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Fast-tracking environmental litigation for select developments

Like all legislative bills in California, it is would-be law that must successfully negotiate some hurdles before taking legal effect. Its author hopes it can garner so-called "super-majority" bipartisan support in both the California State Assembly and California State Senate, which would enable it to immediately become law.

"It" is Senate Bill 734, which provides for the fast-tracking of CEQA environmental litigation that is commenced against certain development projects in the state.

CEQA is of course the California Environmental Quality Act, the decades-old seminal legislation focused upon environmental protection. CEQA is routinely praised and pilloried in environmental-related matters.

SB 734 addresses particularly big developmental projects, namely, those with building costs exceeding $100 million. The legislation proposes that, if sued under CEQA, such projects -- provided they meet certain payment requirements for construction workers and stringent energy and emissions standards -- will have a guarantee of expedited processing through the state court system.

Specifically, the bill provides that any environmental lawsuit must conclude within nine months of inception, a timeframe that is understandably strongly endorsed by developers and their supporters.

Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), who wrote the bill, says that it "will help large, job-producing, green projects avoid delay and keep Californians working."

Of course, there are foes, including the Sierra Club and affiliates, which state that the standards are too lax. Notably, the California Judicial Council, which oversees state courts, also opposes SB 734 on the grounds that cases fast-tracked under it would be given unduly preferential treatment at the expense of other lawsuits filed earlier.

If the bill is to pass this year, it must be approved before the current legislative session wraps up later this month.

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