CEQA Alert: Court of Appeal Rules that EIR Must Analyze Correlation Between Project’s Incremental Impact on Air Quality and Impact on Human Health

In Sierra Club v. County of Fresno (opinion filed 5/27/14; link below), California’s Fifth Appellate District held that the County violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to adequately analyze, disclose, and mitigate air quality impacts associated with the 942-acre Friant Ranch master planned community in north-central Fresno County. In part, the court held that the County’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was inadequate because it failed to analyze and disclose the impact that the project’s air emissions would have on human health.

Previously, in Bakersfield Citizens for Local Control v. City of Bakersfield, 124 Cal.App.4th 1184 (2004), the same court held that the potential human health impacts associated with a project’s air emissions must be identified and analyzed in an EIR. According to the Sierra Club decision, in order to satisfy this mandate, an EIR must include an analysis of the correlation between a project’s adverse air quality impacts and the human health impacts specifically attributable to those project-related impacts. The County’s EIR listed the types of air pollutants that the project would generate, quantified those emissions, and included a general description of how each pollutant at issue affects human health. However, the EIR did not specifically analyze the impact on human health resulting from the change in air quality due to the project’s air emissions. The court held this analysis inadequate, but left it to the County’s discretion to select the proper methodology for correlating air emissions with human health impacts.

The Sierra Club court also held that several of the mitigation measures aimed at mitigating the Friant Ranch project’s air quality impacts were deficient because they were vague and unenforceable, conclusory in terms of the expected efficacy of the measures, and/or constituted impermissible deferred mitigation.

The court rejected petitioners’ other CEQA-based challenge, relating to the EIR’s discussion of the project’s wastewater impacts. The court concluded that the EIR adequately disclosed information relating to the amount of wastewater that was expected to be generated by the project and how that wastewater would be disposed of and/or recycled. The court also rejected petitioners’ claim that the project violated California’s Planning and Zoning Law due to alleged inconsistencies with the County’s General Plan policies.


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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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