If a developer trumpeted his commitment to a "green community," promised to scrupulously abide by environmental processes, and then snuck a provision in the state budget agreement in the dead of night to get an exemption from those laws, then editorialists would thunder, politicians’ would fume, and environmentalists would be hiring lawyers.

But substitute "state government" for "developer," and all is silent.

On page 34 of a 64-page budget implementation bill, the state Department of Parks and Recreation was granted an exemption from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the acquisition of property in the California desert.

The "Freeman Property," according to the Department, is being acquired "because of its important resource values and its value as a recreational site," said Ruth Coleman, Director of California State Parks . At the time of acquisition four years ago, the Department was nothing if not environmentally correct: "State Parks understands the concerns from all sides regarding the issues surrounding this property and believes the best way to decide the future management framework for this land is through a deliberative public planning process that will use science and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to arrive at appropriate land use decisions."

Even today, the department is touting its commitment to "undertaking a planning effort, including a full California Environmental Quality Act analysis, to determine how best to manage these lands for the protection of the resources and other uses."

Well, it’s a good thing we can count on our crack environmental advocates to keep vigilance over California’s premier environmental law. Oh … wait … the Planning and Conservation League, in a statement (subscription required) by Tina Andolina, "applauds the Legislature for passing a budget that did not include unrelated policy bills aimed at rolling back the California Environmental Quality Act … these types of backroom deals to gut our public health and environmental protections are now toxic." Let’s be charitable and just assume she doesn’t actually read these bills.

But can you really blame the Department for seeking the exemption? Here is their own description of the exhaustive procedure necessary to comply with CEQA:

"The Environmental Analysis step will result in the more formalized analysis of the environmental impacts of the preferred alternative selected for the conservation, management and operation of the lands. Although each step will involve inventorying, evaluating and planning for resource and environmental protection and conservation, this step will bring the environmental analysis together into the form required by CEQA and, if and as needed, the National Environmental Policy Act. It is at this step that mitigation measures or policies are developed and formalized and a monitoring plan developed for any impacts that exceed levels of significance established for the defined project. Further, this step will provide appropriate analysis of cumulative effects and interactions among the other planning efforts."

Whew! No wonder they needed an exemption. You’d have to be nuts to undertake a project requiring all that.

To be sure, State Parks must still comply with CEQA once they undertake any planning or development, but if a state resources agency can order up an exemption from the holy writ of California environmental law, what does this say about the priorities of the Legislature when it comes to improving our investment and jobs climate?