Clean Transport

Published on August 13th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


California May Waive Environmental Regulations To Land Gigafactory

August 13th, 2014 by  


The bidding war for Elon Musk’s battery Gigafactory is heating up, especially now that ground has been broken in a region near Reno, Nevada. But while Nevada seems to have the upper hand for now, California is going all in with a $500 million incentives package, including an environmental regulations waiver that could speed the building process.

The LA Times reports that along with a boatload of cash, California politicians could waive Tesla’s need to adhere to some of the strictest environmental regulations, allowing the Gigafactory to get up-and-running as soon as possible.

California has been actively pursuing the Gigafactory, and despite not initially being a contender for the $5 billion project which could employ up 6,500 people, it has made gains on the other competing states; Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico. The 25-year old California Environmental Quality Act erected serious hurdles to building such massive factories, as state officials are prone to taking a long time to thoroughly review major building applications. This can take months or years that Musk, who wants the Gigafactory running by 2017, doesn’t have. California could allow Tesla to skip the lengthy review process, as well as mitigate any potential environmental issues later.

This naturally has environmentalists upset, and while they’re normally in Tesla’s corner, the waiver is seen as giving preferential treatment to the ultra-wealthy, as well as setting a dangerous precedent. What other projects by “green” companies might be given an environmental waiver just to bring jobs to the state?

We’re all for the Gigafactory, but skirting environmental regulations doesn’t seem like the greenest move Tesla could make.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Copied from the linked LA Times article –

    “Among the incentives under discussion have been provisions to limit prior environmental review of plans for the California battery plant location — if Tesla chooses to locate here.

    “I think that’s a possibility,” Gaines said.

    According to state officials who said they were familiar with discussions but not authorized to speak about them, Tesla also might be allowed to start construction and mitigate any potential damage later.”

    My reading is that Tesla wants to begin plant construction before the environmental review is finished and do any needed compliance work before putting the plant on line. That collapses the time line, running construction and review simultaneously rather than sequentially.

    Tesla does not seem to be asking for any ability to skirt environmental regulations, just to get the entire project fast tracked.

    Makes sense to me. Tesla has no doubt done a careful analysis of its waste stream and knows the CA regulations. Panasonic is involved in this project, they already manufacture batteries and have dealt with potential pollutants. If Tesla/Panasonic screwed something up in their analysis they are saying that they will correct whatever the environmental review discovers.

    The first several months of construction will be rather routine “build a large building”. Get the utilities run to the site. Work on access roads and parking lots. The battery factory stuff is some time away, plenty of time for the environmental analysis by the state.

  • sault

    Don’t get me wrong, environmental regulations do a lot of good and help stop bad actors from unfairly profiting from cutting corners on pollution controls. However, these rules also get applied in a “one size fits all” manner, in an attempt to be fair of course, but they can sometimes become detached from reality.

    The article mentions that review processes for some of these regulations take too long and they might get waived. If the review is for an environmental impact statement concerning air / water discharge or solid waste and its effect on the surrounding area, all it might do is hold up construction of the gigafactory and provide hardly any benefit. The regs were written back in the day when heavy industry almost always burdened the surrounding area with a lot of pollution. The gigafactory is inherently more of a closed-loop facility than the dirty plants these rules were written for and Tesla has shown a commitment to sustainability over the years as well. And just because there are a lot of Tesla haters out there, it would be impossible for the company to sweep pollution issues at the gigafactory under the rug even if there were some. So in the end, these environmental reviews could only amount to Tesla jumping through numerous bureaucratic hoops to prove time and time again that their factory will have little environmental impact on the surrounding area.

    I do have qualms about companies getting preferential treatment and the precedent these waivers might set for future industrial growth (especially since hydrofracking might come to Cali in a big way fairly soon). In addition, the pro-pollution crowd out there can spin this story into making environmentalists look like hypocrites and environmental laws look like they can be circumvented if you have the right friends. I guess these clowns will complain about anything and everything (their bosses in the fossil fuel industries pay them to) anyway.

  • I harped on this below. It will get fixed. At least get better public relations and image management. It’s a big messy world. We love a Horatio Alger story and assume its one man with a vision Then we grow up and understand many moving parts had to get greased to fulfill and buoy an entrepreneur’s spirit, i.e. don’t bite the hand that’s offering you a hand up. States will bend over backwards to help corporations get through the briar patch that is environmental compliance. Environmental consultants can do this kind of thing in their sleep and pretty cheap. State environmental agents will get it going and fast. Just do the right thing. Don’t do what republicans/libertarians do, which is whine simply to whine about regulations, any regulations, because they read Ayn Rand once.

    • Kyle Field

      That’s one thing Elon Musk typically does very well – maintain a high level of integrity for him and Tesla. I’m confident that even if they go the fast route and land in Cali, Tesla will maintain the highest standards and far exceed any regulations that are currently in place.

      • I’ll assume you know him/them and agree. In the meantime, California is floating bonds and requesting federal assistance for its water shortages and wildfires management. We’re talking billions and everyone in the state is in this mess together. Environmental impact and baseline studies look into, among many things, water supply and water resources protection. Much of California’s groundwater is impacted by industry spills and agriculture. As well as getting pumped dry. Reservoirs are very-very low. Desalination is expensive and has been on the cusp of a cost cutting breakthrough technology advancement for 40 years. At least California has Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer to make sure federal money flows to tech and security sectors.

        • Matt

          Much of the water going thru CA ends up being used in to make the desert bloom. Let that farm land turn back into its natural desert state and there would not be a water shortage in CA.
          This is of course unrelated to the waiver. Which I think isn’t a waive so much as a you can start before the reviews are complete. Which means Tesla still must do its homework, or get half way end and find out they have a issue.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You might want to check and see where you produce comes from. We eat a lot from those watered deserts.

Back to Top ↑