Governor Brown may try to make political hay out of signing three “regulatory reform” bills into law, but the bills (AB 900, SB 292 and SB 226) really serve best to illustrate just how grossly over-regulated California has become.
Take AB 900 for example. Please. It specifies certain types of projects that can qualify for expedited processing under the onerous, labyrinthine California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Actually, it will be more like projects that think they qualify for regulatory relief will be free to attempt to get through CEQA easily, but the reforms themselves are complicated and, worse, they’re untested by California’s green-leaning courts.
Among projects eligible for supposedly expedited processing are infill projects that are highly energy efficient. Never mind that vacant hulks of these sorts of projects clog the California cityscape, unrented and unloved. The California dream remains a suburban one of back yards and cars, and despite what urban planners and environmental activists preach, we’re not yet ready to emulate New Yorkers and live in cramped high-rises by train stations. Does AB 900 make it easier to process suburban subdivisions? Oh, please. Do you have to ask?
The bill also gives a special blessing to wind and solar energy projects that will pump intermittent blips of high-priced power into the grid, but turns a cold shoulder on any sort of energy facility – including carbon-free hydro power – that actually can be counted on to consistently provide affordable energy. Green manufacturing also gets a pass – but California is a state that needs jobs desperately, so why should the Solyndras of the world get a break when old-school manufacturing, which actually turns out products that compete in the marketplace, does not?
SB 292 gives a CEQA break to great big projects, as long as they’re football stadiums in downtown Los Angeles. Because, heck, if we steal the Packers from Green Bay we’ll have new green jobs. At least for guys wearing jerseys.
Finally, and probably worst of all, SB 226 lets you sort-of off the CEQA hook if you’re putting solar energy cells on the roof or over the parking lot of an existing building. Or, put another way, California regulators currently can force you to do a costly, time consuming environmental impact report if you want to do what they’re harping at you to do and install solar.
By relieving solar installations from at least some CEQA grief, the bill is actually telling us that up to now, California has treated the savior of our heated-up world, solar energy, as something so nasty and dirty that it requires careful study, deep analysis and endless public comment before the state’s hyper-regulators would let you do something as potentially damaging to the Earth Mother as actually use it.
If these bills represent the best the legislature can do to streamline regulations in California, the armies of lawyers, lobbyists and consultants (myself included) who make a fine living off of trying to tame the state’s regulatory beast have nothing to worry about.
A hat-tip to three members of that army – lawyers at Allen Matkins – for their review of the three bills.