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. 
 


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On March 6, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced the 60-day extension of the comment period for the January 8, 2014 proposed “Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions From New Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units” and the February 26, 2014 notice of data availability soliciting comments on the provisions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.


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On Monday, February 24, the United States Supreme Court watched the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), industry groups and sympathetic states take the ring over what the challengers call a “brazen power grab” by the Obama Administration and its environmental regulators, aimed at limited carbon emissions from new stationary sources such as power plants and factories. 

This is not the first time the same parties have squared off over greenhouse gas (“GHG”) regulation.  In 2008, the Obama Administration initiated rules governing mobile sources, requiring new motor vehicles to demonstrate better fuel efficiency and, thus, reduce carbon emissions.  The High Court effectively upheld those rules by refusing to hear the challenges against them.  The Administration this week announced plans to expand mobile source regulation by enacting new limits on carbon emissions for trucks and buses.  EPA has hit a brick wall, however, with its expansion of regulation to stationary sources, concerning which the High Court will now be hearing oral argument on six different appeals.  The upcoming legal battle, like so many others over environmental regulation, is fraught with political overtones, as well as a variety of legal issues. 
 


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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. 


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I.        Introduction

In the grand scheme of things, aviation may not represent a huge source of concern with respect to climate change. But neither should the aviation industry (airports included) ignore the fact that aviation does contribute to climate change not only through the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) but also through the emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx), aerosols and their precursors (soot and sulfate), and increased cloudiness in the form of persistent linear contrails and induced-cirrus cloudiness. The intent of this series of articles is to examine the effect aviation has on climate change, outline the regulatory and legal framework that is developing, and to suggest avenues for the aviation industry to pursue in the future.  The first challenge is to clear up some misconceptions about aviation and climate change so that we can move forward with accurate and up-to-date information.

II.      Some Facts About Aviation and Climate Change

In Aviation and Climate Change: the Views of Aviation Industry Stakeholders, the aviation industry makes several claims regarding the impact aviation has on climate change. First, the industry claims that “over the past four decades, we have improved aircraft fuel efficiency by over 70 percent, resulting in tremendous savings.” As a result, the industry continues, “given the significance of fuel costs to the economic viability of our industry, our economic and environmental goals converge.” Second, the industry claims that “because of our aggressive pursuit of greater fuel efficiency, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aviation constitute only a very small part of total U.S. GHGs, less than 3 percent.” However, in order to assist the industry in its obligation “to further limit aviation’s greenhouse gas footprint even as aviation grows to meet rising demand for transportation around the world,” those claims of progress need to come under a microscope.

        A.            Contribution of Aviation to Climate Change Remains Subject to Debate

First, how much aviation contributes to climate change is still up to debate. Several governmental and aviation industry organizations have been reporting a “less than 3%” number for quite some time while environmental groups, particularly in Europe, claim that the percentage is anywhere from 5 to 9%. In examining the claims and counterclaims concerning emissions of GHG, one has to be very careful about the language and the metrics used in determining the “impact” any given industry will have on “climate change.” Many reports and studies focus only on CO2, since the amount of CO2 produced both naturally and by humans is overwhelming. However, as just about everyone knows by now, there are other gases and anthropogenic actions that exacerbate climate change. For example, the U.S. EPA recently proposed regulations that would require major emitters of six “greenhouse gases” to report their emissions to the EPA on an annual basis. Those six greenhouse gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorochemicals (PFCs), and other fluorinated 20 gases (e.g., nitrogen trifluoride and hydrofluorinated ethers (HFEs)). It also should be kept in mind when discussing climate change, especially with respect to aviation, that water vapor is estimate contribute anywhere from 36% to 72% of the greenhouse effect. This is important because the radiative forcing effect of cirrus cloud formation from the aircraft is a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect. As pointed out above, it is generally accepted that for aviation the GHGs of concern are CO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx), aerosols and their precursors (soot and sulfate), and increased cloudiness in the form of persistent linear contrails and induced-cirrus cloudiness.


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