Brown, California Legislature Give Solar Companies OK to Ignore Environmental Laws

Published July 31, 2012

A proposed solar power plant in the Mojave Desert will not have to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) now that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed legislation exempting the project from the law. Environmental groups argued against the exemption, saying the solar power plant would despoil the desert landscape and harm threatened species.

Massive Solar Project Exempted

Assembly Bill 1073 allows K Road Power to bypass the CEQA and go directly to the California Energy Commission (CEC) for clearance to build its 663-megawatt Calico Solar plant. As a result, the company will no longer need to obtain permits from local agencies.

The massive solar power plant will be located on 4,613 acres in the Pisgah Valley, a region that is home to desert tortoises, golden eagles, and bighorn sheep. This has raised the ire of environmental groups who say they want the program halted.

Environmentalists Outraged

On May 9, Sierra Club California and 12 other environmental groups sent a letter to John Perez, speaker of the California State Assembly, opposing the solar power plant preference. The environmental groups say the law is a special interest favor that was drafted with the sole purpose of giving legislative preference to a single proposed solar photovoltaic project.

A.B. 1073 allows the Calico Solar Project to destroy thousands of acres of high-quality habitat for many declining species including the threatened desert tortoise, Mojave fringe-toed lizard, and Nelson’s bighorn sheep.

The Planning and Conservation League, a lobbying arm of environmental groups in California, sternly criticized Brown, stating the attempt to exempt so-called “green” projects from CEQA sounds like yet another opportunity for corporate interests to “greenwash” their legacy by setting up fake “green” projects that are not subject to a thorough environmental review.

Ongoing Cronyism

Katy Grimes, a reporter with, says Brown is making a habit of signing exemptions to environmental quality laws for favored corporations and industries.

“The exemptions are sort of like executive orders, because they allow favored groups to bypass CEQA—California’s nutty environmental regulations. Gov. Brown has signed these orders a couple of times already for the NFL stadium they wanted to build in Los Angeles and also for high speed rail,” Grimes explained. 

“He keeps doing this so long as a favored project is billed as anything ‘green,’ but everyone else has to adhere to those rules.… When they talk about green jobs, what they are really talking about is taxpayer funded green jobs that will bolster the [labor] unions,” said Grimes.

‘Brown Is Practicing Crony Capitalism’

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, says California’s tax and regulatory climate is the most brutal in America, with CEO Magazine ranking California as the worst state in which to conduct business. 

“What’s most galling about CEQA exemptions is that environmental extremists passed these laws that make it difficult to operate a business in California, yet if you are politically connected, then you are excused from them,” Coupal said. “The rules should apply to everyone, and if they’re too difficult for certain businesses to comply with, then they should be rescinded. Instead, Gov. Brown is practicing crony capitalism with his friends.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.