Environment, Land & Resources

California Court of Appeal Agrees Two Activities Constitute One CEQA Project

Posted in California, CEQA, Environmental Litigation, Environmental Regulation, Project Siting and Approval

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[I]

By Christopher W. Garrett, Daniel Brunton, James Erselius, and Derek Galey

In a published decision issued June 12, 2018, County of Ventura v. City of Moorpark, Case No. B282466, the California Court of Appeal rejected part of the County of Ventura and the City of Fillmore’s (Petitioners’) appeal and affirmed the trial court’s decision that a beach restoration project undertaken by Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District (BBGHAD) and a related settlement agreement with the City of Moorpark (City) were exempt from CEQA review.

In summary, the court determined:

  • Two separate activities can constitute one “project” under CEQA so long as those activities serve a single purpose, have the same proponents, and are inextricably linked.
  • Courts do not balance the policies served by statutory exemptions against the goal of environmental protection because the legislature has already determined that the policy benefits of the exemption outweigh the benefits of environmental review.

The trial court determined that the beach restoration project and the related settlement agreement between BBGHAD and City were a single statutorily exempt project. Petitioners appealed on the grounds that even if the beach restoration was exempt, the settlement represented a separate, non-exempt project that was not properly reviewed under CEQA.

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CARB Workshop Will Address Potential Changes to NOx Standards

Posted in Air Quality and Climate Change

The public event marks CARB’s next step to promulgate new, lower NOx standards for heavy-duty engines and vehicles.

By: Arthur Foerster and Reed McCalib


On Wednesday, January 23, 2019, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will hold a public workshop in Sacramento focusing on potential regulatory changes that would lower oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions for new, on-highway heavy-duty vehicles and engines. Members of the public may attend the workshop in person or via webcast. (Event details are included at the end of this article.)

According to the agency’s public notice, CARB staff will discuss potential regulatory updates, challenges, and implementation strategies as the agency pushes for ever-lower emission standards. In particular, staff will discuss durability demonstration requirements, a supplemental certification test cycle for low-load operations, zero emission credits, in-use testing protocols, longer useful life and warranty periods, warranty claim reporting, lower particulate matter (PM) emissions, and NOx emissions tracking. Staff will also provide updates on ongoing low-NOx demonstration projects and will explain next steps in the rulemaking process. Continue Reading

GIS Owners in California Must Comply With SF6 Regulation

Posted in California, Energy Regulatory

Gas-insulated switchgear owners face easy-to-miss, CARB-enforced emissions requirements.

By JP Brisson, Aron Potash, R. Andrew Westgate, Kimberly D. Farbota, and Christopher C. Antonacci

Since 2011, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has regulated sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) emissions from gas-insulated switchgears (GIS). CARB’s SF6 Regulation applies to all entities that own GIS, including many entities that do not otherwise emit and report greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as wind farms, solar parks, and geothermal plants. Accordingly, some companies may not have realized that they are subject to the SF6 requirements. The SF6 Regulation includes emission rate limits, mandatory operating procedures, and recordkeeping and reporting requirements, as well as providing for monetary penalties in the event of a violation.

Background on SF6 Gases

SF6 is used in GIS equipment to protect electrical power plants and distribution systems by insulating circuits and interrupting electric currents. Since the initial use of SF6 in the 1950s, SF6-containing circuit breakers, transformers, switches, fuses, and other equipment have been used regularly because SF6 is non-flammable, non-corrosive, non-toxic, and an effective arc suppressant, which allows SF6 equipment to have a small footprint and be relatively low maintenance. GIS containing SF6 gases are typically found in most if not all substations and at many power generating facilities, including natural gas plants, wind farms, solar parks, and geothermal plants.

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Amendments to CEQA Guidelines Now in Effect

Posted in Air Quality and Climate Change, California, CEQA, Environmental Regulation, Project Siting and Approval, Water Quality and Supply

California Natural Resources Agency adopts final amendments to CEQA Guidelines, providing additional clarifying revisions to GHG impacts, baseline, and deferral of mitigation amendments.

By Marc Campopiano, Winston Stromberg, and Samantha Seikkula

The California Office of Administrative Law recently approved a suite of amendments to the CEQA Guidelines, which are now in effect. Latham wrote about these amendments last year, when the Natural Resources Agency began the rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedures Act. During this rulemaking process, the California Natural Resources Agency (Agency) considered comments on the proposed amendments from members of the public, responded to those comments, and made some slight revisions to the amendments. The final adopted text of the amendments is available here.

Relevant revisions to the amendments made during the rulemaking process include:

  • Section 15064.4 (Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Impacts): The Agency clarified that a project’s incremental contribution to climate change impacts should not be compared to state, national, or global GHG emissions to determine whether the project’s emissions are cumulatively considerable. Further, if using consistency with state goals and policies as a means to determine significance, the lead agency should explain how the project’s emissions are consistent with those goals.
  • Section 15125 (Baseline): The Agency clarified that the procedural requirement to justify a baseline other than existing conditions does not apply to reliance on historic conditions. Rather, the procedural requirement applies only to use of future conditions as a sole baseline.
  • Section 15126.4 (Deferral of Mitigation): The Agency proposed to clarify when mitigation may be permissibly deferred until after project approval, consistent with case law. In response to comments, the Agency clarified that if details are deferred, a lead agency must identify at least the types of measures that are known to be feasible and that will achieve an adopted performance standard — rather than simply provide a list of possible mitigation actions that will be considered, analyzed, and potentially incorporated.

Additionally, the Agency’s shift in approach for assessing a project’s potential transportation impacts from Level of Service to Vehicle Miles Traveled will apply prospectively as described in CEQA Guidelines section 15007. A lead agency may elect to be governed by the new Section 15064.3 immediately, but beginning on July 1, 2020, the requirements to analyze Vehicle Miles Traveled will apply statewide.

Five “Innovations” from California Increase Public Utility Regulatory Risk

Posted in California, Energy Regulatory

Recent activity by the California Public Utilities Commission should cause public utility managers and counsel everywhere to take notice.

By Charles C. Read

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has the biggest staff of any state utilities commission. It has issued fines and penalties in excess of US$1 billion; it has enforced the state’s renewable energy mandate; and it has even found ways to exert substantial regulatory control over disruptive innovators in transportation.

Because of the CPUC’s outsized influence on commissioners, staff, and public advocates in other states, public utility management and counsel should be aware of five of the CPUC’s most recent regulatory innovations: Continue Reading

Climate Litigation Targets the French Government

Posted in Air Quality and Climate Change, Environmental Litigation, European Environmental and Public Law

Four NGOs launch innovative action claiming state has not met COP21 objectives.

By Paul A. Davies and Michael D. Green

On 17 December 2018, four NGOs filed legal action against the French state. In the legal action, the NGOs argued that the state has not met the short-term climate change objectives set at COP21. The NGOs — Greenpeace France, Oxfam France, the Fondation pour la Nature et l’Homme (FNH), and Notre Affaire à Tous — simultaneously launched an online petition to involve citizens in the action, now nearing an unprecedented two million signatures to date.

In accordance with the French Administrative Justice Code, the procedure for the legal action has two prongs. First, the claimants submitted a preliminary demand (demande préalable) to the Prime Minister and to no less than 12 government members seeking damages for: (i) moral harm, (ii) moral harm suffered by their members, and (iii) ecological prejudice suffered by the environment. (For more information on ecological prejudice, see Latham & Watkins’ blog post “The Notion of ‘Ecological Prejudice’ Now in the French Civil Code”.) If the state does not respond within two months of the preliminary demand, the claimants intend to file an indemnification claim before the Administrative Tribunal of Paris in March 2019. The claimants intend to allege causation between the state’s lack of action and the acceleration of climate change. Continue Reading

California Supreme Court Clarifies Standard of Review for EIRs and Requirements for Air Quality Impact Analyses

Posted in California, CEQA

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[I]

By Marc T. Campopiano, Christopher W. Garrett, Nathaniel L. Glynn, and Natalie C. Rogers

In a published opinion issued December 24, 2018, Sierra Club v. County of Fresno, Case No. S219783, the California Supreme Court determined that an environmental impact report (EIR) prepared and certified by Fresno County (County) for a development project failed to include certain information and analysis required by CEQA. The California Supreme Court held that the EIR did not adequately discuss potential health consequences that could be caused by a significant increase in pollutants resulting from the development project. In summary, the California Supreme Court determined:

  • A discussion of potential environmental impacts in an EIR must include sufficient detail to enable those who did not participate in its preparation to understand and to meaningfully consider the issues raised by the proposed project.
  • The issue of whether a discussion in an EIR is sufficient is a mixed question of law and fact subject to de novo review, though underlying factual determinations in an EIR are subject to a more deferential standard.
  • An EIR must either make a reasonable effort to correlate a project’s significant air quality impacts to potential health consequences, or explain why providing such an analysis is not feasible.
  • A lead agency does not impermissibly defer mitigation if it leaves open the possibility of employing better mitigation efforts consistent with improvements in technology.
  • A lead agency may adopt mitigation measures that do not reduce a project’s significant and unavoidable impacts to a less-than-significant level, so long as the agency can demonstrate in good faith that the mitigation measures will be at least partially effective in mitigating impacts.

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Katowice Climate Change Conference Agrees on Rulebook for Implementing Paris Agreement

Posted in Air Quality and Climate Change, European Environmental and Public Law

The deal establishes rules and guidelines for how governments will track, report on, and verify emissions-cutting efforts.

By Jörn Kassow and Patrick Braasch

Delegates from 196 countries and the European Union convened in Katowice, Poland, in December for two weeks of negotiations on creating a common rulebook for putting the Paris Agreement into practice.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, is the first multilateral agreement on climate change that covers almost all of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It provides for a long-term goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and agrees on a general mechanism to implement this goal. However, many practical (and often technical) questions were left open at the time of drafting. As envisaged by the Paris Agreement, the Conference of the Parties (COP) is responsible for developing implementation guidelines to put the climate change goals into action. The Katowice Climate Change Conference (COP24), which was held from December 2 to 15, agreed on a set of rules and guidelines for how governments will track, report on, and verify emissions-cutting efforts. These rules are designed to ensure that all countries are held to common standards and must be transparent when reporting on their efforts and accomplishments in lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

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California Appeals Court: Which Conflicting Limitations Period Applies to CEQA Claim

Posted in CEQA, Environmental Litigation

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[i]

By Christopher H. Norton, Lucas I. Quass and Megan K. Ampe

In a published opinion issued on October 23, 2018, Save Lafayette Trees v. City of Lafayette, Case No. A154168, the California Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision to grant a demurrer without leave to amend with respect to challenges to the substantive and procedural requirements of applicable planning and zoning laws, but reversed with respect to a challenge brought pursuant to CEQA, concluding that the 180-day statute of limitations applicable to CEQA claims applied to the claim filed by Save Lafayette Trees, Michael Dawson, and David Kosters (together Petitioners) alleging non-compliance with CEQA.

In summary, the Court of Appeal determined:

  • If two statutes of limitation of equal authority apply to a claim brought pursuant to CEQA — one contained in a general state planning and zoning law and the other contained in a statute specific to CEQA — and the two cannot be reconciled, the more specific limitations period pursuant to CEQA prevails.

Petitioners filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City of Lafayette’s (City’s) approval of a letter agreement allowing a public utility company to remove trees without obtaining a permit. City filed a demurrer, claiming that the petition was time-barred under the 90-day limitations period applicable to zoning and planning decisions under state law. The trial court agreed, sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend. Petitioners appealed. Continue Reading

California Court of Appeal Clarifies Procedural Requirement for Requesting CEQA Petition Hearing

Posted in California, CEQA, Environmental Litigation

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[i]

By Christopher W. Garrett, Daniel P. Brunton, Kimberly D. Farbota, and Natalie C. Rogers

In an unpublished opinion issued May 3, 2018, Endangered Habitats League, Inc. v. City of San Marcos, Case No. D072404, the California Court of Appeal determined that the Endangered Habitats League (Petitioner) substantially complied with procedural provisions of CEQA that require a petitioner to file a written request for a hearing, and the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision to dismiss Petitioner’s suit.

In summary, the court determined:

  • An oral request for a hearing on the merits of a CEQA petition, followed by written notice to all parties, fulfills the objectives of CEQA’s procedural requirement that a petitioner file a written request for a hearing, such that the substantial compliance doctrine applies.

The trial court dismissed the action based on its belief that the court was foreclosed from applying the substantial compliance doctrine to CEQA’s procedural requirements. Petitioner had orally requested a hearing on the merits of its CEQA action, provided timely written notice to City of San Marcos (City) and the real parties in interest (Real Parties). Petitioner had additionally filed and served a declaration attesting to the request for hearing, but had failed to file a document entitled, “request for a hearing.” Petitioner appealed the dismissal.

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