Suspending state's foremost environmental law because of drought a bad omen

Published on February 2nd, 2014

By Leon Kolankiewicz, guest commentary

February 2, 2014

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As an environmental planner in California, I prepared many environmental impact reports, initial studies and negative declarations on flood control and road and park projects under the California Environmental Quality Act.

I knew that CEQA was the backbone of the state’s environmental conservation and management framework. It had, after all, been modeled after the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which has been called the Magna Carta of America’s modern environmental laws.

But CEQA even went a step or two beyond NEPA. Whereas NEPA required federal agencies to analyze and then publicly disclose the potential environmental impacts of projects they proposed, funded or licensed, CEQA mandated California agencies to avoid these impacts altogether or implement measures to minimize them, and later, to monitor these mitigation measures to see if they were actually working.

Now, because of the threat to critical water supplies posed by California’s stubborn drought, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency that suspends CEQA and state water quality plans with regard to actions to make water immediately available. According to the declaration, they “are suspended on the basis that strict compliance with them will prevent, hinder, or delay the mitigation of the effects of the emergency.”

Brown’s suspension of CEQA is an ominous action.

Why? Because population growth in California, enthusiastically endorsed by this governor’s lopsided embrace of immigration en masse, legal and illegal alike, ensures that demand for water in the state will continue to grow unabated. With Brown serving as cheerleader in chief, California will soon pass 40 million residents.

Recently, Brown boasted: “We have 25 percent of the nation’s foreign born and we are the first state in modern times to have a plurality of families of Latino origin. So it’s not surprising that California is the state where immigrants cannot only dream — they can drive.”

Just what California needs — still more cars and more drivers!

Even as our numbers continue to balloon, the amount of water nature makes available for California is set to decrease substantially as a result of climate change. A clash — or is it a crash? — is approaching.

We all know what happens when push comes to shove, and when politicians frame an issue like this: Who is more important, people or fish? Indeed, certain species of fish in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento Delta estuary are likely to be harmed by Brown’s declaration.

According to California environmental journalist Chris Clarke, 2013 was a terrible year for numerous important estuary fish species. He writes, “That bad year continues a decade-long collapse of fish populations throughout California’s largest wetland ecosystem.”

Clarke adds that these population declines coincide with “record diversions from the Sacramento River and its tributaries to feed California’s increasingly thirsty aqueducts.” As a result, California’s native Chinook salmon fishery underwent an unprecedented closure in 2008 and 2009.

These beleaguered fish are California’s canary in the coal mine.

If California’s population continues to grow unchecked at Third World rates because both political parties are too cowed to confront the increasingly sacred cow of excessive immigration levels, California’s cherished landscape and unique natural resources will get thrown under the bus. It’s that simple. That’s what today’s suspension of CEQA implies for the future.

And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, or Gov. Brown and all of his technocrats, won’t be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Leon Kolankiewicz is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization, a wildlife biologist, and environmental scientist and planner.

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