Greenhouse Gas and Environmental Justice Issues Collide as California Attorney General’s Office Weighs In on Sustainable Communities Plan

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On January 25, 2012, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the “sustainable communities strategy,” or “SCS,” the first such strategy adopted in the state for the San Diego region. By seeking to intervene in Cleveland National Forest Foundation, et al. v. San Diego Association of Governments, et al., the Attorney General sends a message that her office is closely scrutinizing the SCS process mandated by Senate Bill 375 (“SB 375”) and will seek to ensure that every region across the state makes a strong commitment to reducing greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions. In addition, the Attorney General’s motion to intervene takes an aggressive—if not unprecedented—position that the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) requires environmental review documents to analyze environmental justice impacts. In seeking intervenor status, the Attorney General weighs in and joins a growing effort to apply environmental justice principles, such as equitable distribution of environmental burdens, to the implementation of California’s already complex suite of environmental and climate change laws. Those involved with either the SCS process or any project with potential environmental justice implications should take note.

In 2008, California enacted SB 375, which requires the state’s metropolitan planning agencies to prepare a “sustainable communities strategy,” now commonly referred to as an SCS, as part of their regional land use and transportation plans. The development of an SCS is intended to connect land use, transportation, and housing decisions in order to meet SB 375’s mandate to reduce per-capita GHG emissions by 2020, and even further by 2035. The San Diego Association of Governments (“SANDAG”) was the first region to adopt an SCS as part of a larger regional transportation plan.

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