Legislature Should Embrace What’s Good for California

SupportEverybody talks about fixing California’s infrastructure; now we have a chance to do something about it.

Last month Governor Newsom proposed a comprehensive package to streamline the permitting of critical energy, water, and transportation projects. The Legislature should lose no time in reviewing and approving these important reforms.

The Governor has called this “the most ambitious effort to cut red tape and streamline regulations in half a century. It’s time to make the most out of taxpayer dollars and deliver results while creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs.”

It’s become painfully clear that critical public works are stretched to the breaking point. Californians suffer under predictable threats of electricity shortages in the summer, water shortages during a drought, and traffic congestion year-round. Solving these challenges is not for lack of money, technology, or skilled workers. The problem is the endless opportunities to choke projects with red tape and no clear deadlines for getting the job done.

No-one disagrees that California’s unparalleled climate change goals cannot be realized under the state’s current permitting trajectory. California released the world’s first plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from all sectors of the economy. Last year, the California Legislature raised the bar again by setting interim goals of 90% zero-carbon electricity sales by 2035 and 95% by 2040.

Turns out setting the goals was the easy part. Now is the time for the Legislature to add a “no-excuses” clause to those goals: giving the tools to the Administration to bring clean energy projects on-line to meet the law’s deadlines, and ensure California residents and our economic base will have the clean energy our elected leaders have promised. The California Air Resources Board projects that meeting the state’s clean energy targets will require electricity generation capacity four times larger than today’s capacity. For example, five gigawatts of utility-scale solar generation must be built every year for the next 20 years to meet these targets—a rate approximately five times faster than today’s trajectory.

The Governor’s proposal outlines a path to prioritize and streamline the permitting and
construction of this much needed modern infrastructure to deliver clean energy — and does so in a way that does not jeopardize the environment, jobs or the state’s economy. The status quo is simply unacceptable. As the Governor put it to a meeting of business leaders about the prospect of deploying tens of billions in new federal infrastructure funds: the State is ready, but “are we going to screw it up by being consumed by paralysis and process?”

Also essential for the economic success and well-being of Californians is reliable water infrastructure. The state’s water resources already face challenges including droughts, import restrictions, aging infrastructure, and growing demand across the state from competing interests. The most likely next addition to the State Water Project, the Sites Reservoir Project, has been going through the permitting process since 2010 and is still years away from construction.

According to state estimates, without a dedicated effort to improve our infrastructure, California may lose up to 10% of its water supplies over the coming decades. The Governor’s water action plan, released last August, outlines a strategy to capture, recycle, desalinate and conserve more water over the next two decades to provide enough supply for nearly 8.4 million California households. The proposed streamlining initiative would boost the state’s ability to deliver these important projects.

Achieving the twin goals of improving mobility and reducing GHG emissions from the transportation sector will also require quicker approval of new highway and transit projects, including charging stations, and highway safety and operations improvements that will create thousands of family-supporting middle-class jobs.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a notoriously difficult and divisive issue for development in the state. But streamlining CEQA for clean energy, water, and transportation infrastructure, can be achieved with environmental protections that help to restore the statute’s original intent. Even while the Legislature is currently considering several major changes to CEQA, the Governor has proposed a major reform to eliminate excessive paperwork burdens and unnecessary review for major state infrastructure projects.

California’s need to upgrade and expand our energy, water and transportation infrastructure has never been greater. Nor could the opportunity be more ripe to accelerate building our infrastructure, with $180 billion in federal and state investment awaiting plans, permits and political will. In the spirit of streamlining the permit process, the Legislature should act quickly to approve the long-needed, comprehensive infrastructure reforms proposed by the Governor.

Greg Bielli is Chair of the California Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and President and CEO of Tejon Ranch Company; Michael P. Quigley is Executive Director of the California Alliance for Jobs.