SENATE BILL 307
Senate Bill 307 (Roth) seeks to create a new stateenvironmental permitting process, outside of CEQA, for water transportation projects – specifically the Cadiz Water Project – and in the process jeopardizes much-needed water and jobs for Southern California, potentially killing jobs and limiting water supply opportunities for the region.
The Cadiz Water Project is a public-private partnership that will create and support more than 5,900 jobs, generate over $875 million in economic activity and create a new water supply that can serve up to 400,000 people a year. The Project, located on private land in the Mojave Desert, received a lengthy public review in accordance with CEQA, a separate review by San Bernardino County, and Court approvals in all legal challenges brought against it. SB 307 seeks an end-run around this record of scientific analysis and scrupulously following all the rules the state imposes, and in doing so, it gives power to a political commission to block the Project from being implemented, setting a dangerous precedent for all infrastructure projects in California.
During the bill’s April 9 hearing before the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, Senator Roth and Cadiz CEO Scott Slater committed to making several key amendments to the bill: a front-end review with a focused scope, conducted by an unbiased agency, within a reasonable timeline. The most recent version of the bill, amended on April 30, fails to fulfill these commitments. Worse, it sets up a process by which the State Lands Commission to stop the project without any mitigation required or an appeal process delineated.
Arguments Against SB 307
SB 307 Jeopardizes New Sources of Clean Drinking Water for Southern California. Hundreds of water suppliers across the state are unable to reliably deliver safe water to their customers, and disadvantaged communities are among those most likely to suffer from poor water quality and water supply shortages. At a time when California is struggling to fulfill its obligation to provide safe, clean drinking water to all communities, particularly in inland and desert areas, SB 307 creates a new, undefined permitting process for water projects that could be used to deter sources of clean drinking water from being developed or implemented.
SB 307 Undermines California’s Strict Existing Environmental and Groundwater Laws. SB 307 creates a completely new and additional regulatory process for water projects, including those that have successfully been approved in accordance with CEQA and local groundwater law. In doing so, the bill undermines what is widely understood to be the strictest environmental review process in the nation—even more rigorous than its federal counterpart, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It also upends the Legislature’s recent achievement of enacting stronger groundwater laws under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act by taking authority away from local regulators. Re-opening decisions made under CEQA at the request of special interests threatens the sanctity of California’s environmental protection laws.
SB 307 Creates Regulatory Uncertainty for Critical Infrastructure and Development Projects. By changing the rules of the game for certain projects, SB 307 sets a dangerous precedent and poses a potential threat to any infrastructure project in California, including water infrastructure, transportation, school construction, hospital and affordable housing projects. New housing projects, in particular, are inextricably tied to a reliable supply of water. By creating a new, undefined regulatory process for projects in the desert, the Legislature is also creating unnecessary uncertainty for housing development in a region that chronically lacks housing.
SB 307 Usurps Local Control and Creates New Social Justice Inequities. California’s environmental laws currently empower local jurisdictions to review and approve local infrastructure projects. The undefined environmental review process in SB 307 takes away the regulatory authority already held and exercised by local officials and gives it to entities that are not accountable to local residents. Local governments that have done their due diligence and have accounted for the needs of their communities will have their voices suppressed.
SB 307 Rewards Special Interest Campaigns with a Framework to Stop All Projects. Special interest groups opposed to the Cadiz Water Project have worked for more than a decade to frustrate its development through a variety of local, state and federal processes. Despite those efforts, the Project has successfully earned permits and approvals that were ultimately upheld by the California Court of Appeal. By their own admission these groups are using the legislative process to force a do-over. If successful, the same special-interest groups will forever use the Legislature to move the goal posts and kill projects they do not support.
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