Final Decision Suspends California's AB 32 GHG Regulations: What Now?

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On March 18, 2011, Judge Ernest Goldsmith of the San Francisco County Superior Court suspended implementation of AB 32, California's landmark law to reduce greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions. In Association of Irritated Residents v. California Air Resource Board, [Statement of Decision] the Court found the California Air Resource Board (the "ARB")'s adoption of AB 32's Climate Change Scoping Plan (the "Scoping Plan") to be in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"). The ruling determined that the ARB abused its authority by not adequately analyzing potential alternatives to a carbon "cap-and-trade" program aimed at limiting GHG emissions.

Background & Ruling

AB 32, also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, requires California to reduce its GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. As part of this emissions reduction program, the law necessitates the development of a Scoping Plan "for achieving the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective reductions in [GHG] emissions from sources or categories of sources of [GHGs]." In theory, the Scoping Plan is intended to be a roadmap for achieving the required reductions. Its focal point is a proposal for a cap-and-trade program, which is now the focus of contentious litigation. In adopting the Scoping Plan, the ARB, a CEQA-certified regulatory agency, published a Functionally Equivalent Document ("FED"); effectively, the Environmental Impact Report ("EIR") for the Scoping Plan.

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