Appellate Court Requires Calculation of Current Emissions in GHG Analysis Under CEQA

by Stoel Rives LLP
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In Friends of Oroville, et al. v. City of Oroville, et al. (“Friends of Oroville”) (filed and published in part on August 19, 2013), the Third District Court of Appeal partially reversed the trial court in finding that the City of Oroville’s (“City”) EIR improperly analyzed the greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions of a proposed Wal-Mart Super Center, which was to replace an existing traditional format Wal-Mart store.  More specifically, the court found that the City lacked sufficient evidence to conclude that the proposed project’s GHG emissions would have a less than significant effect, as the City did not calculate the emissions of the existing Wal-Mart or the reductions to be gained from proposed mitigation measures.[1]

Although the appellate court found that the City properly adopted the reduction targets of AB 32 as a threshold-of-significance standard for GHG emissions, it found fault with two parts of the EIR’s GHG analysis.  Citing Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development v. City of Chula Vista, 197 Cal. App. 4th 327, 336 (2011)(“Citizens”), the court found that the City improperly applied the AB 32 significance threshold by failing to make the calculations made in Citizens

First, the City erred in comparing the project’s GHG emissions impacts to California’s overall emissions for 2004. The City found the project’s impacts insignificant as it would emit carbon dioxide equivalent to only 0.003 percent of the State’s emissions. The Court chided such a comparison, stating, “Of course, one store’s GHG emissions will pale in comparison to those of the world’s eighth largest economy.” Slip Opin. at 18 (emphasis original). The Court clarified, “The relevant question to be addressed in the EIR is not the relative amount of GHG emitted by the Project when compared with California’s GHG emissions, but whether the Project’s GHG emissions should be considered significant in light of the threshold-of-significance standard of Assembly Bill 32, which seeks to cut about 30 percent from business-as-usual emission levels projected for 2020, or about 10 percent from 2010 levels.” Id. at 18-19.

Second, the court found that the City misapplied the AB 32 threshold by failing to calculate the GHG emissions for the existing Wal-Mart and the anticipated GHG reductions from the project’s proposed mitigation measures. While the court did not address how calculations related to the existing Wal-Mart’s GHG emissions would impact the City’s analysis of the proposed project’s impacts, it stated that either a quantitative or qualitative analysis estimating the effect of the mitigation measures on GHG emissions must be done.

Friends of Oroville adds to a slowly accumulating body of appellate case law discussing how to effectively analyze GHG emissions under CEQA.  For questions regarding the Friends of Oroville decision or GHG emissions analysis under CEQA, please contact Tim Taylor (tmtaylor@stoel.com), Kristen Castaños (ktcastanos@stoel.com), or Ryan Waterman (rrwaterman@stoel.com). 


[1] Although the appellants challenged the City’s EIR on a number of issues, the appellate court only published its ruling on the City’s GHG emissions analysis.

 

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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