On September 27, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 292 and Assembly Bill 900, both of which are aimed at expediting, or “fast-tracking,” the litigation of lawsuits brought under the California Environmental Quality Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 (“CEQA”). SB292 is basically an earmark that will “fast-track” CEQA challenges to the Farmer’s Field National Football League Stadium proposed for downtown Los Angeles, next to the Los Angeles Convention Center and Staples Center, by requiring that such challenges be brought directly in California Courts of Appeals and be heard within 175 days. AB900 reaches more widely, “fast-tracking” all projects costing $100 million or more.

The stated intentions of the Bills’ sponsors are, on their faces, noble ones — to provide more job opportunities, and spur increased spending and attendant tax revenue for the State, matters which seem urgent in light of the State of California’s economy. The problems raised by the Bills are less immediate, but no less important.
 Continue Reading CEQA and the Law of Unintended Consequences

In National Resources Defense Council v. Southern California Air Quality Management District, 2011 W.L. 2557246 (C.A. 9 (Cal.)), the National Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”) sought to call the Southern California Air Quality Management District (“SCAQMD”) to account for purportedly using invalid “offsets” for emissions increases resulting from new stationary sources. A panel of the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found, however, that: (1) the District Court’s decision refusing to hold SCAQMD to a validity standard for its internal “offsets” for emissions increases was correct because such a validity standard is not required by the Clean Air Act (“CAA”), 42 U.S.C. section 7503(c) (“Section 173(c)”); and (2) ironically, the District Court lacked jurisdiction to reach that decision where original jurisdiction lies in the Courts of Appeals pursuant to CAA section 7607.Continue Reading The National Resources Defense Council Challenge to the Southern California Air Quality Management District Administration of Emissions Credits Rejected by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

The California Supreme Court recently weighed in on the critical issue of the proper baseline to be used in assessing the environmental impacts of a proposed project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). [Agencies must use a “baseline” from which to determine whether a project’s environmental effects will be “significant.”]  In Communities For a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District, et al., 48 Cal. App. 4th 310 (2010), ConocoPhillips Company argued that the proper baseline for environmental analysis of a project at a petroleum refinery employing existing equipment should be the maximum permitted operating capacity of the equipment, even if the equipment is operating below those levels at the time the environmental analysis is commenced. The Court rejected that argument, holding that the baseline for CEQA analysis must be the “existing physical conditions in the effected area” (i.e., “real conditions on the ground”), rather than the level of development or activity that “could” or “should” have been present according to a plan or regulation. This confirms the California CEQA Guidelines requirement that the baseline consist of the physical environmental conditions in the vicinity of the project as they exist at the time the notice of preparation of the EIR is published or at the time the environmental analysis begins. 14 Cal. Code Regs. §15125(a).
 
Continue Reading The California Supreme Court Clarifies Environmental Review Baselines Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

On June 3, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] issued a final rule establishing lowered standards for acceptable levels of sulfur-dioxide [SO2] emissions. The new rule also changes the monitoring requirements for SO2. SO2 is one of six criteria pollutants which Federal agencies must evaluate under the EPA’s General Conformity Rule, to determine whether emissions from a proposed project would conform to an approved CAA implementation plan. If a conformity analysis and determination indicate that a proposed Federal project would not conform to an applicable implementation plan, the project cannot be funded, licensed, permitted or approved.
Continue Reading EPA Sets New Standards for Sulfur-Dioxide (SO2) Emissions and Monitoring