First they Deregulated the Savings and Loan Industry, Then They Deregulated Wall Street

Robbie ColumnMarch 2013 - First they deregulated the savings and loan industry, then they deregulated Wall Street and the California electric grid - now they want to deregulate CEQA and they want you to pick up the tab.

Today in Sacramento, big business is waging a war to deregulate the California Environmental Quality Act, commonly known as CEQA. How does this affect California working families?

Who is behind these attempts to deregulate?  The same companies, many from out of state, that have been behind other efforts to deregulate at the expense of working families and Californians cannot afford another experiment with deregulation.

When the Legislature, under Governor Pete Wilson, deregulated the power industry, we turned our trust over to the likes of Enron and Californians were literally left in the dark while the deregulated industry manipulated blackouts to increase their profits and working families picked up the tab. More recently, President George W. Bush, with Congress deregulated banks, mortgage companies, and Wall Street, removed the safeguards and firewalls established under the New Deal of the 1930s to protect everyday Americans in response to the economic collapse of the Great Depression caused by collusion and monopolies of financial institutions, insurance companies, and banks. This deregulation by President Bush at the behest of big business almost destroyed the economic base of this nation, and again, working Americans picked up the tab of hundreds of billions of dollars.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of Californians lost their homes and jobs as Wall Street ran roughshod over working families. These regulations put in to protect us in the New Deal were removed, and we got the exact same result: the near economic collapse and the greatest recession since the Great Depression.  And we all remember the deregulation of the savings and loan industry in the 1980s as over 1,000 banks failed and the taxpayers were left with a $124 billion liability. We must not roll the dice again and gamble on a self-serving deregulation scheme when it comes to protecting our environment and our jobs.

Because of CEQA, the Building Trades has had a voice in environmental decisions affecting California workers and the communities they call home.  And we have benefitted from it in the form of better jobs, building higher quality projects, in a healthier and cleaner environment.

When Governor Ronald Reagan signed the California Environmental Quality Act in 1970, California was a different place, and not for the better.

The air in the San Joaquin Valley was among the most polluted, not only in the nation, but in the world. Air particles and airborne contaminants were settling on crops, being absorbed into the soil, and threatening the economic backbone of the breadbasket of California and the nation.

Because local controls were non-existent or erratically enforced, and sensitive to industry pressures over health costs, air quality in Los Angeles reached unhealthy levels on more than two-hundred days a year.

Beyond airborne toxins, California is still literally digging out from the ground water poisoning that occurred pre-CEQA.  For example, the Stringfellow Acid Pits, originally a rock quarry situated at the base of the Jurupa Mountains in Riverside County opened in 1956 as a minimally regulated dumpsite. After sixteen years of dumping, it finally became apparent that the pits’ chemicals were leaking into groundwater and the site was finally shut down. During its operation, over 34 million gallons of liquid industrial waste were deposited into the quarry, including BOCs, heavy metals, pesticides, PCBs, and sulfates, massively polluting the groundwater in Riverside and surrounding counties.  The resulting litigation for deaths, including children, and illnesses has lasted for decades. The owner, James Stringfellow, claiming that his company was without assets, titled the land to the state of California, and the taxpayers have spent the last forty years trying to mitigate the massive poisoning of the drinking water supply.

The Stringfellow Acid Pits is but one of thousands of stories that could be told in support of enacting CEQA. Prior to CEQA, the ordinary California citizen had no voice in whether or not a toxic dump moved next to a school or residential neighborhood or a community’s water supply. CEQA was drafted to give Californians that voice.

In the closing moments of the 2012 legislative session, opportunistic business interests tried to ram though a last-minute bill to silence that voice and deregulate CEQA. If successful, these overly broad exemptions would have decreased opportunities for building trades members, and, would have been at the expense of the health of California families and the safety of construction workers. The State Building Trades and other labor organizations worked with the environmental community to defeat this self-serving attempt to deregulate CEQA.

Now, the deregulation of CEQA is back before the Legislature. The State Building Trades strongly supports CEQA as it is, and opposes any effort to weaken it. For over 40 years, CEQA has served the best interest of workers, their families and their communities. It has protected our environment and promoted cleaner, sustainable development. In fact, because of the community voice empowered by CEQA, we have found that CEQA serves to expedite job-creating construction projects as developers recognize the need under CEQA to adjust their projects to address community concerns.  This knowledge results in more efficient permitting and approval processes and less litigation.

No one cares more about construction jobs than the men and women of the State Building Trades. But not just any jobs. We want safe, sustainable and skilled jobs that support families, workers and healthy communities in the long term. California got it right 40 years ago; CEQA works, and is a valuable tool to achieve that end. We firmly oppose any attempt to deregulate CEQA - we are tired of picking up the tab.

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