Environmental Protections Held Hostage in Budget Negotiations


A small group of anti-environmental lawmakers in Sacramento are demanding the repeal of California’s most important health and environmental protections in exchange for their votes on a state budget. These rollbacks may cause hundreds of air pollution-related premature deaths and set California back years from reaching our goal to reduce the pollution that causes global warming. But they would do nothing to solve California’s budget problems.

Key anti-environmental rollback demands include:

– Delaying off-road diesel air quality regulations that are supposed to clean up dirty construction equipment and protect public health.

– Streamlining the disposal of surplus state property by exempting it from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

– Exempting greenhouse gas emissions from CEQA review. This is blatant backtracking from SB 97 (2007) which was designed to update CEQA guidelines to include greenhouse gas emissions. SB 97 was approved by a 2/3 vote of each house.

– Substantially altering the Carl Moyer Program in a way that would give unfair advantages for agriculture thereby depriving other sectors of needed funds to clean up their heavy duty vehicles.

– Modifying pesticide reduction targets and requiring changes in the State’s Implementation Plan (SIP) that would allow more volatile organic chemicals into the environment, which threatens public health.

– Requiring third party economic analysis of all Air Resources Board (ARB) regulations–including AB 32 global warming regulations — essentially allowing a less environmentally supportive agency to trump the ARB. This would be costly economically and environmentally and lead to delays in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

– Exempting virtually all Prop 1B highway projects from any CEQA review (including retroactive exemptions). Speeding up permit processes so much that the public and local governments would not have time to do adequate evaluations.

California is a world leader in the effort to reduce global warming pollution. These rollbacks would set us back years, putting our state at greater risk of harsher effects from climate change.

Public health protections such as the state’s standards to reduce toxic pollution and soot from diesel engines and construction equipment were the result of a long, deliberate, and public process. They prevent thousands of premature deaths and save billions in healthcare costs.

Today, the threat exists that protections established in the light of day may be traded away behind closed doors in a very secretive budget negotiation process.

It is one thing to have an honest budget disagreement over taxes and spending. But to bargain away the lives of Californians and the legacy of the California landscape is a dishonest political game that threatens this Administration’s international reputation and the lives of thousands of Californians.

The idea that we have to choose between stimulating the economy and protecting our health and safety is a false choice. The Governor himself has said so time and time again.

A recent poll conducted by a bipartisan research team found that 63 percent of voters believe that decisions about environmental and public health protections should not be part of budget negotiations. The poll also found that over 70 percent of voters strongly oppose these proposals to increase diesel and pesticide pollution.

Pro-environment legislators must hold strong and not give in to rollbacks that don’t solve the budget problems but that do threaten the public’s health.

Dan Kalb is California Policy Manager at Union of Concerned Scientists


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