California’s political leadership is setting up 2015 to be the year for taking the already aggressive state climate goals and imposing new, far reaching requirements. However, if California intends to meet these climate goals and impose new requirements, then a corresponding change in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) must be made to achieve these objectives.
CEQA was originally intended to provide public disclosure on proposed project impacts and mitigate those impacts. The key feature of CEQA is to provide opportunities for public input to further reduce project impacts and enhance mitigation. Unfortunately, CEQA is now being used for a variety of purposes, some completely unrelated to environmental mitigation. The greatest irony is that many of the projects that have been held up or killed altogether have ended up delaying improvements that have environmental benefits.
Unfortunately, lofty goals and major infrastructure changes can’t be realized without providing the ability to receive timely approvals. To make the policies work for California and applied in a realistic manner, these environmental and policy goals must be reconciled with the California approval process. In other words, without also changing CEQA to facilitate project approvals, making new transportation and energy infrastructure investments in the state cannot possibly be expected to occur on any reliable or predictable schedule.
This is not a new topic. Last year at his “State of the State Address”, Governor Brown stated “We also need to rethink and streamline our regulatory procedures, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act. Our approach needs to be based more on consistent standards that provide greater certainty and cut needless delays.” The Governor was right. Meaningful CEQA reform is needed to allow projects to proceed in a reasonable manner including those which are necessary in order to achieve environmental goals. We believe this can be done without sacrificing the original environmental objectives of CEQA. But, without CEQA reform, any new environmental goals, as well as the existing climate and air emission requirements can’t be implemented in time.
Ironically, delays in reforming CEQA will result in delays meeting environmental objectives and deadlines.