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State Legislation Would Clear CEQA Obstructions for Road and Transit Projects

One legislator believes CEQA "is a key barrier to California meeting its ambitious climate change goals.”
February 5, 2018, 1pm PST | Katharine Jose
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The pedestrian bridge connecting BART to the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum.
Sundry Photography

The idea behind a law proposed by a California assemblyman is to take majors obstacles out of the way of transportation projects that would reduce traffic congestion, and therefore reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The issue is that the major obstacle in the way of these projects, according to the bill’s author, is the foundation of environmental protection in the state—the California Environmental Quality Act.

[Assemblyman Tim] Grayson says the law can grind to a halt transportation projects that are needed to reduce the amount of cars on the road. His legislation, Assembly Bill 1905, would make it easier for road or transit projects included in a state-approved regional growth plan to begin construction before any CEQA litigation is resolved.

A number of prominent environmental groups oppose the legislation, crediting "CEQA, which took effect in 1970, with preserving California's natural beauty, and argue it is complementary — not contrary — to the more recent climate change laws."

Environmental review in California is notoriously laborious, and this is not the first legislative effort to help projects move through CEQA more easily.

There have also been questions about how well CEQA serves its original purpose; one study found that "unions, business trade associations, rival local government agencies, and even the building industry all use CEQA to gain leverage over some local political process."

Opposition groups say the bill goes "too far."

“For instance, a judge might find that a transportation project's environmental review didn't account for all the effects the development could have on air quality, but under AB 1905 that judge couldn't stop the project because of it, said David Pettit, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Without the threat of halting construction, agencies won't need to take seriously any subsequent demands to improve the air surrounding the project, he said.”

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