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Fix sought to environmental law

Group of business, government interests seek overhaul of state legislation

Posted: August 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.

A coalition of business and government groups called Monday for an overhaul of California’s environmental protection law, saying opponents of development shouldn’t be able to use the law to derail otherwise-approved projects.

The state’s environmental community lost little time lashing out at the coalition, defending the 1970 law as necessary for defining a project’s environmental effects.

At a Sacramento news conference, the coalition called on the state Legislature to revise the California Environmental Quality Act so environmental groups couldn’t use it as the basis for lawsuits against projects that have met state, federal and local environmental laws and zoning and land-use laws.

“We need to do this in California,” said Jim Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs and one of several representatives of organizations at the news conference. “If there’s an opening that opens up in these last couple of weeks (before the Legislature wraps its current session), we’re going to take advantage of it if we can. But if not ... we’ll be back.”

Kevin Bundy, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, accused the group of “backroom negotiations.”

“It wouldn’t modernize CEQA as much as completely rewrite it,” Bundy said of the group’s proposal. “It would cut the heart out of CEQA.”

The coalition has not specifically proposed legislation on the issue but is suggesting changes to legislators, Kathy Fairbanks, a spokeswoman for the coalition said Monday.

Projects throughout the state are commonly challenged under CEQA even when a project meets all other environmental standards, Fairbanks said. Many of the lawsuits are brought for non-environmental reasons, she claimed.

CEQA is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental effects of their actions and to avoid or compensate for those effects if possible, according to the California Natural Resources Agency, which oversees CEQA.

At least one local environmental group has been discussing the issue of CEQA updates but has not yet come to a conclusion on the topic, a local Sierra Club official said Monday.

“Right now, it is under discussion,” Sandra Cattell, who is on the executive committee of the Angeles Forest Chapter of the Sierra Club and also a member of the local Santa Clarita group. “The Sierra Club is looking at this collectively, not just at the local level.”

A number of different groups are part of the coalition calling for CEQA reform, including the Southern California Association of Governments, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., the Los Angeles County Business Federation and Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.



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