'We are thrilled,' say Republicans as Newsom announces permitting reform

At a site in the Central Valley earmarked for solar energy generation, Governor Gavin Newsom introduced California’s most ambitious measures on clean energy infrastructure .

Acting on a recently released report, the permitting and project reforms propose to streamline project approvals for the state’s climate, economic and social goals while taking advantage of California's full share of federal dollars for green infrastructure creation.

Senate Republicans are celebrating the governor’s announcement last Friday.

“California Senate Republicans have been advocating for CEQA reform for years. We are thrilled that Governor Newsom is finally taking action..” Senate Minority Leader Brian W. Jones said in a released statement.

The Infrastructure Acceleration Report from Infrastructure Advisor to the State of California, Antonio Villaraigosa, California Forward, and the Boston Consulting Group, released on May 18 said “to achieve the utmost value for our infrastructure spending, significant and substantial regulatory and governance reform is necessary ... .Average infrastructure project time can be significantly reduced by building a new governance model and streamlining processes, permitting, and approvals for project delivery.”

The Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and $50 billion in state funding, together create a $180 billion clean infrastructure fund for the next 10 years. By eliminating red tape regulations and streamlining permitting through a process of developing new contracts, the state can shorten project timelines by as much as 3 years.

Newsom noted, “This proposal is 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. Not since the Pat Brown era have we had the opportunity to invest in and rebuild this state to create the clean future Californians deserve.”

Faster permitting and governance reform means projects will be built faster with the potential for 400,000 construction jobs to be realized.

Senate Republicans have been advocating for CEQA reform for a decade and have proposed more than 33 bills to the California legislature. None of the bills were adopted by the Democrat majority although many addressed the same concerns now advised in the report, including climate considerations, social equity and infrastructure.

The report seems to echo the objectives of some of the bills brought by Republican legislators over the years, but these bills were never heard in committee. A list of projects that could be streamlined, named by the governor, in solar, wind, and battery storage projects, maintenance and bridge projects, transit and regional rail construction, semiconductor fabrication plants, as well as water projects like the Delta Conveyance Project and storage facilities also appears to be in tandem with the objectives of past bills introduced by Republican legislators.

“California Senate Republicans have been at the forefront of the CEQA reform movement for years,” said Senate Minority Caucus Chair Nguyen.

The report also advised the formation of an Infrastructure Strike Team which Newsom accomplished by executive order to “track the status of individual projects ..as they move through design, permitting and construction phases, and use common metrics to measure progress and identify opportunities for streamlining government operations.”

The Strike Team will create working groups focused on transportation, energy, hydrogen, environmental remediation, broadband, water, the CHIPS and Science Act, and zero-emission vehicles.

The pairing of the legislative package and the governor’s executive order amends California law, authorizes expedited judicial review, reduces project timeframes and costs, streamlines the CEQA processes and establishes a Green Bank Financing Program that benefits low-income and disadvantaged communities through pollution-cutting climate projects.

“We support his commitment to help build more housing and infrastructure projects. We remain eager to collaborate with the governor and our colleagues across the aisle in a bipartisan manner to fix California with solutions that address our state’s myriad issues ranging from homelessness to housing to water infrastructure,” said Leader Jones.

It is not clear whether the proposed reforms extend to private construction as well. Newsom’s release referred to “state agencies” and “taxpayer dollars.”

Also in doubt is whether Senate Republicans will be heard and allowed to contribute to reform efforts. Still they remain optimistic.

“As evidenced by our extensive legislative track record, we are eager to move California forward in this arena so we can build more housing, water storage, and sensible infrastructure projects in a reasonable timeframe and without costly settlements," Nguyen stated.

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