Commentary: As the sixth-largest economy in the world and with a population approaching 40 million people, California often leads the conversation on issues ranging from advancing social justice to climate change. On no issue has our state’s leadership been clearer than the standards established by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Indeed, CEQA is the most comprehensive, stringent and frequently applied environmental review process in the country, far surpassing its federal counterpart, the National Environmental Policy Act, in its rigorous requirements.
The arduous and lengthy CEQA review process ensures public input, open and transparent agency evaluation, and a full disclosure of potential significant environmental impacts before a project can be implemented. Since its enactment 37 years ago, CEQA and the inevitable judicial review that always follows high-profile project approvals has come to guarantee that decision-makers and the public are fully informed before a project is given the go ahead.
CEQA evaluations are not performed by distant bureaucrats in Washington, DC or by politicians in Sacramento. They are most often carried out by local agencies that are responsible for implementing and managing them and that are acutely aware of the local area’s needs. They also involve participation from regulators at all levels of government – local, state and federal. California projects and our permitting process are uniquely ours and ours alone.
Consequently, it was surprising to read supporters of Assembly Bill 1000, a bill that aims to stop the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation Recovery & Storage Project, contend in a recent op-ed that the Trump Administration is single-handedly responsible for its success. The Cadiz Water Project is a Court-validated, California project that will safely and sustainably provide water for 400,000 people and create and support 6,000 jobs. It successfully completed a multi-year public environmental review process in accordance with CEQA, during which it was approved by local public agencies and validated by four independent California judges – all of this occurred before Donald Trump became President.
As the CEQA documents summarize, the Project will safely and sustainably conserve groundwater on our private land in the eastern Mojave Desert that is now being degraded on its migratory path to dry lake playas where it evaporates. This groundwater does not now – nor has it ever – supported desert springs, animals, plants or any other wildlife. The amount of groundwater that will be captured by the Project represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all the groundwater in storage in the surrounding watershed and will continue to be recharged and replenished on an ongoing basis.
Importantly, the Project relies on the most accurate and up-to-date science about the local hydrology and is modeled after safely managed and regulated groundwater projects across the state. The full CEQA review process considered all studies of the watershed, including science produced decades ago in connection with a different project, and reduced the Project’s footprint and parameters to eliminate any significant adverse impacts from operations.
With the CEQA process complete and the Project in its final stages of development, Project opponents, whose claims were proven wrong in Court, have pursued a political end run around CEQA by supporting AB 1000. Sadly, their short-sighted quest to destroy Cadiz will irretrievably undermine CEQA, threaten thousands of California jobs and jeopardize safe water supplies for hundreds of thousands of working people.
By targeting a CEQA success story with “do over” “double jeopardy” reviews, AB 1000 not only eviscerates the environmental review process for this particular project – but it also sends a dangerous message about the strength, the importance and the supremacy of California’s environmental review process and environmental laws.
Why does that matter? Because by mandating a new California evaluation process after thousands of people have already testified, evaluation has already occurred and our courts have already validated the process and the agencies’ findings, AB 1000 renders the CEQA process and California’s environmental laws meaningless. It puts jobs and critical infrastructure development projects – like solar and renewable energy, affordable housing and school and hospital construction projects – at risk, inviting more do-overs and exemptions in an already complex process.
AB 1000 is opposed by more than 75 local, state and national labor, business, and water organizations as well as government officials from both sides of the aisle, in part because of its impact on CEQA, its usurpation of local control and its precedent setting nature that would hurt California’s working families most of all.
The State Senate rightfully put the bill aside earlier this month. It would be a disservice to the people of California to allow the bill through during the final moments of the legislative session, as proponents of AB 1000 continue to seek. AB 1000 is bad policy and promotes the kind of rule bending that California should not support or tolerate – especially when reliable water and good jobs are at stake.