The last four weeks of the two-year legislative session, which ends Aug. 31, are always tough. It’s the time when special interest lobbyists try to slip through their biggest ideas for undermining environmental protections.
This year is worse than most for this sort of activity. In just the last ten days:
- five proposals to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) or related laws have surfaced in draft language or through confirmed reports from our friends inside the Capitol building;
- a Republican legislator linked his vote for a tax that most would agree would do good things (help kids go to college) to a promise from the speaker of the Assembly to make end-of-session changes to CEQA;
- reports and rumors have increased that two San Joaquin Valley legislators who have had their sights set on peeling apart CEQA have refocused their attention and are now considering oil-industry-approved legislation that would stymie implementation of AB 32, California’s landmark law to stop global warming pollution;
- a trashy bill that looked dead last year, that would undermine the drive to reduce waste, has raised its ugly head with a new number and is going to a Senate floor vote before the end of August.
This is the stuff that keeps me up at night. And while I’m up, I keep pondering why this year is worse than most. I’ve come up with three reasons.
One is that this is an election year during a hard recession. There are ballot measures and candidates that need funding and support. There are political and power ambitions to be fed. This makes it easier for otherwise environmentally friendly politicians to rationalize advancing bad ideas.
Another is that we have a governor who sends mixed signals about his environmental commitment. He wants to stop global warming and increase renewable energy. Bravo for that. Yet he wants to weaken CEQA, the one law that makes sure California develops in a way that abides by the other laws that reduce pollution and protect the environment. As he said recently, he has never seen a CEQA exemption he doesn’t like.
Finally, the people who work inside the Capitol are insulated. They’ve grown out of touch with what Californians think and want. Statewide polling done annually by the Public Policy Institute of California and a joint National Council of La Raza/Sierra Club poll on Latino voters—who represent a growing portion of our state’s voting population—show that people want a clean, healthy and safe environment. They want an end to global warming, and they especially want an end to air pollution. Generally, they don’t think government has done enough to help solve these problems.
There’s not much we can do about the first and second reasons. But we can help put our leaders more in touch with the way Californians think. Give them a call. That’s right, pick up the phone and give them a call.
Tell the governor that it’s time to stop exempting anyone from environmental safeguards like CEQA. His phone number is (916)445-2841.
Tell Speaker John Perez that while you want all kids to be able to get good college educations, you also want them to be able to breathe, and he needs to block legislative efforts to weaken CEQA again this year. His phone number is (916)319-2046.
Tell Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg that you’re relying on him to protect communities from industries bent on weakening environmental laws. His phone number is (916)651-4006.
These three men have a lot of power in the Capitol. They can stop bad legislation that weakens environmental safeguards and advance good bills that protect our environment. Call them and remind them to do both.
Kathryn Phillips, director, Sierra Club California