From: AP
Published January 17, 2009 03:19 PM

Schwarzenegger plans upset environmental groups

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Like any head of state managing a severe budget crisis, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has withstood criticism from all the usual suspects — lawmakers from both parties, anti-tax groups, advocates for the poor.

Now he's feeling heat from a group that has been among his staunchest allies: environmentalists.

As Schwarzenegger and lawmakers struggle to contain a ballooning deficit, he has insisted that any budget deal include a provision suspending state environmental review for certain public works projects.

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The governor said that would fast-track infrastructure projects and put Californians back to work quickly. He said his proposal would accelerate construction on 10 road projects around the state, noting at a recent news conference: "It's about jobs, jobs, jobs."

His demand has been one of the main sticking points in budget negotiations that so far have failed to produce a solution to the state's deficit, despite three special legislative sessions. California's shortfall is expected to reach nearly $42 billion by June 2010 unless lawmakers act to close it.

Last week, Schwarzenegger vetoed a Democratic budget proposal, in part because it lacked the environmental rollbacks he and many in the business community desire.

Schwarzenegger also has asked President-elect Barack Obama to exempt road construction from key federal environmental reviews as part any congressional economic stimulus package.

Democrats who oppose the scope of the governor's demand contend the projects exempted from environmental review would fail to boost the economy quickly, while environmentalists are outright puzzled by his position. They have considered Schwarzenegger an ally because of his crusades against global climate change and his advocacy of alternative energy.

"The demand by the governor to do an end-run in environmental laws just flies in the face of his environmental agenda," said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The governor's spokesman, Aaron McLear, said Schwarzenegger has earned his reputation as a defender of the environment.

"To suggest he is anything less than one of the most passionate protectors of the environment is laughable," McLear said.

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