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Environmental Permit Process Eased : Legislation: Governor signs measures at a family-owned North Hollywood business. He says laws may help halt business flight from state.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Hailing it as part of a landmark effort to halt business flight from California, Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday signed two bills into law that make it easier for businesses to obtain environmental permits to operate.

Wilson, who faces a tough reelection fight next year in a state hard-hit by recession and business flight, said the two new laws will “send a message that California is back in business.”

Most environmental groups did not oppose the legislation but acknowledged a risk that one of the measures may help transform the state’s Environmental Protection Agency into a cabinet-level advocate for businesses having difficulty obtaining environmental permits.

At Monday’s bill-signing ceremony, the owner of a North Hollywood manufacturing business told the governor his family firm had decided to stay in California and resist the overtures of those seeking to lure it out of state.

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Bill Park, president of Titan Spring and Wire Products Inc., said his decision was based in part on initiatives such as Wilson’s to streamline the state’s often convoluted process for obtaining environmental permits.

The measures signed Monday at Titan Spring would simplify bureaucratic processes but not lower the state’s environmental standards, Wilson said.

The bills, one written by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), the other by state Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), were supported by a coalition of business groups and construction trade unions.

The governor said Titan was a prime example of a company whose future is imperiled by the state’s maze of environmental hurdles. Metal plating is a key process used in the production of Titan’s products, and yet the metal plating industry is an industry that often runs afoul of the state’s permitting processes.

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“These bills will relieve the burden on companies on which Titan depends to stay in business,” Wilson said.

Under the Bergeson measure, Cal/EPA will assist a business by ensuring that the applicant has all the information it needs to make an informed application. It will coordinate the review of the permit applications by the environmental agencies, ensure that timely decisions are made by the agencies and try to resolve conflicting requirements imposed by different agencies.

Cal/EPA also will be authorized to refund permit fees paid by businesses if state agencies fail to meet a timetable for processing their permits.

The Calderon measure seeks to streamline the process for obtaining hazardous waste permits.

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Jennifer Jennings, a lobbyist for the Planning and Conservation League, said her group took a neutral stance on both bills as part of a broader strategy to preserve the core of the state’s environmental protection laws.

“We wanted to respond to people’s concerns that there are problems of timing and coordination with these regulatory agencies,” she said. “We decided this was appropriate. We had to choose our fights this year.”

Jennings added, however, that the league would be watching to ensure that the regulatory agencies do not begin acting more as cheerleaders than umpires under the Bergeson bill.

“We’re concerned that they will cross the line from maintaining a distance to being kind of an advocate,” she said. “That’s the risk this bill presents.”

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