Gov. Writes to Obama: Stimulate Economy by Undercutting NEPA

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Villaraigosa, Schwarzenegger and Other Leaders Celebrate Opening of 101-405 Interchange

Yesterday, Governor Schwarzenegger released a letter he wrote to President-Elect Obama asking the incoming president to make some policy changes that would help stimulate the economy.  Anyone that’s felt that we’re to hard on the Governor may change their mind when they read some of the Gov.’s helpful suggestions:

  • Waive
    or greatly streamline National Environmental
    Protection Act (NEPA) requirements consistent
    with our statutory proposals to modify the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA)
    for transportation projects…
  • Shorten
    federal permitting turnaround times and allow negotiations with permitting
    agencies over mitigation to occur during construction

Now, to be fair, there are some other suggestions in the letter which do make sense, but it’s hard to look past the Governor’s suggestion to curtail federal environmental review for transportation projects, including highway projects as a way to get the economy for two reasons.  First, the state, which still pushes the idea that increased capacity on highways is good for the environment because it reduces congestion, they have proven they can’t provide their own oversight when it comes to transportation.  This is the same state that is desperate to double capacity on the I-710 even if they actually have to dig a tunnel near Pasadena to do it.

Second, and this would be a major surprise to anyone that still believes that the state’s most famous private-jet commuter is a steward for the environment, the Governor is basically saying that environmental oversight is bad for the economy.

While these proposed changes could lead to acceleration of some transit projects, and yesterday’s project announcement by Metro more than implies that such an acceleration is needed, as long as the state continues to insist that highway expansion reduces air pollution it can’t be trusted to operate with less federal oversight.

Of course, that’s not all the Governor is proposing.  To allow construction to begin on projects before they receive permits basically eviscerates the power of a permit.  What leverage would an oversight agency have if the builder were able to start construction before permits were granted?  I know the government can still impose fines, but given the massive profits that can be made on larger construction projects how much of a deterrent can a government fine be?

Taking a national view of things, Governor Schwarzenegger provides a beautiful illustration of why a federal stimulus program needs to be project based and can’t just be a blank check written to state DOT’s.

  • J

    NEPA and CEQA have had mixed results over the past 30+ years. They have imposed unbelievable amounts of delay on every transportation project pursued since 1970 and have opened the door to endless lawsuits by NIMBY groups. Every time an environmental document recommends something a group doesn’t like, they can just sue, claiming the thousand-page reports to be “inadequate.”

    Major transportation projects that are vital to our livelihood such as the BART system and the SoCal freeway system NEVER could have been built with such stringent environmental requirements.

    Environmental protection is important, but that is rarely what EIR’s and EIS’s end up being about.

  • It is a tough road to be on, one that accomplishes the direction but doesn’t hurt the economy. Blank checks should never be given when it is the tax payers money.

  • John Gallardo

    Now, 1-year after this article was written, We can see the economy, not just of California but of the entire country, doing a nosedive into depression. With that in mind it seems MORE important to LIFT or seriously curb these ridiculous environmental processes! (Many days and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to relocate snakes and bushes, com’on People!)

    They are prime examples of an initially well-intentioned idea gone berserk. CEQA is now a monster (just like NEPA) that feeds on taxpayer dollars just to stay alive.

    The only sensible thing to do at this time is LIFT or seriously curb CEQA AND NEPA!

    Civil Engineer, CA

  • John Gallardo

    Correction on the date of previous post. CURRENT article

  • I think we should lower and cap interest rates on credit cards or at least be able to claim them on our income tax returns like we use to do. This would help stimulate people to buy.

  • I think we should go through with electric cars as a starter. This would make it more feasible for people to get to there jobs, start a new job market & with more jobs. I know this is an extreme idea, but we live in extreme times. If their going to re-do roads, put technology in the roads to keep up with the times and the new ones to come. I could see my grand child going somewhere without having to drive or get in an accident. If it means letting these companies go under ( like the big 3 ) so be it. There are hundreds of engineering entrepreneurs with great ideas and I’m sure investors who would jump at this idea. It’s time we stopped living on primitive fuel. It’s hard to stop living on something we’ve been living on for the last 100 years I know, but what choice do we have environmentally? When will it end?

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