Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger prides himself on trying to balance environmentalism with economic considerations, but he has grown more critical of environmental obstructions in this recessionary period, especially as he pushes for a jobs package in the Legislature.
The governor twice this week portrayed environmental regulations as a barrier to job creation, at one point Tuesday suggesting that some environmentalists "become fanatics and they go overboard" when they object to green technology projects. Schwarzenegger has asked lawmakers to give his administration more authority to expedite projects once they have undergone an environmental impact study.
"We don't mind CEQA or any of those things to be used -- but not to be misused," Schwarzenegger said this morning in Chula Vista. "Right now the way it's written, a lot of those laws, it's an invitation to misuse them. And it holds up projects for too long a period of time, especially now."
The governor seemed to acknowledge he was adjusting his focus due to the economy.
"Again, it's one of those things we wouldn't even talk about as much if it wasn't an economic crisis," he said. "So now that we have so many projects that are ready to go, but still have maybe some obstacles there because of the permitting, what we want to do is go and move forward and have people start working, pouring cement, laying steel and putting a shovel into the ground and so on."
At an infrastructure conference on Tuesday, Schwarzenegger praised China's permitting process for allowing projects to be built much more quickly than in California. He has been unhappy with environmentalist objections over the placement of transmission lines that are integral to a San Diego Gas & Electric project to build alternative energy farms in the Mojave Desert.
"So the environmentalists so many times are a little bit confused about that and they are confused because they want to have renewable energy but then when it comes to the permitting process, of getting that renewable energy and building the solar plants, they are then in the way. And they then talk about, 'You cannot go and destroy this squirrel.'
"I say, 'What squirrel? I was out there, I didn't see a squirrel.'
"They say, 'Well, there could be a squirrel coming very soon.'
"So I say, 'But there's no squirrel there right now.'
" 'But you've got to protect things that could be there.'
"So I say we can't do that. I mean, how can you be competitive if you go and start worrying about the squirrel that doesn't exist? And they talk about a snake and that the horn and the sheep and the this and the that and all those kind of things. And I'm an environmentalist. I want to protect the environment. That's why I'm interested in building renewable energy. But sometimes people become fanatics and they go overboard."
The governor noted how China built a high-speed rail line for the Olympics in four years, while "it takes us 15 years to get an extra runway built in San Francisco at the airport, or an extra runway built in Los Angeles, because people go overboard with those things."
Bill Magavern of Sierra Club California said that Schwarzenegger's permitting proposal would unfairly remove community input from development projects.
"It's shocking the governor would use China as an example of sound environmental planning when China is actually trying to recover from its rush to build polluting facilities," Magavern said. "I think we should be grateful that California doesn't look like Beijing."
Late in his discourse on China, Schwarzenegger did recognize that his praise may have gone too far.
"But then there's the other side of the coin, that when the mayor of Shanghai showed me his harbor and how it was all perfect and more and more ships came through that harbor than in any other place in the world and he was showing off," Schwarzenegger said. "And I said to him, I said, 'I wouldn't put my foot into this water, not if my life depends on it.' "