The office of California Governor Jerry Brown has revealed it is considering legislation to ease environmental compliance laws for Tesla Motors in an effort to woo the company to build its first Gigafactory in the state. Despite the electric vehicle manufacturer’s headquarters and assembly line already being based in California, the state lags behind the other four contenders in the competition to secure the Gigafactory development. However, given the green fanfare surrounding the Tesla end product, is making an exception to existing environmental legislation for the company really sending the right message?
In case you’ve been dozing for the last couple of years, the proposed Tesla Gigafactory would build the long-range lithium-ion batteries needed to construct Tesla’s Model III range of vehicles, a mid-priced electric vehicle aimed at the average road user. The project is expected to cost in the vicinity of $5 billion and Tesla wants it ready to begin battery production in 2017. Currently, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico all have a competitive edge over California to secure the deal. Speaking to the LA Times, Tesla spokesman Simon Sproule was reported as saying, “Timing for the gigafactory is very important. So all five states in the running for the gigafactory need to demonstrate, among other factors, that they can help us deliver the factory on time.”
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) “is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.” The legislation was enacted in 1970 and requires environmental impact assessments prior to a project’s commencement. Waiving environmental restrictions could certainly go a long way towards expediting the construction time of the Gigafactory, thus gaining an advantage for California over the other states. On the table for the proposed amendments are limiting the reviews required for the development and, according to anonymous sources who spoke to the LA Times, Tesla could be allowed to begin construction and then rectify any environmental damage done afterwards. Tax breaks to the value of $500 million are also being considered.
While roads filled with Model IIIs would certainly be an improvement over lanes of gas guzzlers, when electric vehicles already have so much entrenched opposition to contend with from vested interests such as big oil, is circumventing environmental regulation really the wisest move? Tesla has revealed it has already broken ground on two potential Gigafactory sites, with one being in Reno. But since Tesla CEO Elon Musk has famously declared that 200 Gigafactories would be required to provide enough EVs to provide for world automotive needs, waiving environmental building regulations is clearly not a precedent that could be continued.