In Friends of Oroville v. City of Oroville (No. C079448) (Aug. 19, 2013), the Third District Court of Appeal reaffirmed the importance of conducting a meaningful review of greenhouse gas emissions as part of the CEQA process.
The case arose from the City of Oroville’s approval of the relocation and expansion of a Wal-Mart “Supercenter.” A community group challenged the City’s decision to approve the project, arguing that the City failed to conduct an adequate review of the project’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions (as well as challenging the project on other grounds not addressed in the published part of the court’s opinion). The court agreed, concluding that the City used the wrong threshold for determining whether the project’s greenhouse gas emissions were a significant environmental impact under CEQA and also finding the City’s analysis of mitigation measures for greenhouse gas measures to be inadequate.
With respect to the significance threshold, the court found that the City erred in comparing the project’s estimated greenhouse gas emissions to total greenhouse gas emissions statewide. While the EIR noted that the project’s emissions would be equal to only 0.03 percent of California’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2004, the court called this comparison “meaningless,” observing that “[o]f course, one store’s GHG emissions will pale in comparison to those of the world’s eighth largest economy.” (Slip Op. at 18.) Instead of this meaningless comparison, the court found that the relevant question was “whether the Project’s GHG emissions should be considered significant in light of the threshold-of-significance standard of Assembly Bill 32 [AB 32], which seeks to cut about 30 percent from business-as-usual emission levels projected for 2020, or about 10 percent from 2010 levels.” (Id. at 18-19.)
The court also took issue with the City’s failure to properly analyze the effects of the project’s greenhouse gas mitigation measures to determine if they would meet AB 32’s emissions reduction target. In the absence of any attempt to calculate or even “qualitatively ascertain” the effect of the project’s mitigation measures on greenhouse gas emissions, the court found the EIR’s conclusions regarding the effectiveness of mitigation measures “speculative and contradictory” and insufficient to support the City’s finding that the project would have a less than significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions after mitigation. (Id. at 19-21.)
The court’s ruling follows Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development v. City of Chula Vista (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 237, which approved of the use of a CEQA significance threshold based on a comparison of AB 32’s greenhouse gas reduction targets to “business-as-usual” emissions levels. The court’s ruling also provides further evidence that California courts will require cities and counties to perform a reasonably robust analysis of greenhouse gas emissions as part of the CEQA process.
--Chris Jensen and Morgan Gilhuly
For more information, please contact Morgan Gilhuly, [email protected], (415) 228-5460.
Court of Appeal Finds City’s “Meaningless” Discussion of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Does Not Comply with CEQA
August 22, 2013 / Chris Jensen and Morgan Gilhuly