Supreme Court Will Review “CEQA-In-Reverse” Issue In CBIA Case Challenging 2010 BAAQMD Air Quality Guidelines

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On November 26, 2013, the California Supreme Court by unanimous vote granted review of a fundamental legal issue that repeatedly has surfaced in recent years in both published appellate opinions and the legislative debate over CEQA reform: Does CEQA ever operate “in reverse”? That is, is CEQA review confined to an analysis of a proposed project’s impacts on the existing environment, or does it also require analysis of the existing environment’s impacts on the proposed project and its future occupants and users?

The case is CBIA v. BAAQMD (Supreme Court Case No. S213478), a decision in which the First District Court of Appeal rejected the CBIA’s facial challenge to BAAQMD’s 2010 Thresholds of Significance and Guidelines for Toxic Air Contaminants, and at the same time called into question the “continued vitality” of a line of appellate cases holding that the “reverse application” of CEQA is inconsistent with its language and intent. For my analysis of the Court of Appeal’s opinion, which has been vacated by the Supreme Court’s grant of review, see “Adoption of CEQA Thresholds of Significance Is Not A CEQA “Project,” First District Holds In Reinstating BAAQMD’s 2010 Air Quality Guidelines,” by Arthur F. Coon, posted on August 16, 2013.

While CBIA’s challenge to the BAAQMD guidelines raised numerous legal issues, the Supreme Court’s order granting review in the matter expressly limits the issue to be briefed and argued to the following: “Under what circumstances, if any, does the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) require an analysis of how existing environmental conditions will impact future residents or users (receptors) of a proposed project?”