A late-hour bid by business interests and some lawmakers to overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act fell apart this afternoon, with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg saying the upper house will not take up the measure before the legislative session ends next week.
"The Senate will not take up comprehensive CEQA reform in the last days of the legislative session," Steinberg told reporters at the Capitol. "This law, for all of its strengths and its faults, is far too important to rewrite in the last days of the session."
The announcement cheered environmentalists, who had been lobbying furiously against the bill. The proposal would have limited the reach of California's signature environmental law, insulating from litigation certain projects that comply with a city general plan or other planning document for which an environmental review already has been done.
"I'm relieved," said Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips, who called the bill "one of the worst attacks on environmental protections that we've seen in the 40-year life of this law."
Sen. Michael Rubio, who had been seeking co-authors for the bill as recently as Wednesday, said this morning - just hours before the announcement - that the legislation remained viable. Later, standing beside Steinberg, the Central Valley Democrat said, "We always have to read the dynamics of the building."
The CEQA proposal was aired Monday by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and other business interests, a group advised by Gov. Jerry Brown's top political adviser, Steve Glazer. The governor himself said Wednesday that "CEQA reform is the Lord's work," though he was noncommittal about the proposal percolating at the Capitol.
Steinberg and Rubio both said the environmental law is in need of changes and that lawmakers will continue to study the matter.
"The Lord's work is not done overnight, nor is it done in two weeks," Rubio said. "But we need to roll up our sleeves, get to work."
Critics of CEQA say the decades-old law is too frequently abused, blocking worthwhile projects and deterring businesses from investing in California. They say changes are necessary to create jobs.
Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said CEQA "has become a blunt instrument to kill projects."
He called the announcement this afternoon "a missed opportunity."