January 22, 1989
Planning and Conservation League
Attn: Gary Patton, President
909 12th Street, Suite 203
Sacramento, California 95814
Re: Suggested Environmental Legislation
I would like to offer some suggestions for badly needed environmental legislation:
RECYCLING: There is only one way to solve the garbage crisis. Everyone must be involved, not just a Department of Garbage or Department of Recycling. Everyone who sells something must be responsible for developing and implementing the recycling process for that something; and everyone who buys something must be responsible for disposing of that something through the seller's recycling channel. The recycling channel would be the mirror image of the distribution channel. For example, a company that produces catsup would be responsible for receiving the empty containers back from the retailer (at the same time that they deliver more full bottles) and passing them on to the wholesaler (at the same time that they receive more new (or recycled!) containers). Each link in the chain would of course have to return the material in decent condition. For example, the end user would have to wash the catsup bottles before returning them. I submit that anything less than this total participation would be unfair and wouldn't work.
TRANSIT ACCESS/LAND USE: In order to prevent urban sprawl, automobile dependence, farmland destruction, and all forms of pollution, it is necessary to ensure that nothing that attracts people is built outside the reach of efficient infrastructure, in particular, public transit. Prior to any construction anywhere, appropriate, convenient public transit access during all hours of use must be required, to be paid for by all parties directly involved. For example, a new factory would have to be provided with both passenger and freight service prior to any construction.
TRANSPORTATION/AIR QUALITY: Even though many areas of California still fail to meet minimal (and inadequate) air quality standards, Caltrans is pushing for building more freeways and widening most existing ones. This is absurd. Recent research (e.g. Transportation Research, Part A, Vol. 22A, No. 3, pp. 163-74) has shown what Los Angeles residents have suspected for a long time: freeway expansion (in fact, any type of vehicle capacity expansion, as opposed to passenger capacity expansion) induces people to drive more and farther, thus increasing fuel consumption and air pollution. The myth that has been used to rationalize highway expansion is that speeding up traffic reduces fuel consumption and pollution. However, the small element of truth in that is dwarfed by the growth inducement effect. We should delay all highway expansion projects until every region of the state is in compliance with state and federal air quality standards. Better still would be to simply halt all vehicle-capacity expanding highway projects (widenings and new highways), and use the funds for rail transit.
ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW (CEQA): Part of the freeway expansion problem is a widespread abuse of CEQA. For example, Caltrans frequently uses a Negative Declaration for a freeway widening. They never admit significant air pollution effects from freeway expansion, assert that soundwalls adequately mitigate noise effects, never admit cumulative effects from their piecemealed projects, and rarely admit growth inducement. As a minimum, all vehicle-capacity expanding highway projects (widenings and new highways) should require an EIR, not a Negative Declaration. In addition, the Air Resources Board and (from ARB) the local Air Quality Management District should have permitting authority over all highway projects, so that projects which worsen air quality cannot be built. This should be integrated with the Sher Act (AB 2595), Cortese Act (AB 3971), and federal Clean Air Act conformity processes.
For similar reasons, the following sections of CEQA should be repealed: 21080(14), 21100.1, 15002(c), 15044, 15064(i), and 15276.
The BURDEN OF PROOF: An analogy: If you take a sharp axe into the woods, you can chop down a tree in a few minutes. It is extremely unlikely that there will be anyone or anything there to stop you. I say this to make two points: the environment is very sensitive; and it has almost no protection. There are no policemen standing by to protect nature. She is totally vulnerable.
Another analogy. If it were proposed that every child in the U.S. were to be taken from its mother at birth and raised by the State, we would not be funding scientific studies on the effects of this, studies on ways of mitigating the negative effects, or "baseline" studies so we could determine whether it would have any negative effects. Whoever proposed this nutty idea would have to prove its value. The burden of proof would not be on the public.
It is time that we apply the same reasoning to projects that are just as nutty, and that obviously threaten enormous environmental damage: the burden of proof, and the cost of the justifying studies, must be shifted to the project proponents, to prove that the environment will not be seriously damaged. The number and magnitude of environmental threats are so great that they simply cannot be handled by a system that requires the public
to prove the harmfulness of each and every such project. The deck is stacked heavily toward the exploiters. The fox is guarding the chickens.
In order to facilitate public involvement in the environmental review process, it is necessary to make OPR's State Clearinghouse Newsletter freely available to every citizen. Until this year, there was no problem, because it could be received free by anyone. Starting 1/1/89, probably due partly to complaints from project developers affected by the public scrutiny, it costs $100/year. This critical document, which tells when draft EIRs are available and when notices of determination are filed (which starts the very short 30-day statute of limitations), should be available in every public library. It should contain projects from all parts of the state, not just the local projects. Also, due to Caltrans's inappropriate use of the Negative Declaration, a Notice of Completion should also be required for Negative Declarations, not just EIRs.
MAXIMUM HORSEPOWER: We frequently read about high-speed chases (over 100 MPH) in which police and civilians get injured or killed. There is no need for this. With the higher speed limits in rural areas, traffic accidents and fatalities have increased. Recent research (e.g. Traffic Engineering and Control, Sept. '86, pp. 455-9) has shown that fuel consumption is lowest at 34 MPH (55 kph). For all of these reasons, there should be a maximum allowable horsepower for autos and other vehicles (different for each type), just sufficient for current California speed limits.
The GREENHOUSE EFFECT and the OZONE DEPLETION: No single project might be considered to contribute significantly to these effects, but all of them together are threatening the very existence of "higher" forms of life on the Earth. At the least, every environmental document should be required to assess the impacts on these effects, due to their seriousness, if not their measurability. Ideally, every project should include 100% mitigation of any such global effects.
DRIVERS' LICENSES: Tightening restrictions on drivers' licenses could go a long way toward relieving congestion on our highways. Drunk drivers should (as is done in Japan) have their license revoked for a year. Drivers who cause accidents or drive recklessly should have their license revoked for a commensurate period. Remember, driving is a privilege, not a right.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.