Republican senators are holding out for a reason other than principle.
by The Fresno Bee
If Senate Republicans were delaying a state budget purely for reasons of fiscal and political principle, they'd be in better standing to defend the mounting consequences.
But that's not the reason the senators met Wednesday and were unable, after five frustrating weeks, to enact a spending plan.
As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, made clear Wednesday, Senate Republicans are holding out for an unrelated cause.
At the behest of oil companies and other industries, the GOP leadership is seeking a law that would prevent lawsuits against local governments, oil refineries and other industries, under the California Environmental Quality Act, for failing to assess their global warming impacts when planning an expansion.
Unless a final budget bill includes this exemption from CEQA, the Republicans are poised to shut down government services, including payments to hospitals and health clinics that care for the elderly and infirm.
This spurious crusade started on June 21, when the California Chamber of Commerce, the Building Industry Association and other groups sent a letter to the governor and legislative leaders seeking an urgent exemption from CEQA.
In this letter, the groups claimed that Attorney General Jerry Brown and environmental groups were misusing CEQA and the state's global warming law to file "premature and unwarranted lawsuits" that could delay "vital housing, commercial and public infrastructure projects."
Without a doubt, the sweeping nature of the California Environmental Quality Act makes it ripe for abuse. In Sacramento and elsewhere, lawsuits have stopped or slowed affordable housing projects and infill development -- a factor that often encourages developers to build on the periphery of cities, adding to traffic congestion and air pollution.
To date, however, the attorney general has been pursuing policies entirely consistent with the state's environmental goals. In San Bernardino County, supervisors had adopted a growth plan that was sure to facilitate more spread-out development, air pollution and greenhouse emissions. Brown's intervention has prompted the county to consider sensible changes. Other local governments are taking notice, which could lead to new communities that are more suited to transit and less dependent on the automobile.
If anything, the Chamber of Commerce and other groups should be thankful that Brown is encouraging wiser transportation planning. Transportation accounts for one-third of the state's greenhouse emissions, and California's law mandates a 25% reduction in all emissions by 2020. If the state doesn't have a strategy for reducing emissions from transportation, utilities and industries will likely be forced to make up the difference.
A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California revealed that global warming has become a top environmental concern among Californians, second only to air pollution. If the state hopes to confront both of those challenges, it must change the way communities are planned. Politicians and industries that are leading the 21st century economy understand that imperative.
Unfortunately, too many remain stuck in the past -- and the state budget remains stuck in limbo.
Tell us what you think.
Mon, August 6, 2007
by Majority Vote