California Superior Court blocks regional GHG regulations for failing to undertake CEQA review

In Nov. 2010 the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) filed suit against the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's (BAAQMD) CEQA Guidelines re GHG emissions. Among other requirements, environmental evaluations were required if a project was to be built within 1,000 feet of a freeway, oil refinery,or other air pollution source. Developments producing 1,100 metric tons of GHG emissions per year would have to draft environmental reports as part of the approval process. [In California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is substantive law, not merely procedural law, unlike NEPA.] The Guidelines had been expected to be a model for other air quality management districts in California.

On Jan. 16, 2012, the Alameda County Superior Court struck down the Guidelines on the grounds that the Guidelines themselves must first undergo a CEQA review. Although the Court has not yet issued a written order, it is expected to set aside the Guidelines unless and until BAAQMD conducts CEQA review. The Court noted that the BAAQMD should have reviewed the environmental impact of the Guidelines, including their impact on future growth and transportation patterns. The CIBA had, among other bases, claimed that the Guidelines would exacerbate urban sprawl, thus hindering compliance with AB 32, California's law to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The BAAQMD has not yet announced if it will appeal. [Expect an appeal.]

The case is California Building Industry Assoc. v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Alameda County Superior Court, Docket No. RG10548693.