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SHANNON GROVE: Bill addresses abuses of environmental law

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Talk to any California business owner or developer trying to build or enlarge a facility and they will likely describe the California Environmental Quality Act as a large obstacle. Interestingly, the problem is not in complying with CEQA, but in dealing with the many groups that exploit it for reasons unrelated to environmental protection.

CEQA was signed into law in 1970 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan with the intent to "develop and maintain a high-quality environment now and in the future, and take all action necessary to protect, rehabilitate and enhance the environmental quality of the state." Yet, like many noble efforts, CEQA has been repeatedly abused and is now hindering economic growth throughout California.

In an all-too-common scenario, labor union interests are often behind CEQA lawsuits filed against a construction project on the valiant claim that they are merely looking out for the environment, only to drop the suit once the business owner agrees to employ unionized labor. This practice, properly known as "greenmail," is rampant up and down the state.

One current case of "greenmail" involves the Teamsters union filing a CEQA suit against VWR International, a distributor of laboratory supplies. The union, in an attempt to intimidate VWR International into signing a union labor agreement at a proposed new facility in Visalia, is using CEQA to allege that trucks entering and exiting the facility will cause an undue impact on the environment. This large facility is likely to employ more than 100 people in a community that desperately needs jobs, yet there are truckers trying to stop the use of trucks!

Another example of CEQA abuse occurred several years ago in Bakersfield. In 2003, a group acting with the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers union attempted to block the construction of two shopping centers approved by the City Council. Its CEQA lawsuit was filed claiming excessive environmental impact. Could it be that the union's concern was that unionized grocery stores would face lower priced competition from the non-union Wal-Mart stores?

These are just two of countless examples where the environmental review process has been abused, directly hindering job creation. To stop this abuse, I have introduced Assembly Bill 598, which will enable only California's attorney general to bring a CEQA lawsuit. This will provide businesses protection from frivolous attacks by organizations alleging environmental concerns, yet still ensures citizens, through the attorney general, the recourse against legitimate environmental concerns.

California consistently ranks as one of the least business-friendly states in America. Instead of promoting job creation by encouraging businesses to build and expand, we discourage them with costly regulations and lawsuits. California needs jobs. We cannot afford to continue treating businesses like adversaries. Eliminating the misuse of our environmental law will send at least one clear signal that the Legislature is serious about addressing the structural changes necessary to improve California's economy.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, represents the 32nd Assembly District, which includes Bakersfield, Tehachapi, Taft, Kern River Valley, Frazier Park and the Indian Wells Valley. She is one of four local lawmakers writing about their work in The Californian. These are Grove's opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Next Sunday: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.

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