Gov. Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom proposes reforming CEQA at a solar energy site in the Central Valley. Image from video

While touring the site of a $500 million solar energy installation in the Central Valley, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday proposed major reforms to the California Environmental Quality Act to speed construction of clean energy projects.

Newsom signed an executive order creating a “strike team” to speed up projects and said legislation would be submitted to reform CEQA, which has become a legal tool for opposing everything from infill housing to roads and utility projects.

“The only way to achieve California’s world-leading climate goals is to build, build, build faster,” Newsom said. “This proposal is the most ambitious effort to cut red tape and streamline regulations in half a century.”

Newsom’s plan quickly received Republican support, with Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones saying his party is “eager to collaborate” on changes.

“California Senate Republicans have been advocating for CEQA reform for years,” said Jones. “We are thrilled that Gov. Newsom is finally taking action and we support his commitment to help build more housing and infrastructure projects.”

According to the Governor’s office, the legislative package of 11 bills will seek changes to CEQA to exempt specific categories of projects, limit court review to nine months, streamline permitting and eliminate cumbersome processes.

Newsom said the changes are key to utilizing up to $180 billion available under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act for clean energy.

Projects that could benefit include solar, wind and battery storage for electric grids; transit and regional rail infrastructure; water storage projects; and the Delta tunnel plan.

Newsom said that with the federal funds and CEQA reform, California can “do something that we haven’t done since the 1950s and 60s” and complete a series of major public infrastructure projects.

CEQA was signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1970 as a way to protect the environment from any negative consequences of development. It has evolved to become the major legal tool for opposing new construction of any type.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.