Citiy's Business-As-Usual Threshold OK for Evaluating Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under CEQA

In this clean-tech era, Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development ("CREED") v. City of Chula Vista marks only the third time that a court has published a case addressing greenhouse gases in California. In CREED, the City of Chula Vista certified a mitigated negative declaration ("MND") and approved development permits for a project that would demolish an existing Target store, a smog check facility, and a small market, and construct in its place a larger Target store. CREED filed suit, claiming that CEQA required the City to certify a full environmental impact report because the project would have a significant environmental impact on hazardous materials, air quality, particulate matter and ozone, and greenhouse gas emissions. While the court held that an EIR was likely required for other reasons, the court also held that, to demonstrate the project’s consistency with the GHG emissions reduction goals established by California's "Global Warming Solutions Act" (AB 32), the City had properly relied upon evidence the project’s emissions were below the GHG threshold of significance. The City established this threshold of significance using what has become known as the "Business-As-Usual" ("BAU") method. The court also held that the City properly relied on the thresholds of significance in the South Coast Air Quality Management District's CEQA Air Quality Handbook to conclude that the project's air quality impacts (particulate matter and ozone) were not cumulatively considerable even though the San Diego air basin is in non-attainment for particulate matter pollution.

The most notable holding in the case was the court’s sanctioning of the City's adoption of the BAU significance threshold to determine whether the project's GHG emissions were cumulatively considerable under CEQA. Under the BAU method, a project demonstrates that it can achieve a certain percentage reduction in its GHG emissions by constructing the project with various greenhouse gas reducing features that promote waste reduction, water and energy efficiency, and traffic reductions compared to the type of building features that were common (or "Business As Usual") in 2005.

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