‘We have never been more disappointed in a California Governor than we are with Governor Newsom’
By Dan Bacher
At the site of a future solar farm in the Central Valley, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a legislative package and signed an executive order that conservationists say would gut the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, in order to expedite the construction of embattled public projects, including the Delta Tunnel and Sites Reservoir. This move from Newsom a week-and-a-half ago drew strong condemnation from the state’s environmental groups. Yesterday, the Senate budget committee temporarily blocked his plan in a 3-0 vote. But Newsom’s executive order is still in effect.
Widely seen as a landmark law, CEQA is something the construction industry, Big Ag, Big Oil and special interest groups have been trying to eviscerate for years. Now they’re getting help from Newsom, who has taken campaign contributions from most of those industries. Critics of CEQA argue that changing it would shorten the contracting process for bridge and water projects, limit timelines for environmental litigation and simplify permitting for complicated developments in the Delta and elsewhere throughout California.
“The only way to achieve California’s world-leading climate goals is to build, build, build – faster,” Newsom claimed. “This proposal is the most ambitious effort to cut red tape and streamline regulations in half a century. It’s time to make the most out of taxpayer dollars and deliver results while creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs. Not since the Pat Brown era have we had the opportunity to invest in and rebuild this state to create the clean future Californians deserve.”
The governor went on to insist that the measures will “facilitate and streamline project approval” and completion to maximize California’s share of federal infrastructure dollars, as well as expedite the implementation of projects that meet the state’s ambitious economic, climate, and social goals.”
Newsom’s widely-criticized announcement followed a recent report urging “permitting reform” from Infrastructure Advisor to California, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and California Forward.
Together, these proposals could: “cut project timelines by more than three years, save businesses and state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars, and reduce paperwork by hundreds of thousands of pages,” according to the governor.
Newsom also signed an executive order to stand up a “strike team“ to accelerate clean infrastructure projects across the state by implementing an all-of-government strategy for planning and development. The “water-related projects” that would be subject to the new “streamlined process” include the controversial Delta Tunnel, which would trigger wide-spread eminent domain seizures by the state against Sacramento County property owners, as well as the demolition of historic properties.
Advocates for fish, water and the environment responded with outrage over Newsom’s infrastructure plan.
“Governor Newsom does not respect the people in communities that need environmental protection,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta. “During the drought, he used emergency rules to destroy Delta water quality and fisheries for tribes and fishing communities. He has now proposed in the May revised budget to subvert rules during flood further weakening water quality protections.”
She added, “He raided funding from the San Joaquin Valley drinking water program budget to pay for needed flood protections, pitting region against region, disadvantaged community against disadvantaged community, as he did during the drought, pitting drinking water solutions against tribal and Delta environmental justice community needs for freshwater flows … Now he wants to do away with standard environmental protections to build the Delta tunnel. We have never been more disappointed in a California Governor than we are with Governor Newsom.”
Defenders of Wildlife also blasted Newsom’s move.
“These trailer bills establish a dangerous precedent for imperiled wildlife in California,” said Ashley Overhouse, water policy advisor with Defenders of Wildlife. “This policy change, announced on Endangered Species Day of all days, is exclusionary, undemocratic and could spell disaster for the San Francisco Bay Delta estuary.”
Delta advocates went on to point out one of the Governor’s trailer bills would have stripped the Greater sandhill crane of protected species status.
“Ironically on Endangered Species Day, [Governor Newsom] proposes budget trailer bill stripping greater sandhill cranes of fully protected species status to pave way for Delta Tunnel boondoggle,” Delta United observed on social media. “Sad day for our majestic cranes.”
The Newsom Administration’s latest dust-up with conservationists comes on the heels of an unprecedented destruction of California fish populations at the service of Big Ag billionaires. Salmon are at their worst-ever crisis in California history at this time. Commercial and recreational salmon fishing is closed on the ocean in California and most of Oregon and in California rivers this year due to the collapse of salmon populations on the Sacramento and Klamath rivers. Independent scientists generally agree this was caused by how the state manages water during a drought.
In one of many fish kills that took place in 2021, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife published a monitoring report on Butte Creek, a Sacramento River tributary, revealing that 91 percent of the adult fish died before spawning.