Pacific Coast Builders Conference Cheers Demise of CEQA

Governor Jerry Brown at PCBC on 6/23/11 (Photo: Joseph Doolen)

Builders cheer demise of California environmental law


By Joseph Doolen

Upon attending the West Coast Green events at the Moscone Center in San Francisco this week, I was thrilled to find out that Governor Jerry Brown would be speaking at the larger event for the Pacific Coast Builders Conference (PCBC) on Thursday.  It soon became evident that folks at PCBC were less concerned with being green than they were with their businesses’ bottom lines.

West Coast Green (WGC), the self-proclaimed “world’s leading interactive conference on green innovation for the built environment,” held their fifth annual event in concert with PCBC this year.  It seems that WCG, which had previously had big name speakers like Al Gore, Arianna Huffington and Van Jones, took a back seat to PCBC.

Very little at the PCBC events had to do with being “green” and, if it did, it was often a “greenwashed” selling point with of little environmental significance.  Endeck’s PVC decking?  Various BPA-rich expoxy grouts and paints? There were some misguided products at WGC last year, but it looks like the merger has changed the event.

This feeling was never more evident than when a man stood to ask the governor a well-rehearsed question about the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA):

“The old Governor Jerry Brown helped create CEQA many years ago.  Will the new and improved Governor Jerry Brown help us eliminate or modify CEQA in the state of California?”

Thunderous applause. Hoots and hollers from the suits in the crowd. Indeed, it was the biggest reaction I saw at any event at Moscone Center this week.

The governor pointed out immediately that it was Ronald Reagan who passed CEQA when he was governor, and that as mayor of Oakland, Brown had personally subverted CEQA in the name of downtown’s growth and development.

“Did he really know what he was getting into?” Brown said of Reagan. “I doubt it, and the reason is that laws are created at a level of abstraction that allows them to evolve… endlessly.”

The purpose of CEQA, according to state government is for “state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.”  This doesn’t sound so bad, so what’s the big deal?

Business interests have called the 1970 law a job killer, likening it to a cancer.  This language is often used when profits are threatened, and is echoed through the halls of government.

Governor Brown added that he would “like to see great CEQA reform.”

The pressure has been building to change CEQA in Sacramento, where the building industry is flexing its muscle. Five Republican state senators threatened to withhold voting for Brown’s budget this spring unless the law was weakened.

Perhaps CEQA should continue to change, as it has been for decades.  But the people at PCBC aren’t the ones to lead the way to this change.

The only environmental issue raised by the governor himself was fascinating.  He talked about an enormous investment of $5 billion in a solar power facility in Blythe, California.  The project, known as Solar Millennium, is based out in the desert near the Arizona border.  Brown proclaimed that it would propel California to become “not the nation’s leader, but the world leader” in solar energy.

My jaw literally dropped when Brown declared that the project would DOUBLE the entire amount of solar-generated electricity IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

Nothing.  Crickets. The project was not mentioned in the discussion afterward, nor was it asked about in the Q&A afterward.

I understand that the state budget is big news this week, and much of the speech and following conversations gravitated toward this, Prop 13 and the economy at large. But come on.  These people at PCBC only have the green in their pockets on their mind.


About Joe Doolen

I am a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My aim is to write on science and international issues with a focus on environmental policy and justice. Topics range from local and domestic politics to international communications and culture, and anything cool about science really!!
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