Water Board Must Let Governor, Public Weigh in on Wetlands Regulations

Allan Zaremberg
Tim Cremins

The California State Water Resources Board plans to adopt controversial state wetlands regulations in early April.

The board’s proposed rules would create a new and highly complex state wetlands permitting program independent of federal wetlands regulations. If adopted, the new rules would both expand the reach of state wetlands protections and require agencies, developers and farmers to undergo two separate permitting processes for the same activities.

Infrastructure/Jobs Impact

The resulting cost and delay will have serious impacts on housing, transpor­tation infrastructure, clean energy projects and agriculture. Thousands of California jobs hang in the balance.

The board released its current proposal in January. It has changed significantly since the prior proposal, which was last circulated for public review in 2017. The board has stated that, despite these significant changes, it will not accept public comments on the current proposal. It appears committed to fast-tracking the rules to approval in April.

Both the public and Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration need more time to review the proposed rules. This is the only way they can provide thoughtful direction on this important statewide policy change, and they deserve the opportunity to do so.

We agree that wetlands deserve pro­tec­­tion through consistent, scientific­ally sound and reasonable rules. But it’s important that California adopt the right rules.

Open Process

The board now has an opportunity to provide consistency and leadership through a process that is open and transparent, and that ensures wise stewardship of our natural resources. Done correctly, the board’s rules could offer meaningful protection to the state’s wetlands resources and, at the same time, create clear and reasonable permitting pathways for needed housing, transpor­tation infrastructure, clean energy projects and agriculture.

The board’s proposed rules, however, need more work to achieve this aim. The rules, as proposed, would interfere with critical local road projects. This concern has taken on greater importance follow­ing voters’ rejection of Proposition 6, which would have repealed legislation passed in 2017 to provide a sustainable source of infrastructure funding.

The proposed rules would also impede construction of more affordable housing through new costs and permitting delays. Both transportation infrastructure and affordable housing are among Governor Newsom’s top priorities.

The California-Nevada Conference of Operating Engineers, the CalChamber and many other labor and business organizations support needed resources for transportation and the push for more affordable housing. We want to ensure that California has the tools and ability to effectively deliver on these essential solutions.

More Time Needed

The Newsom administration should be given the time and the opportunity to analyze the potential impacts of the board’s proposed wetlands rules. The board also needs more time to take into account the serious questions and concerns many Californians have raised.

The potential harms to California’s environment and economy are too great to rush through the wrong state wetlands rules. We respectfully urge the board to postpone any vote until the new governor, the board and the public can agree on the best balance for California.

Allan Zaremberg is president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce. Tim Cremins is director of the California-Nevada Conference of Operating Engineers. This commentary appeared first in The Sacramento Bee.

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Allan Zaremberg retired as president and chief executive officer of the CalChamber at the end of 2021 after 23 years on the job. He took over the top staff position in 1998 after six years as executive vice president and head of CalChamber’s legislative advocacy program. He oversaw the CalChamber Business Services Division, which provides employment law expertise through handbooks, services and products, including HRCalifornia, a continually updated website.​ Before joining CalChamber, Zaremberg served as chief legislative advisor to and advocate for Governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson. Zaremberg holds a B.S. in economics from Penn State University and a J.D. from the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific, where he was a member of the Law Journal.