California may waive environmental laws for Tesla

Despite having some of the strictest environmental laws in the country, California is still trying to attract the carmaker to build its battery factory in the state.
By Ananth Baliga  |  Aug. 12, 2014 at 5:21 PM
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FREMONT, Calif., Aug. 12 (UPI) -- California is negotiating with Tesla to offer exemptions from tough environmental laws in order to accelerate setting up its battery factory.

State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, said Gov. Jerry Brown's plan involves granting the carmaker significant exemptions from certain sections of the California Environmental Quality Act, something that has caused alarm among environmentalists.

California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas have been elected by Tesla as finalists for its lithium-ion cell Gigafactory. California is known for its stringent laws that make construction of a large manufacturing facilities more difficult.

Brown's plan also includes tax breaks worth as much as $500 million, or about 10 percent of the project's total cost. The legislation is being drafted by Gaines and state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Gaines said that they were briefed by the governor's office and they are working as fast as possible to complete the package before the session ends at the end of August.

"We are waiting for the finalization of the details," he said. "We know we have to move quickly."

The CEQA, signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan, requires both state and local governments to review development projects and identify potential environmental threats and harm that could be caused by the project. But the Tesla proposal would limit the amount of approvals Tesla would need to finalize a factory location.

Environmental activists are unhappy that CEQA provisions are being subverted in order to attract Tesla's Gigafactory.

"I think it's a terrible idea," said David Pettit, a lawyer specializing in environmental review laws for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "For one thing, it does indicate that we have two systems of law in California -- one for the super rich, and one for the developer doing multifamily housing."

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