New California Legislation Targets Union Abuse of Environmental Laws Meant to Squeeze Project Labor Agreements Out of Private Developers
When Governor Ronald Reagan signed the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, (now comprising California Public Resources Code Sections 21000-21177) into law in 1970, many California state legislators believed the law would only apply to public projects, such as highways. The courts decided otherwise, and now unions routinely victimize private developers by abusing and exploiting CEQA for ends that have absolutely nothing to do with its purpose of protecting the environment.
Now there is a simple proposal in California to rein in the rampant practice of union “greenmail,” or environmental permit extortion. Assembly Bill 598, introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), states that only the Attorney General of the state, as the duly elected representative of the people, can challenge a government decision under CEQA.
In other words, the elected Attorney General becomes the check and balance to protect the people from their government when their government approves projects or activities without properly assessing environmental impact. Assemblywoman Grove explained her bill to her constituents through this April 10, 2011 opinion piece (“Bill Addresses Abuses of Environmental Law”) in the Bakersfield Californian newspaper.
If Assembly Bill 598 became law, it would eliminate outrageous examples of CEQA misuse. For example, in a letter dated March 29, 2011, the City of Sacramento threatened to use CEQA to keep the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team from moving to Anaheim.
Of interest to Associated Builders and Contractors and the merit shop community, Assembly Bill 598 would foil the plots of unions to block construction projects with environmental complaints until the developers agree to require their contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). For example, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union would cease to be the California’s most aggressive opponent of solar energy generation facilities.
CEQA is meant to protect the environment, and the outrageous abuses and exploitation of the law are jeopardizing the purity and credibility of it. People are inspired to laughter and derision when unionized nurses and hospital workers see environmental devastation with a proposed new hospital, or when unionized operators of huge excavators are upset about how a quarry is affecting the environment, or when unionized truck drivers object to fumes that would be emitted if a trucking company built a distribution center, or when unionized grocery workers try to stop the construction of a Wal-Mart.
Assembly Bill 598 is a bold and clear CEQA reform that highlights to the people of California how their environmental protection law is being twisted for ulterior motives.