Sierra Club and NRDC Oppose Governor’s CEQA Plans for HSR
In a move that shouldn’t come as any surprise, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have come out against Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to limit the ability of lawsuits to stop or delay the high speed rail project:
Since June 5, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council have sent letters to the governor, stating that his attempt in the Legislature to water down the California Environmental Quality Act represents a major threat to environmental protection statewide.
“This proposal sets a dangerous precedent, that, if applied here and to other large scale public works projects, will throw the state back to an era when bulldozers and engineers trumped clean air, clean water, wetlands and natural habitat and the public interest with abandon,” the Sierra Club letter stated.
While I understand the concerns these organizations are raising, I disagree that the governor’s approach is creating any kind of “dangerous precedent.” In fact, the true danger to the state’s environment comes from the current way that CEQA is used and abused. Rather than serving as a tool to promote smart planning and help the state build projects that will help the environment and the climate, CEQA is often abused by NIMBYs and others to harass environmentally friendly projects for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.
That status quo isn’t working. And because of the failures of CEQA, demand is growing for various exemptions and carveouts to be granted from the law. If CEQA was providing a sensible planning process that helped expedite good projects and stop bad ones, then there wouldn’t be any need or justification or demand for things like what the governor is proposing. If nothing is done, pressure will continue to build for simply exempting projects from CEQA review. That’s not what is being proposed in the case of HSR, but it will happen in more cases.
Environmentalists should stop defending a failed and flawed law, and instead work to improve the state’s planning and environmental review process. We don’t live in an era where defensiveness works any more. You have to propose a better alternative. California’s environmental groups should begin working on ways to fix CEQA, or else watch as it collapses without a viable replacement.