Gov. Writes to Obama: Stimulate Economy by Undercutting NEPA

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.


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