The California Court of Appeal last week reversed a lower court decision that would have indefinitely delayed the development by Newhall Land and Farming Company of 21,308 residential units, 629 acres of mixed use development, 67 acres of commercial use, 249 acres of business park, and 1,014 acres of open space in northwestern Los Angeles County over the next 25-30 years (“Project”).  The lower court’s decision had originally granted the Petition for Writ of Mandate brought by, among others, the Center for Biological Diversity (“Respondents”), challenging, among other actions by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (“DFW”) (“Appellant”), the revised Joint Federal/State Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (“EIS/EIR”) for the Project.

While the Appellate Court’s 112 page decision addressed numerous causes of action brought by Respondents in the trial court, one of the most unique and far reaching was its disposition of Respondents’ claim that the EIS/EIR’s baseline for assessing the cumulative impacts of the Project’s Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) emissions is a procedural issue properly evaluated under the “failure to proceed in a manner required by law” standard, applicable to procedural actions, and that, employing the correct standard, the EIS/EIR’s analysis was predicated on an illusory baseline.  In a decision that is likely to be adopted in the adjudication of other California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) actions challenging the evolving state and federal GHG standards, the Appellate Court firmly disagreed. 
 

Continue Reading Appellate Court Grants Wide Discretion to Newhall Land and Farming Project Proponents in the Determination of the Significance of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under CEQA

A recent poll of registered voters in California concerning the new State “Cap and Trade” auction program, initiated Wednesday, November 14, 2012, and aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions found strong public support for the program.  As set forth in more detail in the Aviation & Airport Development Law News blog of November 13, 2012, the Cap and Trade program assigns “caps” to carbon emissions (euphemistically called “allowances”) for various industries, including utilities and refineries.  It then allows those companies who have not used the full allotment of allowances to sell their unused allowances to companies that have expended their own allowances.  Effectively, the program would create industry-wide caps on emissions, with flexibility within industry groups as to the way in which to utilize the allowances within the constraint of the caps.  The political significance of the Cap and Trade program as one of the first of its kind in the nation goes well beyond the simplicity of its procedure. 

Continue Reading Public Strongly Favors “Cap and Trade” Carbon Emissions Program

Once again taking a forefront position in innovative environmental programs, California, for good or ill, is poised to launch the first of its kind and scope in the nation greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions trading system (“Cap and Trade”). 

On November 14, 2012, the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) will hold an auction mandated by California’s 2006 “Climate Change” law, AB32, in which pollution permits (“Allowances”) will be bartered to more than 350 businesses, including utilities and refineries.  The concept behind Cap and Trade is that polluters must either cut carbon emissions to the level of a specific emission cap placed on individual types of pollutants by AB32, or buy allowances for each metric ton of carbon discharged over cap limits from other companies whose emissions did not reach cap levels.  Through the Cap and Trade program, excess carbon polluters can achieve up to 8% of emissions reductions needed. 
 

Continue Reading “Cap and Trade” in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Launched in California

On March 27, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) proposed a Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants (“Carbon Standard”), setting national limits on the amount of carbon pollution power plants built in the future can emit.  The rules are a reaction to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), in which, among other things, the Supreme Court held that greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (“CO2”) are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.  EPA was charged by the court with issuing an “endangerment finding,” i.e., a determination that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare which was issued on December 15, 2009. 

Immediately upon their initial promulgation, the Carbon Standard generated more contention than power plants generate greenhouse gases.  The Wall Street Journal charged, in an article entitled “Killing Coal,” that “because the putative ‘regulatory impact’ would be zero, there are also no benefits.”  It went on to say that, because the rule would apply not only to new plants but also to every plant upgrade or modification in existing facilities; and because the technology required to meet the standard is still speculative, the EPA’s real goal must be to put a stop to the use of coal in electricity generating. 

The EPA immediately fired back, characterizing the critique of the Carbon Standard in, among others, the Wall Street Journal, as examples of “fact free assault.”  Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy pointed to the “example” that, in fact, “this standard only applies to new sources – that is power plants that will be constructed in the future.  This standard would never apply to existing power plants.”  Moreover, again pointing to the Wall Street Journal editorial, she stated “the proposed rule explicitly does not apply to facilities making such modifications.  In fact, EPA did not propose a standard for any modifications.”

The proposed Carbon Standard speaks for itself. 

Continue Reading EPA’s Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants Creates Controversy

On October 20, 2011, the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) adopted a new set of rules, called “cap-and-trade,” implementing the requirements of AB32, California’s groundbreaking climate change law. Enacted in 2006, AB32 requires reduction in carbon emissions, usually credited as the cause of “global warming,” to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The new cap-and-trade regulations will be implemented in phases, with the State’s largest emitters required to meet the caps beginning in 2013; and remaining emitters, collectively about 85%, required to begin compliance in 2015.

Continue Reading “Cap-and-Trade” Caps California’s Climate Change Regulations

A Federal Court has recently thrown open the door to potential civil challenges to both private and governmental sources of greenhouse gas emissions, based on the Federal common law of nuisance. For those who believe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has acted too slowly in promulgating greenhouse gas regulation, civil actions are now possible at least in the Second Circuit. However, the Supreme Court may now scrutinize the Second Circuit’s decision. Based on a recent Fourth Circuit decision on a similar issue, the “Nine” may be tempted to follow in Moses’ footsteps and pare down the Second Circuit decision to apply only to greenhouse gas emissions from Federal projects.

 

Continue Reading Preemption Rears its Head Again in Federal Common Law and Nuisance Climate Change Challenge

In the midst of much debate as to whether a threat of “global warming” and “global climate change” actually exists and, if it does, further debate as to whether wind-generated energy would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions sufficiently to have a measurable impact on global temperatures, one thing is certain – wind farms are here, and more are planned. And, as with all forms of energy generation, the siting, construction and operation of wind farms present a number of Federal and local environmental and legal issues.

At the Federal level, wind farm projects may be subject to environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). They may also be subject to challenge under the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Rivers and Harbors Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. (The Mineral Management Services (MMS) has authority to regulate alternative energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf.) Other regulatory issues include Bureau of Land Management (BLM) policies for wind energy projects proposed for land managed by BLM, and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) special use permit requirements for wind energy projects proposed on USFS managed land. Wind farm projects proposed near airports or military airfields must be evaluated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine if they would be an obstruction or hazard to air navigation or interfere with surveillance radar. Wind farm projects can sometimes impact tribal rights.

Potential state and local issues include state environmental review, project siting, permitting and licensing, zoning and surrounding land uses, land leases and easements, turbine noise, vibration (“aerodynamic modulation”), shadow flicker, visual impacts and aesthetic concerns, perceived health effects of wind turbines, interference with electromagnetic transmissions (radio, television and cell phone signals) and claims for declines in tourism and property values. There can also be issues concerning technical requirements, safety, insurance and liabilities on the part of developers, landowners and operators.

These and other wind farm related issues are being litigated, and will continue to be litigated in increasing numbers, in state and Federal courts. The litigation ranges from a case pending in a North Dakota District Court, in which the City of Wishek is seeking to force a homeowner to remove a single wind turbine from his yard, to the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, located in waters five miles off Cape Cod and recently approved by the FAA and the Department of Interior, which opponents have vowed will “be in litigation for years.”

The Council on Environmental Quality, on February 18, 2010, proposed three substantive steps to “modernize and reinvigorate” the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). According to Nancy Sutley, the Chair of the White House-based CEQ, these measures “will assist Federal agencies to meet the goals of NEPA, enhance the quality of public involvement in governmental decisions relating to the environment, increase transparency and ease implementation.”

These three steps include when and how Federal agencies must consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in their proposed actions; clarifying appropriateness of “Findings of No Significant Impact” and specifying when there is a need to monitor environmental mitigation commitments; and clarifying use of categorical exclusions. The CEQ is requesting public comment on all three of the draft guidances.

The Effects of Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Must be Considered in the NEPA Process

Perhaps the most critical element to this modernization of the NEPA process is the CEQ’s draft guidance on when and how Federal agencies must consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in their proposed actions. According to the CEQ:

Continue Reading CEQ’s Steps to Modernize and Reinvigorate NEPA Includes Reporting on Climate Change Effects of Federal Actions

On 40th Anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Jim Tankersley of the Los Angeles Times wrote that

The White House is poised to order all federal agencies to evaluate any major actions they take, such as building highways or logging national forests, to determine how they would contribute to and be affected by climate change, a step long sought by environmentalists.

The Presidential Order would most likely issue from the Council on Environmental Quality, an organization set up by NEPA to oversee the NEPA process. Mr. Tankersley’s article goes on to report that that

The head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley, said in an interview this week that federal agencies "should think about both the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, and the effects of climate change, on decisions they make."

She added that the administration’s decision was not yet final.

The White House was originally petitioned in 2008 to formally recognize climate considerations under NEPA, but the White House has not taken any action since then.

However, federal agencies may already be required to include an analysis of climate in their Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) and Environmental Assessments (EAs). NEPA does not mention specific areas that federal agencies must analyze to complete EISs and EAs. Instead, it states that the federal agency shall analyze the effect the federal project will have on the environment, without specifically mentioning any particular areas that need to be examined. Thus, it could be argued that federal agencies should already be examining the effect of the federal project on climate change since that is an “environmental effect” within the purview of NEPA.

As Mr. Tankersley’s article points out, some federal agencies have already taken upon themselves to consider effects on climate. Moreover, there is a growing body of caselaw indicating that the courts are beginning to rule that federal agencies should consider the effect their projects will have on the environment. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held in Center for Biological Diversity v. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration that the NHTSA was required to examine in its EIS the effect of greenhouse gas emissions from the federal project. In coming to that conclusion, the 9th Circuit summarized the following findings from International Panel on Climate Change reports and other sources:

Carbon dioxide concentrations increasing over the 21st century are virtually certain to be mainly due to fossil-fuel emissions;

The average earth surface temperature has increased by about 0.6 degrees;

There have been severe impacts in the Arctic due to warming, including sea ice decline;

Global warming will affect plants, animals, and ecosystems around the world. Some scientists predict that it will cause 15 to 37 percent of species in certain regions to be extinct;

Global warming will cause serious consequences for human health, including the spread of infections and respiratory diseases;

Climate change is associated with increasing variability and heightened intensity of storm such as hurricanes;

Climate change may be non-linear, meaning there are positive feedback mechanisms that may push global warming past a dangerous threshold (the“tipping point”).

Center for Biological Diversity v. NHTSA, 508 F.3d at 522-23. To the Court, these findings indicate that emission of greenhouse gases substantially contribute to climate change, and climate change is expected to result in widespread adverse environmental effects. Therefore, it should be mentioned in the EIS. See also, Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Mosbacher, 488 F.Supp.2d 889 (N.D. Cal. 2007); Border Power Plant Working Group v. Department of Energy, 260 F.Supp.2d 997 (S.D. Cal. 2003); and Mid-States Coalition for Progress v. Surface Transportation Board, 345 F.3d 520 (8th Cir. 2003).

In addition, NEPA contains a provision that could be taken to require federal agencies to consider the impact of the greenhouse gas emissions created by the federal project. Section 102(F) of NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4332(F) states that “all agencies of the Federal government shall:”

Recognize the worldwide and long-range character of environmental problems and, where consistent with the foreign policy of the United States, lend appropriate support to initiatives, resolutions, and programs designed to maximize international cooperation in anticipating and preventing a decline in the quality of mankind’s world environment.

To be sure, an order from the White House would be beneficial in establishing a nationwide policy and prompt recalcitrant agencies to require consideration of climate change in their EISs and EAs. At least in the Ninth and Eighth Circuits, however, one could argue that the courts have taken the view that NEPA already requires exactly what the order would seek to implement.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued its final finding that emission of six greenhouse gases endangered the public’s health and the environment because of their effect on climate change, the business community wondered how it should respond to the news.  At first glance, there seems to be blinding maze of legal and policy issues that will affect business decisions.  Although far from clear, there is a way out of the maze – although businesses with significant greenhouse gas emissions should be prepared to tackle the important issues that the Endangerment Finding raises.

Businesses Need to Take a Deep Breath (Irony Intended)

The road to the endangerment finding began in 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Massachusetts v. EPA that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases constituted “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act.  To most savvy businessmen this was a clear signal to start planning how their businesses would cope with the establishment of limits on emission of greenhouse gases.  Although the Bush Administration EPA successfully sat on the issue, when the Obama Administration took office, most companies recognized that an endangerment finding would top the EPA’s list of major environmental actions.  Thus, EPA’s announcement this past April of its proposed finding and its announcement of the final endangerment finding should have come as no surprise to anyone who has been monitoring this issue.

The key thing for businesses to remember is that the endangerment finding by itself does not regulate the emission of greenhouse gases from any source, large or small.  That being said, it does have a direct impact on mobile sources (because of section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act), with the EPA planning on issuing its final “light-duty vehicle” greenhouse gas emissions rule some time in Spring 2010.

Continue Reading What Does EPA’s Finding that Greenhouse Gas Emissions Endanger Public Health and the Environment Mean to Business?