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Senate appointments set up battle over revamping environmental law

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State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has said reform of the state’s environmental protection laws is a priority this year, but his appointments to the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on Monday had some people doubting dramatic changes are in the offing.

Steinberg appointed Sen. Michael Rubio (D-East Bakersfield) as the committee’s chair after the lawmaker spearheaded an effort last year to streamline the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Rubio has been in talks with a group of business leaders on changing CEQA to streamline and limit legal challenges to projects judged environmentally friendly.

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But some Capitol insiders say it looks like Steinberg has made it harder for dramatic changes to be made to CEQA by stacking the nine-person panel with five staunch supporters of the state environmental laws.

Some said it looks like major changes are less likely to get out of a committee that includes Democratic state Sens. Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills, Hannah Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, Ellen Corbett of San Leandro, Loni Hancock of Berkeley and Mark Leno of San Francisco.

Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, has fought previous attempts to create loopholes in CEQA. He said Monday he is encouraged by the number of what he described as ‘greenies’’ on the panel. ‘It is a good group,’’ he said, adding he is gearing up for a big push on the issue.

A push for change this year was confirmed by Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

``We believe CEQA is a great law, which has sadly been greatly abused for non-environmental purposes,’’Guardino said, adding support for CEQA reform from legislators including Rubio and Gov. Brown are ``good signs.’’

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--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento


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