Budget Squeeze May Relax Environ. Rules


Republicans are pushing to relax some environmental regulations they say delay projects, as a way of jump-starting the creation of new jobs. That includes excusing construction firms from retrofitting their diesel off-road vehicles and protecting developers from lawsuits over greenhouse gas reduction laws.

GOP leaders may even be willing to agree to new tax hikes in the state budget in exchange for the temporary environmental rollbacks.

"People are hurting. We need to put people to work. We're just looking for ways to streamline that process, not skirt any of the environmental laws or get around the needed mitigation," says State Senator Dave Cogdill (R) the minority leader.

Environmentalists are outraged Republicans would even bring in changes to the new regulations as a bargaining chip to the state budget. The two groups have always clashed over how businesses can expand without harming the environment.

"Californians want clean air. They've said it over and over again. It makes no sense to go in now and say, 'You can't have clean air because a few of us have never liked those laws. And we're going to use the budget to take those regulations away,'" says Kathryn Phillips, from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California met with his economic team, headed by former Secretary of State George Schultz. Job creation is at the top of their agenda. Earlier, the governor called Legislative leaders to his office to try again to negotiate the budget. Democrats say they're not about to give in to environmental rollbacks.

"Economic stimulus is very important. We believe you can have economic stimulus without compromising the environment," says Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D) of Los Angeles.

Environmentalists worry though, because state leaders are so desperate for a budget solution they could agree to the rollbacks. For the 9.3 percent unemployed in California, any job sounds great right now, regardless of the consequences.

"The environment is very important. But right now, people need to work. The lines are really long here for unemployment. We really need some help, quick! We need to relax those laws," says Troy Adams, an unemployed worker.

Republicans have already submitted draft proposals on the environmental rollbacks, making them ready to attach to a budget bill, if Democrats and the governor agree.

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