State Net Capitol Journal Legislative Updates: Shooting Gray Wolves and Cutting Down Giant Sequoias

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ENVIRONMENT: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removes gray wolves in WYOMING from protection under the Endangered Species Act. Federal officials agreed to the Equality State's management plan, which allows residents to shoot wolves on sight but permanently protects them in designated areas like Yellowstone National Park. The new policy takes effect Sept. 30, though opponents have vowed to file suit to block it (LOS ANGELES TIMES). • The U.S. Forest Service releases a long-awaited plan for managing the 353,000-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument in CALIFORNIA's Sierra Nevada mountain range. The plan would allow the cutting down of only those sequoias with a diameter less than 12 inches, and only as a last resort or to protect the public. Sales of down sequoias would also be barred. The giant sequoia is the world's largest tree and the largest known living thing on earth. The plan goes into effect in October, though the public has 90 days to appeal its implementation (FRESNO BEE). • The CALIFORNIA Assembly rejects SB 568, which would have barred restaurants and food vendors from serving meals in polystyrene packaging (CONTRA COSTA TIMES).

Giant-Sequoias

ENERGY: The CALIFORNIA Senate and Assembly endorse SB1222, legislation that would limit the fees cities and counties can charge residents for building permits to put solar panels on their homes to no more than $500. It is now with Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for review (CONTRA COSTA TIMES).

CA STRUGGLES TO BALANCE ENVIRONMENTAL, ECONOMIC CONCERNS: The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), passed in 1970, has been credited with helping to preserve the state's lush wetlands and keep condos off the slopes of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range. But the landmark law has also opened the door to lawsuits - some completely unrelated to the environment - that have done little to help the state weather the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

"Something is broken," said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "A lot of jobs could have been saved if not for these lawsuits, as well as new jobs once these projects were completed."

Gubler said lawsuits - and the threat of litigation - had delayed recent projects in the city that had cost it more than 6,000 jobs.

The legitimacy of some of the CEQA lawsuits that have blocked projects in the state seem questionable at best. A plan to paint bicycle lanes in San Francisco, for instance, has been delayed four years by a suit filed by a local resident who claims the lanes will cause pollution. And the owner of a gas station in San Jose has been blocked from adding another pump by a lawsuit filed by the owner of a competing station located across the street.

Republicans, who consider the law an egregious example of overregulation, have tried for years to weaken it. But owing to the power of the state's environmental lobby and the popularity of environmental issues with the state's voters, they've had little success. With the state's unemployment rate still hovering above 10 percent, however, Democrats are increasingly joining in that effort. Last month state Sen. Michael J. Rubio (D) turned his bill about King River fisheries (SB 317) into a CEQA enforcement overhaul. The bill was quickly quashed, but Rubio said he'll try again next year.

"This is a very important law that we have to protect, but we have to strip away the possibility" of it "being abused," he said. "These kinds of lawsuits are not living up to the intent of the law."

But environmental groups said Rubio's bill, which would have limited suits against development projects in some circumstances, would have effectively stripped the law of its enforcement mechanism.

"It wasn't reform: it was gutting the law," said David Pettit, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Pettit acknowledges that the CEQA has given rise to some frivolous litigation, but he insists such cases are rare. In fact, a 2005 study by the Public Policy Institute of California indicated that less than 1 percent of all projects in the state face lawsuits under the act. But Petit said the issue "is going to come back."

"The development community has never liked it, and they're playing the jobs card now," he said. (NEW YORK TIMES, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RADIO, STATE NET)

POTPOURRI: The WYOMING Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee endorses a proposal to allow Equality State hunters to outfit their weapons with silencers. The bill will be introduced in the next legislative session (JACKSON HOLE NEWS & GUIDE).

- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

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