Posts Tagged ‘GHG emissions’


On November 27, 2017, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) presented the California Natural Resources Agency with proposed amendments to the CEQA Guidelines. As Director Ken Alex noted in his transmittal letter, this is the most comprehensive update to the Guidelines since the late 1990s. Among other changes, OPR’s amendments affect the analysis of energy impacts, promote the use of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as the primary metric for transportation impacts, and clarify Guidelines section 15126.2 to specify that an agency must analyze hazards that a project may risk exacerbating.

The amendments to the CEQA Guidelines have been shaped by several years of discussion and public comment. OPR began discussions with stakeholders in 2013 and released a preliminary discussion draft of the comprehensive changes to the Guidelines in August 2015. OPR received hundreds of comments on the proposed updates and has provided a document with Thematic Responses to Comments.

One of the most highly-anticipated and impactful changes is the switch from the level of service (LOS) to VMT as the primary metric in analysis of transportation impacts. These updates were required by Senate Bill 743, which directed OPR to develop alternative methods for measuring transportation impacts. Due to the complexity of these changes, OPR has provided a Technical Advisory on Evaluating Transportation Impacts in CEQA to assist public agencies.

Some highlights from the proposed updates include:

  1. Appendix G: adds new questions related to Energy, VMT, and Wildfire;
  2. Guidelines section 15064.3 (SB 743): establishes VMT as the primary metric for analyzing transportation impacts, with agencies having a two-year opt-in period to make the transition easier;
  3. Energy impacts: includes changes to Appendix G and makes clear that analysis must include energy use for all project phases and include transportation-related energy;
  4. Guidelines section 15126.2, subdivision (a): adds the phrase “or risks exacerbating” to implement the California Supreme Court’s holding in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (2015) 62 Cal.4th 369, requiring an EIR to analyze existing hazards that a project may make worse; and
  5. Guidelines section 15064.4: includes clarifications related to the analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to reflect the Supreme Court’s decisions in Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments (2017) 3 Cal.5th 497 and Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish & Wildlife (2015) 62 Cal.4th 204 (“Newhall Ranch”).

On January 25, 2018 the Natural Resources Agency initiated the formal rulemaking process. From the Agency: The Natural Resources Agency’s proposed updates to the Guidelines Implementing the California Environmental Quality Act are now available.  The proposed changes to the Guidelines and related rulemaking materials are available on the Agency’s website at http://resources.ca.gov/ceqa/.  Public hearings will be held in Los Angeles on March 14, 2018 and in Sacramento on March 15, 2018.  Written comments must be submitted by 5:00pm on March 15, 2018.  Hearing locations, instructions for submitting comments and related information regarding the rulemaking process is contained in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

 

 

 

 

On November 11, 2017, the Fourth District, Division One in Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments (2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 413 (Cleveland II), resolved the remaining issues on remand from California Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year.

SANDAG certified a programmatic EIR for its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy in 2011. Petitioners challenged that EIR, alleging multiple deficiencies under CEQA, including the EIR’s analysis of greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts, mitigation measures, alternatives, and impacts to air quality and agricultural land. The Court of Appeal held that the EIR failed to comply with CEQA in all identified respects.  The Supreme Court granted review on the sole issue of whether SANDAG was required to use the GHG emission reduction goals in Governor Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order S-3-05 as a threshold of significance. Finding for SANDAG, the Court left all other issues to be resolved on remand.

First, the Court of Appeal ruled that the case was not moot, although the 2011 EIR had been superseded by a new EIR certified in 2015, because the 2011 version had never been decertified and thus could be relied upon. The court also found that petitioners did not forfeit arguments from their original cross-appeal by not seeking a ruling on them. And, even if failing to raise the arguments was a basis for forfeiture, the rule is not automatic, and the court has discretion to resolve important legal issues, including compliance with CEQA.

Second, the court reiterated the Supreme Court’s holding, that SANDAG’s choice of GHG thresholds of significance was adequate for this EIR, but may not be sufficient going forward. Turning to SANDAG’s selection of GHG mitigation measures, the court found that SANDAG’s analysis was not supported by substantial evidence, because the measures selected were either ineffective (“assuring little to no concrete steps toward emissions reductions”) or infeasible and thus “illusory.”

Third, also under the substantial evidence standard of review, the court determined that the EIR failed to describe a reasonable range of alternatives that would plan for the region’s transportation needs, while lessening the plan’s impacts to climate change. The EIR was deficient because none of the alternatives would have reduced regional vehicles miles traveled (VMT). This deficiency was particularly inexplicable given that SANDAG’s Climate Action Strategy expressly calls for VMT reduction. The measures, policies, and strategies in the Climate Action Strategy could have formed an acceptable basis for identifying project alternatives in this EIR.

Fourth, the EIR’s description of the environmental baseline, description of adverse health impacts, and analysis of mitigation measures for air quality, improperly deferred analysis from the programmatic EIR to later environmental review, and were not based on substantial evidence.  Despite acknowledging potential impacts from particulate matter and toxic air contaminants on sensitive receptors (children, the elderly, and certain communities), the EIR did not provide a “reasoned estimate” of pollutant levels or the location and population of sensitive receptors. The EIR’s discussion of the project’s adverse health impacts was impermissibly generalized. The court explained that a programmatic EIR improperly defers mitigation measures when it does not formulate them or fails to specify the performance criteria to be met in the later environmental review. Because this issue was at least partially moot given the court’s conclusions regarding defects in the EIR’s air quality analysis, the court simply concurred with the petitioners’ contention that all but one of EIR’s mitigation measures had been improperly deferred.

The court made two rulings regarding impacts to agricultural land. In finding for the petitioners, the court held that SANDAG impermissibly relied on a methodology with “known data gaps” to describe the agricultural baseline, as the database did not contain records of agricultural parcels of less than 10 acres nor was there any record of agricultural land that was taken out of production in the last twenty years.  This resulted in unreliable estimates of both the baseline and impacts. However, under de novo review, the court found that the petitioners had failed to exhaust their remedies as to impacts on small farms and the EIR’s assumption that land converted to rural residential zoning would remain farmland. While the petitioners’ comment letter generally discussed impacts to agriculture, it was not sufficiently specific so as to “fairly apprise” SANDAG of their concerns.

Justice Benke made a detailed dissent. Under Benke’s view, the superseded 2011 EIR is “most likely moot” and in any event, that determination should have been left to the trial court on remand. This conclusion is strengthened, when, as here, the remaining issues concern factual contentions. As a court of review, their record is insufficient to resolve those issues.

On November 21, 2017, the Fifth District partially published its decision in Association of Irritated Residents v. Kern County Board of Supervisors (2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 708. The published sections covered arguments about the baseline used for the oil refinery modification project, the mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the extent to which federal preemption precludes aspects of CEQA review of project impacts. In reversing the trial court’s judgment denying the petition for writ of mandate, the Court of Appeal upheld the EIR’s treatment of the project baseline and GHG emissions but determined that the county erred in relying on federal preemption to avoid analyzing and mitigating impacts from off-site rail activities.

The project involved modifications proposed by Alon USA to an existing petroleum refinery northwest of the City of Bakersfield. The refinery had undergone several ownership changes since 1932, with Alon USA purchasing it from Flying J and its subsidiary during the latter’s 2008 bankruptcy proceedings. Alon USA sought to expand existing rail, transfer and storage facilities, including the construction of a double rail loop connected to the BNSF railway. The expanded train facilities would allow the transport of crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to the refinery for processing. The Association of Irritated Residents, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club filed suit after the County certified an EIR and approved the project.

First, the court dealt with plaintiffs’ arguments about the use of year 2007 as the baseline for air pollution emissions instead of using year 2013 – the year that the County published the notice of preparation. In discussing Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Const. Authority (2013) 57 Cal.4th 439, 457 (“Neighbors”), the court established that it was interpreting Neighbors to only require heightened scrutiny of baselines that use hypothetical future conditions and not of those that use data from past, fluctuating conditions. Based on this interpretation, the court found no error in the County’s use of data from year 2007 because substantial evidence supported this deviation from the “normal” baseline. The court concluded that it was reasonable to include an operating refinery in the baseline because: (a) existing permits and entitlements allow for the processing of up to 70,000 barrels per day; (b) Flying J’s bankruptcy filing in 2008 only temporarily halted processing of hydrocarbons; (c) refinery operations have been subject to prior CEQA review; and (d) the processing of crude oil could begin again without the currently proposed project. The court then turned to whether the County’s choice of year 2007 was supported by substantial evidence, and found that it was because 2007 was the last full year of refinery operations, and was not some hypothetical, maximum authorized amount. The court even included its own calculations of the average barrels per day for the period of 2001 through 2008 to show that the year-2007 figure of 60,389 barrels-per-day was less than the average of 60,994 barrels-per-day.

Second, the court addressed GHG emissions arguments. The court started by analyzing under the de novo review standard a question of first impression: can the volume of a project’s estimated GHG emissions be decreased to reflect the use of allowances and offset credits under the state’s cap-and-trade program? The court concluded that this use of the cap-and-trade program did not violate CEQA because Section 15064.4, subd. (b)(3), effectively directed the County to consider the project’s compliance with the state’s cap-and-trade program as a “regulation[] or requirement[] adopted to implement a statewide . . . plan for the reduction of mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.” And the court concluded that the project’s compliance with the cap-and-trade program could be part of the substantial evidence supporting a finding of less-than-significant impacts from GHG emissions even though surrender of allowances would not result in the project emitting fewer GHG molecules than if the allowance had not been surrendered. The court explained that the cap-and-trade program was designed so that the “limited allocation and use of allowances means they are not available for use elsewhere” in the state.

In the final published section, the court dealt with federal preemption and off-site rail impacts. Claiming that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (ICCTA) preempted CEQA review, the County had excluded analysis of some of the impacts from off-site main line rail operations that will deliver crude oil to the refinery. The court disagreed. Interpreting the California Supreme Court’s direction in Friends of Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority (2017) 3 Cal.5th 677, 722, the court of appeal concluded that the development of information pursuant to CEQA is not categorically preempted but may be preempted on an as-applied basis. Then, as an alternative to that broad legal conclusion, the court considered whether categorical preemption applied to the specific circumstances in this case. It concluded that no categorical preemption applied because analysis of indirect environmental effects “would impose no permitting or preclearance by a state or local agency upon the delivery of crude oil to the project site by a rail carrier,” and “would not control or influence matters directly regulated under federal law.” The court also concluded that there was no as-applied preemption because the environmental analysis of off-site rail activities “would not prevent, burden, or interfere with BNSF Railway’s operation.” Finally, the court directed the County on remand to use the tests stated in this opinion to determine whether particular mitigation measures may be preempted by the ICCTA.

 

 

In January 2017, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released the Draft 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update. The Proposed Scoping Plan identifies the overall strategy to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—the target codified in SB 32. The strategy requires contributions from all economic sectors and includes a combination of extending key reduction programs and new actions that would prioritize direct emissions reductions.

The Proposed Scoping Plan continues the cap-and-trade program through 2030. The analysis in the plan finds that cap-and-trade is the lowest cost, most efficient policy approach to meeting the 2030 goal. According to the analysis, even if other measures fall short, cap-and-trade provides certainty that California will meet the 2030 target emissions reduction. The agency is also evaluating potential changes to the cap-and-trade program to “support greater direct GHG emissions reductions.” Under evaluation are measures which include reducing the offset usage limit, redesigning the allocation strategy to support increased technology and energy investments to reduce GHG emissions, and reducing allocation for entities with criteria or toxic emissions that exceed a predetermined baseline.

Other key components of the overall approach include: a 20 percent reduction in GHG emissions from the refinery sector; continued investment in renewable energy; efforts to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants; and increased focus on zero- and near-zero emission vehicle technologies.

CARB is currently seeking comments on the Proposed Scoping Plan. The comment period was recently extended until April 10, 2017. A public board meeting on the Final Proposed Scoping Plan is scheduled for June 22-23, 2017.

Governor Brown recently signed Senate Bill 32 and Assembly Bill 197 continuing California’s leadership on climate change. SB 32 and AB 197 were inextricably linked—each bill requiring the passage of the other.

SB 32 significantly increases the state’s targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. It calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 40 percent below the statewide limit by 2030.

AB 197 requires CARB to prioritize direct emission reductions and consider social costs when adopting regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a means to protect the state’s “most impacted and disadvantaged communities.” Social costs are defined as “an estimate of the economic damages, including, but not limited to, changes in net agricultural productivity; impacts to public health; climate adaptation impacts, such as property damages from increased flood risk; and changes in energy system costs, per metric ton of greenhouse gas emission per year.” The legislation requires CARB to prioritize those rules and regulations that would result in direct emissions reductions at large stationary and mobile sources. AB 197 also creates oversight of future CARB greenhouse gas emissions reductions strategies by adding two legislators to the state board as ex-officio nonvoting members and creating a joint legislative committee that will make recommendations to the legislature concerning the state’s programs, policies, and investments related to climate change.

 

The Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) released final guidance providing a framework for federal agencies to quantify greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions for projects subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). When addressing climate change, agencies should consider both the potential effects of a proposed action on climate change as well as the effects of climate change on a proposed action and its environmental impacts.

CEQ recommends using projected GHG emissions as a proxy to quantify impacts—along with providing a qualitative discussion of the relationship between GHG emissions and climate change—to assist federal agencies in making “a reasoned choice among alternatives and mitigation actions.” Both direct and indirect effects should be analyzed in comparison to the no-action alternative—amounting to cumulative effects analysis. The guidance expressly provides that a separate cumulative effects analysis for GHG emissions is not necessary. The preference is for a quantitative analysis of GHG emissions based on available tools and information. Where agencies do not quantify projected GHG emissions, a qualitative analysis should be included along with an explanation of why quantification was not reasonably available. Simply stating that the proposed project represents only a small fraction of GHG emissions globally is insufficient. Finally, proposed mitigation of GHG emissions should be evaluated to ensure they are “verifiable, durable, enforceable, and will be implemented.”

In analyzing how climate change will affect a proposed project, CEQ does not expect agencies to undertake original research or analysis; rather the expectation is that agencies will rely on existing, relevant scientific literature, incorporating such research by reference into an environmental document. Accounting for climate change during the planning process allows agencies to consider a project’s vulnerability to climate change, in addition to particular impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities, allowing agencies to explore opportunities to increase a project’s resilience to climate change as part of the initial design.

Overall, CEQ would have agencies treat the analysis of GHG emissions and climate change like any other environmental impact under NEPA. The guidance acknowledges that the “rule of reason” and proportionality play a role in determining the extent of analysis, which should be commensurate with the quantity of projected GHG emissions “as it would not be consistent with the rule of reason to require the preparation of an EIS for every federal action that may cause GHG emissions regardless of the magnitude of those emissions.”

This guidance does not carry the force and effect of law. Nevertheless, it does provide a common approach to be used by federal agencies in analyzing climate change, and is bound to be persuasive in determining whether an EIS adequately addresses climate change impacts.

US EPA Delays Rollout of New Clean Power Rules

January 14th, 2015 by Gwynne Hunter

On January 7, the EPA announced that it is delaying release of proposed power plant rules. The rules are intended to lower the power sector’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030. EPA states the delay is meant to give states time to develop compliance plans.

The rules for new power plants were originally slated to be released this week, but their release is now postponed to align with the later release of rules governing existing and modified plants. EPA explained that finalizing the rules for all three types of plants concurrently will allow it to consider overlapping issues in a coordinated fashion. Finalization of the rules is set for mid-summer.

One consequence of the delay is that Congress cannot attempt to override the rules under the Congressional Review Act until later this year. Another outcome of releasing all three rules together is that this strategy could make it harder to bring effective legal challenges against rules; EPA could claim that the new rules constitute a single action, and thus must be challenged in a single brief. EPA, however, denies that legal strategy is motivating the delay.

It is unclear whether there could be further delays down the road, but EPA has at least one important reason for getting the rules finalized on schedule: it would be one of the Obama Administration’s last actions.

In a 2-1 decision, the Fourth District Court of Appeal concluded that the environmental impact report (EIR) for a regional transportation plan for the San Diego area was inadequate because it did not apply a long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction target contained in a 2005 Executive Order. The opinion, Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments, Case No. D063288, was filed Nov. 24, 2014, includes a vigorous dissent, and is available here.

The case involved the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy, adopted in 2011 by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). The Regional Transportation Plan calls for investing $214 billion in local, state and federal transportation funds over the next 40 years for transit projects and improvements to highways, roads and streets. The Sustainable Communities Strategy is designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to state-mandated levels over time. The San Diego region was the first region in California to produce a Regional Transportation Plan that includes a Sustainable Communities Plan, as required by Senate Bill 375.

At issue in the case was a 2005 Executive Order issued by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Executive Order established reduction targets for GHG emissions, including a target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Following the 2005 Executive Order, the Legislature enacted the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) and the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375). SB 375 requires the California Air Resources Board to establish regional reduction targets for GHG emissions from cars and light duty trucks for 2020 and 2035, and to revisit those targets every eight years through 2050 or sooner if circumstances warrant. The Air Resources Board set initial regional reduction goals for 2020 and 2035, but not beyond.

The program EIR for SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan applied three different thresholds to analyze the significance of GHG emissions, based on CEQA Guidelines section 15064.4. The EIR’s analysis included standards tied to the years 2020 and 2035. The EIR discussed the Executive Order’s 2050 reduction target, but explained it did not apply it to the analysis because the Air Resources Board had not yet developed such a formal target. The EIR found the proposed transportation plan would lead to GHG emissions reductions through 2020, but increases in emissions after that.

The petitioners, Cleveland National Forest Foundation and Sierra Club, challenged the EIR on several grounds under CEQA. Among other things, the petitioners found fault with the EIR because it did not analyze longer term GHG emissions impacts under the goal contained in the 2005 Executive Order. SANDAG argued the EIR could not apply policy goals contained in the Executive Order because no statute or regulation had translated the Order’s goals into “comparable, scientifically based emissions reduction targets.”

The majority agreed with the petitioners that the EIR’s GHG impacts analysis was deficient. According to the majority opinion, the failure to use the Executive Order’s 2050 target as a significance threshold violated CEQA’s requirement for a “reasonable, good faith effort at full disclosure.” The majority referred to the omission as a failure to perform a “consistency analysis” with the Executive Order.

The majority also held that the EIR violated CEQA by failing to analyze a reasonable range of project alternatives, failing to adequately analyze and mitigate the transportation plan’s air quality impacts, improperly deferring the formulation of mitigation, and understating the plan’s impacts on agricultural lands.

The dissent described the majority’s requirement of a “consistency analysis” with the Executive Order as “judicial fiat, pure and simple” and “a new formulation of the law.” The dissent stated that a policy directive from the Governor’s office does not constitute a required threshold of significance under CEQA. According to the dissent, in the absence of the Legislature’s independent action in tasking the Air Resources Board with adopting regional 2050 GHG targets, the EIR was not required to consider the broad 2050 goals contained in the Executive Order.

EPA Sets Emission Reduction Goals for Power Plants

June 5th, 2014 by Gwynne Hunter

After hundreds of stakeholder meetings during the past year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued emissions guidelines for states to follow as they develop plans to address greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. On June 2, 2014, EPA released a proposed rule that would require fossil fuel-fired electric generating units to reduce their 2005-level carbon dioxide emissions 30% by 2030. The rule falls under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

Each state would have its own rate-based CO2 emissions standard. Interim checkpoints for the ultimate emissions reduction goal would begin in 2020. Aside from improved fossil fuel efficiency, the rule encourages emissions reductions in the energy sector by taking advantage of renewable energy sources and reducing electricity demand across the grid.

The comment period will run for 120 days. States must submit implementation plans by June 30, 2016.

The proposed rule is available here.

On Monday, October 28, 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a landmark climate change agreement. Governor Brown met in San Francisco with the governors of Washington and Oregon and the Premier of British Columbia to announce the partnership. Also in attendance were British Columbia’s Minister of the Environment as well as business, labor, and environmental officials from the four jurisdictions. The deal is based on the contiguous geography and shared infrastructure of the West Coast and linked economies with a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion – collectively, the world’s fifth largest economy. A meeting with the leaders of provinces on the coast of China is scheduled for January 2014, at which point those provinces may join the current group.

The three states and Canadian province formally aligned their climate policies to collectively combat climate change and promote clean energy. Oregon and Washington will bring their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and industrial sources closer to those of California and British Columbia. Oregon will set a price for carbon, and Washington will develop a cap-and-trade market. California and British Columbia will continue their current carbon-reducing pursuits, and the four jurisdictions will harmonize their 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets. The plan also includes integrating regional electricity grids to provide greater access to renewable sources.

The agreement did not create the regional carbon market sought by California. However, the state is planning to open an emissions market with the Quebec province in 2014. In 2007, a group of western states and Canadian provinces came together in the Western Climate Initiative to create a regional market for greenhouse gas emissions. The group dispersed in 2011, as California and Canadian provinces pursued emissions trading, and the other states branched off to non-market-based strategies.

The accord originated from the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a group that, since 2008, has organized climate change and clean energy policies.

On October 15, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA (2012) 684 F.3d 102. It is regarded as the most important federal case involving greenhouse gas emissions after its predecessor, Massachusetts v. EPA (2007) 549 U.S. 497.

Background

The case below involved a number of the U.S. EPA’s Clean Air Act rules regulating greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, such as large industrial plants, refineries, and factories. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the EPA’s rules in June 2012. Specifically, the court upheld the EPA’s endangerment finding for greenhouse gases and the agency’s decision that the endangerment finding made greenhouse gases an “air pollutant” for purposes of the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program. The court also held that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge how the rule is phased in.

Various interest groups and states submitted a total of nine petitions for certiorari, seeking to overturn the D.C. Circuit’s decision. The Supreme Court accepted six of these petitions.

The Court will consider the narrow issue of whether the EPA acted within its authority in determining that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements for stationary sources under the Clean Air Act. This means that the Court will leave some of the lower court’s findings undisturbed, including the endangerment finding and the “tailpipe rule,” which sets emissions standards for automobiles.

Issues

The challenged Clean Air Act provisions are the “timing” and “tailoring” rules, which together exempt small stationary sources from the greenhouse gas regulations that would otherwise apply. As enacted, the Act regulates every “source” of greenhouse gases emitting 100 tons of a single pollutant, including homes, apartment buildings, and small businesses. The EPA determined that regulating every source at that emission level would be both impractical and politically unpopular, so it created the tailoring rule to confine application of the Act to new sources emitting at least 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year and modifications of existing sources that increase emissions by 75,000 tons.

The industries and states challenging the tailoring rule argue that the rule is unlawful, since it relieves sources emitting between 100 and 100,000 tons from regulation when the statute clearly says those sources must be regulated. They also argue that the PSD provisions of the Act under which the EPA is regulating the larger emitters do not apply to greenhouse gases. The challengers believe the PSD provisions only apply to those pollutants on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards’ criteria pollutants list, which does not include greenhouse gases.

The criteria pollutant list is selective; it contains only six air pollutants which have a demonstrable effect on human health, such as lead and carbon monoxide. However, after the Court held that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act in the 2007 case Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA found six greenhouse gases that must be regulated due to their threat to public health and welfare. Thus, though greenhouse gases are not technically listed as a criteria air pollutant, they have been found to be dangerous to human health. In fact, the PSD already applies to non-criteria pollutants, albeit more obscure ones like sulfuric acid mist. Plus, the EPA’s interpretation of its own statutes will be accorded significant deference under Chevron, which makes the challengers’ position an uphill battle.

The lower court never reached the substance of the challengers’ arguments because it found that they did not have standing, reasoning that regulating larger businesses while exempting smaller ones did not injure the larger businesses. In fact, the Court found that the tailoring rule could even help states like Texas – one of the states challenging the rule – because it would lessen the state’s burden in administering the Clean Air Act permitting program.

A ruling on the statutory interpretation issues could help to clear some of the ambiguities plaguing the Clean Air Act, which has not been amended since 1990. With the increasing national and international focus on climate change, environmentalists and industry alike would benefit from more guidance on how the Act applies to greenhouse gases. The Court will hear arguments in early 2014 and is anticipated to issue a ruling by July.

In Friends of Oroville v. City of Oroville, ___Cal.App.4th ___ (Aug. 19, 2013, Case No. C070448), the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that the City of Oroville misapplied the threshold-of significance standard in Assembly Bill 32 (the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) when it approved an EIR for a new Wal-Mart Supercenter. In the published portion of the opinion, the court found that the city identified the proper significance threshold for the Wal-Mart project’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But the court held that the city failed to apply the standard properly because it a) applied a “meaningless” number to determine insignificant impact and b) failed to ascertain the existing GHG emissions for the project. The case provides clear guidance for an agency making a determination under CEQA of GHG emissions impacts.

The project involved the relocation and expansion of an existing Wal-Mart store. At the time the EIR was developed, neither the city nor the Butte County Air Quality Management District had adopted a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that would be applicable to the project. Therefore, the city adopted a standard that asked whether the project would “significantly hinder or delay” California’s ability to meet the reduction targets in Assembly Bill 32, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The EIR noted that the State Air Resources Board’s Scoping Plan for achieving that goal calls for cutting approximately 30 percent from “business-as-usual” emission levels projected for 2020. The court found this standard proper.

The city’s error came when it compared the project’s estimated carbon dioxide emissions at build-out with the entire state of California’s 2004 GHG emissions. The calculation showed the project’s emissions constituted just 0.003 percent of the state’s total emissions. The EIR concluded the impact was less than significant because it would not significantly hinder or delay California’s ability to meet the GHG reduction targets in Assembly Bill 32. In a sharp rebuke, the court called the comparison “meaningless” and “worse than apples to oranges” because “[o]f course, one store’s GHG emissions will pale in comparison to those of the world’s eighth largest economy.”

The court pointed to Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development v. City of Chula Vista (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 327, for the proper application of the standard. According to the court, the relevant question is whether a project’s emissions should be considered significant “in light of the threshold-of significance standard of Assembly Bill 32, which seeks to cut about 30 percent from business-as-usual emission levels projected for 2020 [emphasis added].”

The court also found the EIR deficient because it failed to ascertain or estimate the effect of the project’s mitigation measures on GHG emissions. The court stated: “Without these determinations, ascertaining whether AB 32’s target reductions are being met is difficult if not futile.” In its disposition, the court reversed the trial court’s denial for writ of mandate and remanded with directions to grant the petition as to the issue of greenhouse gas emissions and payment of transportation-related fees.
[written by Deb Kollars]

In California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (August 13, 2013, Case No. A136212) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, the First District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s decision striking down the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD’s) CEQA thresholds of significance for greenhouse gas emissions. The appellate court held that CEQA does not require BAAQMD to prepare an environment impact report (EIR) before adopting “thresholds of significance” to assist in the determination of whether air emissions of proposed projects might be deemed “significant.”

On June 2, 2010, BAAQMD adopted CEQA thresholds of significance for greenhouse gas emissions. The thresholds also set standards for impacts related to toxic air contaminants (TACs) and very small particulate matter (PM2.5). The thresholds were adopted pursuant to CEQA Guidelines section 15064.7, which encourages agencies to “develop and publish thresholds of significance” for “general use as part of the lead agency’s environmental review process.” The section further mandates that the thresholds be “adopted by ordinance, resolution, rule, or regulation, and developed through a public review process and be supported by substantial evidence.”

The California Building Industry Association (CBIA) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging BAAQMD’s adoption of the thresholds. CBIA argued the issuance of the thresholds was a “project” under CEQA, and that BAAQMD had violated CEQA by not preparing an EIR before adopting the guidelines. CBIA claimed the thresholds were too stringent and would discourage developers from building desirable urban infill projects close to public transportation by making the CEQA review process more burdensome and expensive. This, in turn, would result in more housing being built in the suburbs, causing more commuter traffic and more traffic-related emissions. This increased pollution, CBIA argued, was an adverse impact mandating preparation of an EIR.

The Alameda County Superior Court agreed, ruling that the adoption of the thresholds was a project under CEQA and entered an order awarding the CBIA substantial attorney fees under Code Civil Procedure section 1021.5.

The First District Court of Appeal reversed, reasoning that (1) the district’s adoption of thresholds was not a “project” within the meaning of CEQA and (2) there were no reasonably foreseeable impacts associated with this action.

CEQA defines a project as any activity “which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment.” (Pub. Res. Code, § 21065.) The appellate court concluded that the adoption of thresholds was not a project. BAAQMD relied on CEQA Guidelines section 15064.7 in promulgating the thresholds. The court explained that section 15064.7 establishes the procedures for adopting thresholds in some detail, and CEQA review is not part of that procedure. Section 15064.7, subdivision (b), provides that thresholds of significance must be formally adopted through a public review process and supported by substantial evidence if, as in this case, they are to be placed in general use. The agency accepted public comments and responded to comments. Striking an uncommon tone, the court concluded that this process was substantially similar to the EIR process and that requiring more would be a duplicative effort and a waste of tax dollars.

The court noted in any event, the action was not a “project” because the activity would not cause a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change. (Pub. Res. Code, § 21065; CEQA Guidelines, § 15378, subd. (a).) CBIA argued that impacts were reasonably foreseeable because the thresholds were more stringent than earlier thresholds and would require a more thorough environmental analysis; as a result, the CEQA process would become more burdensome, making urban development less desirable and leading to more suburban development with all its attendant impacts including traffic and air quality impacts.

The court was not persuaded, instead reasoning that the analysis posited by CBIA included many assumptions and a great deal of speculation because “the extent to which land development projects might be relocated to a more suburban location would require a prescience we cannot reasonably demand of the [BAAQMD].” The court, therefore, concluded that no CEQA review was required before BAAQMD promulgated the thresholds.

In its petition for writ of mandate, CBIA raised several challenges to the substance of the thresholds that were not decided by the trial court. Though CBIA failed to cross-appeal, the appellate court agreed to consider the other two issues. First, CBIA argued that the standards were inappropriate in any event because they evaluated the effects of the environment on sensitive receptors as part of the project; this is contrary, it argued to the purpose of CEQA, which is to protect the environment from proposed projects, not protect the proposed projects from the existing environment. The court cited a long line of cases for this proposition, including the recent Ballona Wetlands Land Trust v. City of Los Angeles (2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 455. The court did not address whether Ballona, et al., were correctly decided, or whether, as a general rule, an EIR may be required solely because the existing environment may adversely affect future occupants of a project. Instead, finding CBIA’s claim that the receptor thresholds were unauthorized by CEQA analogous to a claim a statute or regulation is unconstitutional on its face, the court held that the regulations were not facially invalid because they were relevant for purposes other than determining the effects of the environment on the project. The court also suggested that continuing vitality of Ballona, et al., was better reserved for a case in which the receptor thresholds were actually applied to a project.

As to the second CBIA challenge not ruled on by the trial court, the First District concluded that BAAQMD’s TAC Single-Source and Cumulative Thresholds were supported by substantial evidence and upheld them.

In reversing the trial court’s judgment in CBIA’s favor and declining to grant the relief CBIA sought on the issues not resolved by the trial court, the court of appeal also reversed the substantial attorney’s fees award, concluding the industry association was no longer the successful party under Code of Civil Procedure Section 1021.5.