SACRAMENTO -- Labor and environmental groups rallied Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol to protest efforts to overhaul California's landmark environmental law.
Representatives from unions and environmental organizations -- backed by dozens of supporters -- described the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, as an "environmental bill of rights" that allows the public to weigh in on proposed development in their communities.
Signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970, the measure requires developers to go through a lengthy public process detailing their projects' potential environmental effects and how those would be mitigated.
Business groups have long complained that activists, labor unions -- even corporate competitors -- abuse the law by filing frivolous lawsuits to delay and kill development. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce are leading an effort to streamline environmental reviews and limit legal challenges.
On Tuesday, Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, denounced that effort as "a blind run at deregulation motivated by the wolves of business."
Labor leaders cited a new report that they commissioned showing that construction employment in California has kept pace with or surpassed the national average since CEQA's passage. The environmental law also pushed the state away from coal-fired power plants and into renewable energy, a growing sector of the state's economy, they said.
While Gov. Jerry Brown has called on the Legislature to streamline the law to help speed the state's economic recovery, the prospects for legislation are unclear.
Former state Sen. Michael Rubio (D-East Bakersfield) had been leading the charge in the Legislature as chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee until he resigned last month to accept a government affairs job with Chevron Corp.
He was replaced on the committee by state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), an environmental advocate.
State Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) has introduced a bill that Rubio crafted last year that aims to limit legal challenges under CEQA. With Democrats dominating both houses of the Legislature, he said on Tuesday he hoped "bits and pieces" of that legislation will be incorporated into other CEQA bills.