Enviros fume as Newsom looks to sidestep regulations for water projects

Environmentalists suing to block major infrastructure projects have managed to stall considerable progress in the Golden State.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is slowly becoming more emboldened to go toe-to-toe with some of his closest allies in pursuit of advancing critical infrastructure forward.

The battle centers on circumventing environmental rules frequently relied upon by activists to sue and block massive projects.


Driving the News: Governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to fast-track hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of construction projects throughout the state, including a pair of large water endeavors that have been delayed for years.

  • California officials have pursued the water projects in the drought-prone state. One would construct a giant tunnel to carry large amounts of water beneath the natural channels of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to drier and more populous Southern California. The other would be a massive new reservoir near the tiny community of Sites in Northern California that could store more water during deluges for delivery to farmers.
  • One key proposal is to limit the amount of time it takes to resolve environmental lawsuits to about nine months. Newsom said his administration is “not looking to roll over anybody,” including what he called the “fierce champions” of environmental stewardship.
  • Newsom is seeking a slew of changes to make it much faster for these projects to gain the required permits and approvals. Other projects that could be eligible include solar, wind and battery power storage; transit and regional rail; road maintenance and bridge projects; semiconductor plants; and wildlife crossings along Interstate 15.
  • Newsom wants the legislation to be part of the state’s budget, which must be passed before the end of June. That means, if approved, it could take effect sooner and would only require a majority vote of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

What they’re saying: Newsom says California has hundreds of billions of dollars to spend on infrastructure projects over the next decade, the result of voter-approved bonds, bountiful budget surpluses during the pandemic and an influx of federal cash from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.

  • Environmental activists were exasperated over the proposed moves.
  • “We have never been more disappointed in a California governor than we are with Governor Newsom,” Restore the Delta’s Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said. “How is perpetuating environmental injustice, which harms public and environmental health, really any different than red state governors perpetuating social injustice in their states, which Governor Newsom likes to criticize vigorously?”
  • Jerry Brown, executive director of the Sites Project Authority that is overseeing the new reservoir and not to be confused with the former California Governor, said he thinks Newsom’s proposals could allow construction to start a year early, saving about $100 million.
  • Republicans have had mixed reactions to Newsom’s proposal. Republican Senate Leader Brian Jones (R–Santee) said the governor “is finally taking action.”
  • Others were more skeptical, with Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher (R–Yuba City) saying Democrats in the Legislature are the biggest obstacle to Newsom’s proposals.
  • “Gavin Newsom loves to brag that he can ‘jam’ Democratic lawmakers. Let’s see it,” Gallagher said. “Republicans are ready to work with him towards real reforms.”
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