The Dirt Report - Greenhouse Gas Emissions Heat Up Environmental Review

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The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) generally requires analysis of a development project's greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) or climate change impacts before government permits are approved. In two recent decisions, the Court of Appeal upheld the analysis of climate change impacts, lending scope and substance to this relatively new and previously untested requirement. Particularly given the limited case law on this topic, these decisions provide important and helpful guidance to agencies and practitioners in determining how to perform an adequate GHG analysis.

Under CEQA, a government agency must analyze a proposed development's environmental impacts before issuing permits for the project; in particular, an analysis of GHG emissions is generally required in an environmental document prepared pursuant to CEQA. See, e.g., CEQA Guidelines § 15064.4 ("A lead agency should make a good-faith effort, based to the extent possible on scientific and factual data, to describe, calculate or estimate the amount of GHG emissions resulting from a project."). If a project's contribution to GHG emissions is deemed significant, a lead agency must identify feasible means of mitigating the impact to a less than significant level. CEQA Guidelines § 15126.4(c). Other than Communities for a Better Environment v. City of Richmond, 184 Cal.App.4th 70 (2010), in which the court struck down an environmental impact report for a refinery project based on, among other grounds, the impermissible deferral of developing mitigation measures for GHG emissions, the courts have offered little guidance on how to analyze climate change impacts under CEQA. (For further information regarding the Communities for a Better Environment case, see, "Recent Developments in the Environmental Review of Climate Change Impacts.") Two recent appellate court decisions have begun to fill that gap.

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