Court Rules CEQA Review Required
By Chris Bersbach
In a ruling that could have statewide ramifications, the Alameda County Superior Court recently overturned the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD) recently-adopted CEQA thresholds for determining the significance of air quality and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Court ruling in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District, ordered the BAAQMD to take “no further action to disseminate” the thresholds without first completing CEQA review.
In 2010, the BAAQMD adopted standards of significance for assessing the impact, under CEQA, of development projects’ air quality and GHG-related emissions. The thresholds have been used by lead agencies throughout the BAAQMD, as well as by other air districts and lead agencies as models for their own CEQA GHG guidance.
The Court’s decision was based on a finding that the thresholds constitute a “project” under CEQA, because they may cause a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment; therefore, the Court found that the BAAQMD is required to conduct CEQA review before adopting such thresholds.
The Court’s decision calls into question whether other air districts and lead agencies around the state are expected to conduct CEQA review before adopting CEQA thresholds on topics such as GHG emissions. Air districts and other lead agencies that have adopted or are in the process of developing their own CEQA thresholds will be paying close attention to the BAAQMD’s response to the ruling to determine how to proceed, likely slowing the adoption of GHG significance thresholds throughout the state.
The BAAQMD may elect to appeal the decision, rather than proceeding with CEQA review of its thresholds; however, it is currently unclear what their response to the ruling will be.
For more information about how to proceed with using CEQA thresholds in light of this decision, or how to conduct CEQA review now that BAAQMD’s thresholds have been set aside, please contact Joe Power, AICP CEP, Principal with Rincon Consultants at 805-644-4455.
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