Groups Warn Against Dismantling State Environmental and Public Health Boards

California Performance Review Proposals Don't Improve Environmental and Public Health Protection

FRESNO, Calif. (September 17, 2004) -- California risks losing ground in its efforts to protect the environment and public health, if it implements proposals by Gov. Schwarzenegger's California Performance Review (CPR) Commission, according to environmental, community and public health groups. At a press conference before a CPR hearing in Fresno today, the groups warned that dismantling the Air Resources Board, Energy Commission, State and regional water boards, and other boards and commissions would make state government less, not more, efficient.

"We all agree that California government could and should deliver services more efficiently," said Ann Notthoff, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) California advocacy director. "But abandoning California's world-class environmental institutions is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Eliminating these boards and commissions will make it harder for the governor to achieve his goals to protect the environment. There's nothing efficient about weakening environmental protection."

Local community activists noted that Fresno suffers from drinking water problems and poor air quality. They questioned how Fresno and other California communities would benefit from concentrating environmental decision-making in Sacramento.

"We're the ones whose children are suffering from asthma and who have to keep our kids home from soccer practice when we have a bad air day," said Kevin Hamilton of the Community Health Center Asthma Program. "I trust the independent Air Resources Board to make unbiased decisions to make the air cleaner. I would lose my confidence if an executive branch agency took over that function."

The public has until September 30 to comment on the CPR recommendations, a deadline that critics say is unrealistic. "The 2,500 pages released last month are too much summer reading for the average Californian," said Rey Leon of Latino Issues Forum. "It's just crazy to expect the public to digest such a massive document in such a short amount of time. The commission should extend the public comment period and hear from people around the state."

The CPR Commission spent six months developing its proposals behind closed doors, a sore point for the groups, who say the public was shut out of the process. They say the proposals, if implemented, will even further eliminate public participation by eliminating local boards that provide an important forum for environmental and public health decision making.

"During his campaign, Governor Schwarzenegger again and again promised to bring the government back to the people," said Rico Mastrondonato, Northern California Director of the California League of Conservation Voters. "Eliminating public boards and commissions would undermine the governor's commitment to public involvement by centralizing decision-making in Sacramento."

Joining the local groups in testifying before the commission were representatives from a range of statewide environmental, public health and community groups, including: NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Heal the Bay, Sierra Club California, Ocean Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, the Planning and Conservation League, The Wilderness Society, Trust for Public Land, California League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Justice Coalition.