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GOP holds budget hostage in effort to change environmental act

On August 1, the state Senate almost passed a budget. Republican state Senator Abel Maldonado voted “yes,” along with all the Democratic Party senators. One more Republican vote would have put the budget over the top. However, that “one more vote” was lacking.

Senate Republicans held up the budget because they want the Legislature to amend the California Environmental Quality Act and eliminate consideration of global-warming impacts during the normal environmental-review process. No Democratic senators have agreed to do that, and this has apparently been a real “deal breaker” for the Republicans. Amazing as it seems, since CEQA has nothing to do with the budget, Republican members (Mr. Maldonado now excepted) are refusing to vote for the budget unless CEQA is gutted, with respect to global warming.

This demand is outrageous. First, Republicans are putting kids and the elderly, who are dependant on state funding, at risk, and they are doing that not over a budget-related issue, but instead in an effort to use budget-derived “leverage” to achieve a political objective (weakening environmental laws) that has nothing to do with the budget.

Second, the Republicans are essentially just carrying water for the oil companies and the development industry. It was a June 21 letter from industry and development special interests that first made the demand that CEQA be modified, to curtail its ability to address the global warming crisis. The prime target for the oil and development interests is state Attorney General Jerry Brown. Brown has begun alerting local and state agencies that CEQA does require that global-warming impacts be addressed. The special interests obviously want him to cut that out, and to cut it out quick. Senate Republicans are abetting this unjustified special interest attack.

Third, the Republican position is outrageous on its own terms. CEQA simply requires that the normal environmental review done on a proposed project analyze how global-warming impacts could be avoided or minimized. If there is a “feasible” way to minimize or avoid impacts, then CEQA requires that the project be modified to do just that. “Feasible” means “economically feasible,” so what CEQA requires is that we actually do whatever we feasibly and economically can to reduce global warming impacts.

Most of us think that’s good! Republican state senators, however (Senator Maldonado excepted), apparently think that making project applicants implement economically feasible mitigation measures is bad. Apparently, they are willing to torpedo the entire state budget because the Democrats in the State Senate won’t eviscerate California’s most powerful environmental law, to give global warming polluters a free ride.

Shame on them! Our global-warming crisis is real–and more and more of us understand that. A PPIC poll, in fact, released just days before the Republicans took their stand, made the position of the public very clear:
Californians’ sense of urgency reflects a belief that the effects of global warming are already being felt. Two-thirds of those polled (66 percent) hold this view, up three points from last July and nine points from July 2005. And 81 percent believe steps should be taken right away to counter these effects. Only 1 in 6 think immediate action is not necessary. Moreover, the urgency crosses party lines. There may be significant partisan differences on other questions related to global warming, but when it comes to counteracting the effects of global warming, majorities of Democrats (92 percent), independents (82 percent), and Republicans (60 percent) say something should be done right away.

“Right away” doesn’t mean five years from now! Concerned Californians should give thanks to Senate Democrats and the President pro Tem of the Senate for not caving in to the disgraceful demand that the price for getting a budget should be to violate the integrity of CEQA, and to shortchange efforts to stop global warming pollution.


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