum thresholds for impacts like parking, traffic and noise to preserve local control; and reduce duplication of environmental filings.
The bill would also allow the courts to send back only the portion of an environmental impact report that is incomplete. It would limit or ban "document dumps" used to delay projects late in the environmental review process.
Steinberg, however, left out a contentious provision backed by the business community in last year's proposal that would allow a standard set by other government regulations to override CEQA.
"This is just the start of a long conversation about ways to make the law work for all Californians," David Pettit, senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.