Once in a while we assign an article that turns out to have far broader significance than we initially realized. Such is the case with this month's cover story by Glen Martin
("Collision Course") on efforts to reform (read, in some cases, "weaken") the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA. What we envisioned was a nice little feature about developers and environmentalists butting heads in all the predictable ways. What we ended up with is a story that, as Martin observes, "transcends the usual cat fight." In fact, as politicians debate the merits of some 20 CEQA reform bills now making their way through the state Legislature, the fates of three game-changing endeavors hang in the balance: high-speed rail, fracking, and the twin tunnels water project, which would redirect massive amounts of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Southern California.
When, as governor, Ronald Reagan signed CEQA into law in 1970, it was widely hailed as a groundbreaking bill, designed to mitigate the harmful environmental effects of development by establishing statewide protocols for both public disclosure and analysis. In recent years, though, developers have increasingly complained that CEQA has become something of a monster. Rather than being used to improve projects, they say, the law is all too often wielded to render them undoable.
This brought Martin to California's high-speed rail project - a bullet train that, as envisioned, will whisk passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours. Supporters argue that it makes environmental as well as economic sense. But they warn that the cost of litigating the project's environmental impacts and mitigation measures could sink it.
Martin thinks they're right. He also thinks that, left unaltered, CEQA poses a serious threat to other major projects, including the fracking of Monterey shale deposits and the water tunnels Governor Jerry Brown wants to build in the delta.
"What we really have here are two competing visions of California's future," says Martin. "On one side people are saying we need to pursue these big projects to keep California competitive in the 21st century. And on the other, people are saying that the negative consequences of these Stalin-scale projects have yet to be fully determined."
Also for this issue, associate editor Karmah Elmusa
asked seven high-flying attorneys for tips on how best to navigate the world's airports ("The Jet Set"). A seasoned traveler herself, Elmusa is particularly familiar with the Middle East. "Cairo's airport is a lot like the city itself," she says. "It's crowded, loud, and chaotic." But she loves Chicago's O'Hare. "One of the lawyers I spoke to compared O'Hare to a 'bad European disco,' " she notes. "But I think that's exactly why it's so much fun."