Environmental Justice as Environmental Impact: The Intersection of Environmental Justice, Climate Change, and the California Environmental Quality Act

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Originally published in Bloomberg BNA World Climate Change Report Vol. 2012, No. 48 - March 12, 2012.

Environmental justice advocates have used laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act as vehicles to compel policymakers to incorporate their concerns for low income and disadvantaged communities into agency decisions in a more concrete way. In a case involving the controversial subject of climate change, they have gained the support of California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has raised the stakes in this battle by intervening in a recent lawsuit challenging a ‘‘sustainable communities strategy’’ adopted by the San Diego Association of Governments. The authors of this article contend that if her efforts are successful, it would mark a radical expansion in the role played by CEQA—moving from environmental protection to social justice. It could also set a precedent for similar actions nationwide, the authors say.

Environmental Justice as Environmental Impact: The Intersection of Environmental Justice, Climate Change, and the California Environmental Quality Act

I. Introduction

Environmental justice (EJ) has long been an area of significant policy interest in California. More recently, new social, demographic, and economic considerations, including new challenges associated with climate change, have become increasingly integrated with traditional ‘‘environmental’’ concerns. However, there have historically been few legal tools available to aggressively promote EJ principals, particularly with respect to the development and siting of major new projects. EJ advocates have recently attempted to change that, not by pursuing new legislation, but rather by presenting new and creative arguments based on existing language in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). While it is commonplace for environmental advocacy organizations to push the law in new and novel directions, this latest effort is distinctive in being aggressively promoted by the California Attorney General Kamala Harris. If her efforts are successful, it would mark a radical expansion in the role played by CEQA from environmental protection to social justice.

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Published In: Administrative Agency Updates, Environmental Updates, Zoning, Planning & Land Use Updates

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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