Posts Tagged ‘Greenhouse Gas Emissions’


In a 6/1 opinion, the California Supreme Court held that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) did not abuse its discretion by failing to present a consistency analysis in the EIR for its 2011 regional transportation plan (RTP) comparing anticipated GHG emissions with the long-term reduction goals presented in Executive Order (EO) S-3-05, in Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments (2017) 3 Cal. 5th 497.  The court reasoned that SANDAG had adequately informed the public, using information available at the time, of inconsistencies with overall state climate goals.

In 2011, SANDAG issued its RTP as a 40-year blueprint for regional transportation planning. The RTP was accompanied by an EIR that used three thresholds of significance to assess GHG impacts. Compared to existing (2010) conditions, the EIR found GHG impacts to be “not significant” in 2020, but significant in both 2035 and 2050. The EIR also analyzed GHG emissions against statutory goals for the years 2020 and 2035, but did not compare emissions against the long-term (2050) goal set forth in EO S-3-5 (80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050).  In response to comments that were critical of the GHG analysis, SANDAG maintained that it had no obligation to analyze projected GHG emissions against the Executive Order.

Several groups filed lawsuits challenging the EIR and the Attorney General later joined the petitioners. The superior court found the EIR inadequate and issued a writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that, among other flaws, the EIR violated CEQA by failing to measure GHG impacts against the Executive Order.

The Supreme Court granted review on the following question: “Must the environmental impact report for a regional transportation plan include an analysis of the plan‘s consistency with the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals reflected in Executive Order No. S-3-05 to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.)?”

Addressing this question, the Supreme Court held that the EIR was not required to include an express analysis of GHG impacts compared to the Executive Order’s goals. The court was careful, however, to limit its holding to the facts before it, explaining that it was holding “only that SANDAG, in analyzing greenhouse gas impacts at the time of the EIR, did not abuse its discretion by declining to adopt the Executive Order as a measure of significance or to discuss the Executive Order more than it did.” The court noted that this level of analysis would not “necessarily be sufficient going forward.”

Finding that an express consistency analysis was not required, the court disagreed that the EIR obscured the statutory framework or statewide goals, although it conceded that SANDAG could have presented the information in “clearer or more graphic” ways. Because the EIR presented anticipated GHG emissions in 2050 and discussed the long-term goals in the Executive Order, the court found that the information was “not difficult” for the public to obtain to conduct a consistency analysis. The court stressed that the inclusion of this information in responses to comments instead of the EIR itself was “not an infirmity” because it would be expected that members of the public “interested in the contents of an EIR will not neglect this section.”

The court acknowledged the parties’ understanding that an executive order does not carry the “force of a legal mandate” when preparing a CEQA document but did not discuss this issue further. Nor did the Court prescribe this specific outcome for other agencies but instead repeatedly asserted the “narrowness” of its ruling and that planning agencies must ensure their analysis keeps up with “evolving scientific knowledge and state regulatory schemes.” In reversing the Court of Appeal’s judgement, the court ruled only that the 2011 analysis of GHGs emissions did not render the EIR inadequate. The court declined to express an opinion on other deficiencies identified by the trial court and Court of Appeal.

In a comprehensive dissent that included a detailed discussion of the legislative framework, Justice Cuéllar maintained that SANDAG’s EIR lacked “good faith reasoned analysis” because it obscured important GHG information. Justice Cuéllar pointed to the “relative clarity of statewide statutory goals” as reasoning why SANDAG did not have the discretion to downplay the GHG consequences of its RTP. Further, he expressed concern that the majority’s ruling could allow other regional planning agencies to “shirk their responsibilities.”

Remy Moose Manley (Whitman F. Manley, Laura M. Harris, and Christopher L. Stiles) submitted an Amicus Curiae brief in support of SANDAG.

[Casey Shorrock Smith]

In Bay Area Citizens v. Association of Bay Area Governments (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 966, the First District Court of Appeal interpreted SB 375 as requiring the California Air Resources Board (Board) and regional agencies to set and meet the emissions reductions targets through regionally-developed land use and transportation strategies that are independent of existing statewide clean technology mandates. Therefore, the court of appeal upheld the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Government’s (collectively, the Agencies) “Plan Bay Area” and its EIR, finding the opponent’s arguments failed because they were based on a misinterpretation of SB 375’s requirements.

SB 375 requires the Board to provide greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets to each region while taking into account statewide mandates such as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard and the New Vehicle Emissions Standards. Then, each regional metropolitan planning organization (MPO) must prepare a sustainable communities strategy to meet those targets. The Agencies prepared Plan Bay Area. The petitioners commented on the Plan’s EIR stating that the Agencies should have counted reductions expected from preexisting statewide mandates. When the Board’s staff conducted a technical review of the Plan, however, they stated that the Agencies had appropriately excluded greenhouse gas emissions reductions from other technology and fuel programs. The Board then issued an executive order with the staff’s technical report attached, accepting that Plan Bay Area, if implemented, would achieve the targets.

The petitioners alleged that the Agencies failed to comply with CEQA by incorrectly assuming that SB 375 compelled them to exclude compliance with statewide mandates when assessing strategies to meet emissions reductions targets. First, the court looked to the plain meaning and purpose of the statute and found that because the emissions reductions from the statewide mandates are projected to dwarf those achieved by SB 375, the whole statute would be superfluous if the MPOs were simply allowed to cite the expected reductions from preexisting initiatives. Further, the Board’s AB 32 Scoping Plan repeatedly emphasized that the regional land use and transportation strategies were distinct from the statewide mandates. Although the Board was required to take the statewide mandates into account when setting targets under SB 375, the statute did not require any specific approach and the board had discretion to instruct MPOs to exclude consideration of reductions expected from statewide mandates. The Board made this instruction clear when it approved of Plan Bay Area with the exclusion of reductions from statewide mandates.

On the alleged inadequacy of the Plan’s EIR, the court stated that the petitioner’s arguments were based on their misinterpretation of SB 375 and found the EIR adequate. The Agencies were not required to consider the appellants proposed alternative that relied on statewide mandates because, as discussed above, it did not comply with SB 375 and was therefore infeasible. Contrary to the appellants’ contentions, the EIR did not ignore statewide mandates. Consideration of the New Vehicle Emissions Standards and the Low Carbon Fuel standard were included when determining whether implementation of the Plan would result in a net increase in emissions and whether it would impede the goals of AB 32. Further, the court found that in light of the Agencies’ sufficient disclosures throughout the EIR, including when they did and did not consider statewide mandates, the appellant’s arguments amounted to an impermissible substantive attack on the plan.

Written by Sabrina S. Eshaghi

In Spring Valley Lake Association v. City of Victorville (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 91, Division One of the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the San Bernardino County Superior Court’s decision in part, agreeing with the petitioner that revisions to impact analyses after the Draft EIR had been circulated for review constituted significant new information triggering recirculation, and that the Subdivision Map Act required the respondent city to adopt affirmative findings prior to approving a parcel map. The court also held that the project—a commercial retail development anchored by a Wal-Mart—was inconsistent with the city’s general plan.

Subdivision Map Act

The Court of Appeal held that the City of Victorville violated the Subdivision Map Act by failing, in approving the proposed parcel map associated with the project, to make the findings addressing the issues enumerated in Government Code section 66474, subdivisions (a) through (g). On its face, this section seems only to require that a local agency deny approval of a proposal parcel map if it makes any one of the specified findings. The section does not explicitly address what findings must be made in approving a proposed parcel map. The court held, however, that section 66474 does apply in the latter situation, and requires city and county legislative bodies, in approving parcel maps, to make affirmative findings on each matter addressed in subdivisions (a) through (g) of that section. In reaching this conclusion, the court relied on the following: (i) a related provision of the Subdivision Map Act (Government section 66473.5), which requires local legislative bodies, in approving parcel maps, to affirmatively find that such maps are consistent with the governing general plan and any applicable specific plan; (ii) a 1975 opinion from the Attorney General concluding that section 66474 requires affirmative findings for parcel map approvals as well as parcel map denials; and (iii) case law and secondary sources supporting the Attorney General’s broad interpretation of section 66474.

Consistency with General Plan

The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s decision that the city’s finding that the project was consistent with the general plan’s requirement for on-site generation of electricity was not supported by substantial evidence. The general plan requires that all new commercial projects generate on-site electricity to the maximum extent feasible. As part of the project approvals, however, the city did not require the project to generate on-site electricity. In doing so, the city effectively found that generation of on-site electricity was infeasible. In support of this outcome, the EIR stated that there were many factors considered in determining whether the use of solar panels is cost effective, and described the project as being “solar ready.” But the EIR provided no discussion of those factors or how they applied to the project. Nor did the EIR discuss the feasibility of other alternatives such as wind power. The appellate court therefore held that the city’s finding that the project complied with the general plan requirement that commercial projects generate electricity on-site to the maximum extent feasible was not supported by substantial evidence. It is not clear why the court applied the substantial evidence standard to petitioner’s general plan consistency claims, rather than the traditional arbitrary and capricious standard.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision that the EIR failed to adequately address the project’s impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In concluding the project would have no significant impacts on GHG emissions, the city relied on the project’s compliance with the general plan policy to exceed the Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings by 15 percent. The appellate court determined that this conclusion was not supported by the record. First, the court pointed out inconsistencies in the EIR. In one place, the EIR stated that the project would achieve a minimum of 14 percent increased efficiency over Title 24 Standards. In other places, including the technical reports, the EIR stated the project would only be a minimum of ten percent more efficient than Title 24 Standards. Second, in responding to comments, the city acknowledged that the EIR was “currently not in conformity” with the general plan policy that the project would comply with the new energy efficiency standards at the time of construction, and stated that “several of the project’s current energy efficient measures likely meet the 15 percent requirement.” The court found that, at most, the record showed that the project may comply, but not that it would comply with the general plan policy. Therefore, the city’s conclusion that the project would have no significant air quality impacts from GHG emissions was not supported by substantial evidence.

Recirculation under CEQA

Finally, the appellate court also held that the city’s revisions to analyses of certain impact topics constituted “significant new information” triggering recirculation of portions of the Draft EIR. First, the city added to the Final EIR information analyzing the project’s consistency with general plan air quality policies that had inadvertently been omitted from the Draft EIR. Noting that the public did not have a meaningful opportunity to comment on this information, the court found this information disclosed a substantial adverse effect, and therefore triggered the obligation to recirculate the draft EIR. Second, after the city circulated the draft EIR, the applicant substantially revised the project’s storm water management plan. Although no new impacts were identified, the final EIR included 350-pages of new water quality and hydrology analysis. The court held the new information triggered the duty to recirculate. As the court reasoned: “Given their breadth, complexity, and purpose, the revisions to the hydrology and water quality analysis deprived the public of a meaningful opportunity to comment on an ostensibly feasible way to mitigate a substantial adverse environmental effect.” Notably, the court reached these conclusions without attempting to relate its reasoning to the four examples within CEQA Guidelines section 15088.5, subdivision (a), of situations requiring recirculation.

 

The First District Court of Appeal has held the California Air Resources Board (CARB) did not exceed its authority under the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (2006 Act) in implementing the Compliance Offset Protocols and the early action offset provision of its Cap-and-Trade program. Our Children’s Earth Foundation v. California Air Resources Board, Case No. A138830 (Feb. 23, 2015).

Under the 2006 Act, CARB is required to adopt regulations specifying GHG emission limits and emission reduction measures in furtherance of achieving the statewide GHG emissions limit. The 2006 Act expressly authorizes CARB to adopt regulations establishing market-based compliance mechanisms to reduce GHG emissions. Every CARB regulation adopting GHG emission limits and measures must ensure that GHG emissions reductions are “real, permanent, quantifiable, verifiable, and enforceable” by CARB. (Health & Saf. Code, § 38562, subd. (d)(1).) Those regulations must also ensure that the emissions reduction “is in addition to any greenhouse gas emission reduction otherwise required by law or regulation, and any other greenhouse gas emission reduction that otherwise would occur.” (Health & Saf. Code, § 38562, subd. (d)(2), italics added.) This latter provision is known as the “additionality” requirement.

Pursuant to its authority under the 2006 Act, CARB implemented in January 2012 a Cap-and-Trade program regulation, a market-based compliance mechanism for achieving reductions in GHG emissions. The Cap-and-Trade program imposes a cap on the aggregate GHG emissions that covered entities may emit during the annual compliance period. Covered entities include industries who have previously reported exceedances of emissions above CARB’s threshold established for that industry. CARB enforces the cap by issuing a limited number of compliance instruments known as “allowances,” the total value of which is equal to the cap amount. Subject to limitations, participants can buy, bank, or sell allowances which are used by the covered entities to comply with their compliance obligations.

In March 2012, Appellant Our Children’s Earth Foundation (OCEF) (and another organization who is not a party on appeal) filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against CARB. OCEF claimed that CARB’s Compliance Offset Protocols and early offset credit provision violated the additionality requirement of the 2006 Act because they did not ensure the offsets would be truly additional to any GHG reductions that would otherwise occur.

The First District Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s denial of the petition. On appeal, OCEF first claimed that CARB exceeded its authority by adopting a market-based compliance mechanism that fails to ensure offset credits are additional to “any” GHG emissions reductions “that otherwise would occur.” The 2006 Act does not define “additional” or “otherwise would occur.” But the 2006 Act does define “market-based compliance mechanism” as including GHG emissions exchanges, banking, credits, and other transactions, governed by rules and protocols to be established by CARB. Within this authority delegated to CARB by the Legislature, the court concluded that CARB appropriately established rules and protocols that ensure additionality with respect to offset credits accepted under the Cap-and-Trade program.

The court also found it problematic that OCEF failed to articulate how a project operator could prove the GHG reduction would not otherwise occur or how CARB could provide the certainty that OCEF claims the 2006 Act demands. Whether a project would have been implemented without the offset incentive can never be proven with absolute certainty. The court found OCEF’s interpretation unworkable and, in practice, would preclude CARB from implementing market-based compliance mechanisms. That result is not what the Legislature intended, the court believed.

The court also rejected OCEF’s claim related to the early offset credit program. OCEF claimed that CARB exceeded its statutory authority by allowing offset credits for projects that were already occurring. According to the court, however, OCEF incorrectly assumed that a project that began before the Cap-and-Trade program was adopted could never satisfy the additionality requirement. That assumption was not supported by the provisions of the 2006 Act itself, which reflected the Legislature’s intention that there could be incentives for voluntary early reductions even before the Act was passed for which CARB could give credit.

Finally, the court considered OCEF’s challenge to the effectiveness of specific measures included in several of the Compliance Offset Protocols. As to this claim, the court made it clear that it would not substitute its judgment for that of the agency regarding CARB’s factual and policy considerations supporting the regulation. Pointing to the record, the court found that evidence substantially supported CARB’s policy decisions in formulating the protocols.