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Who's Behind the Push to Gut CEQA?

By Deirdre Des Jardins
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 07:08:00 PM

The Republican 5 have demanded a broad rollback of protections in California’s Environmental Quality Act as part of negotiations over a $12.5 billion tax extension. Passed in 1970, CEQA has been used in lawsuits by environmental and community groups over water use, air quality, environmental justice, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions.  

One of the biggest beneficiaries of a CEQA rollback would be Chevron, formerly Standard Oil of California. Chevron owns many oilfields throughout the state, and has been seeking to expand the company’s Richmond refinery to allow processing of heavier, dirtier crude oil, yielded by increasingly depleted oil fields. 

The refinery expansion was halted in 2009 after a coalition of community and environmental justice groups used CEQA to successfully sue over public health impacts. In 2010, Chevron lost the appeal.  

In a precedent-setting decision, the court also found that Chevron needed to provide specific mitigation not only for air quality impacts, but for a projected increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Chevron’s refinery is the single largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The EIR indicated that the expansion could generate almost 900,000 tons of additional greenhouse gases.  

Since losing the appeal, Chevron has sought a special legislative exemption from CEQA for the refinery. An attempt in August 2010 failed. Senator Anthony Cannella’s CEQA rollback bill, leaked to the LA Times, has a special exemption for greenhouse gas emissions under CEQA, which would apply to the refinery.  

In 2010, Chevron donated almost a million dollars to an independent expenditure campaign that ran ads in Senator Canella’s and Senator Blakeslee’s district, helping both candidates win in swing state Senate races.