On January 9, 2012, the California State Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee considered Assembly Bill 598, a bill sponsored by ABC of California and introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) that would give authority to file lawsuits under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) solely to the California Attorney General.
The hearing was an opportunity for the committee to discuss how certain parties, particularly labor unions, exploit public participation in the CEQA process to achieve objectives unrelated to environmental protection. Assemblywoman Grove cited four specific recent examples of different unions (the Teamsters, the California Nurses Association, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Service Employees International Union) filing CEQA lawsuits to delay projects as leverage to extract labor concessions from businesses. She also noted that some businesses use CEQA to try to block potential competition.
Testifying on behalf of the sponsor, ABC of California Government Affairs Director Kevin Dayton discussed how certain construction trade unions abuse CEQA as a weapon to delay projects until the owner agrees to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. The Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) and the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara were the other public supporters of the bill.
Assemblywoman Linda Halderman (R-Fresno) cited a specific example of a union using CEQA to try to force a contractor to sign a Project Labor Agreement to install solar panels at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport. Assemblyman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) adeptly exposed the Attorney General’s double standard of opposing the additional responsibilities assigned in AB 598 while remaining silent about adopting additional responsibilities through other legislation.
Legitimate environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League opposed the bill. The Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union opposed the bill in writing but did not speak at the hearing. Democrats on the committee opposed the bill, but some of them (along with the Attorney General’s office) acknowledged that some parties abuse CEQA. Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Santa Cruz) said nothing about how the Carpenters union used CEQA in a recent high-profile campaign to delay and ultimately derail the proposed La Bahia Hotel in Santa Cruz.
The committee defeated the bill on a 5-3 party-line vote: Democrats opposed, Republicans in support.
You can thank the following state legislators at these email addresses:
Assemblywoman Shannon Grove: Contact
Assemblywoman Linda Halderman: Contact
Assemblyman Steve Knight: Contact
Some Recent News Media Coverage of CEQA Abuse: Bad Environment for Development? (Los Angeles Business Journal, July 18, 2011, via Central City Association of Los Angeles); Firms Turning to Environmental Law to Combat Rivals (Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2011).