LegalPlanet | Richard Frank | posted: 3/12/2015
Justices’ Latest Grant of Review Continues Supreme Court’s Focus on Environmental Law.
To paraphrase former President Ronald Reagan, there they go again.
The California Supreme Court on Wednesday granted review in an important case at the intersection of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and one of the state’s most important climate change laws. The case, Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments, is the latest in an unprecedented series of CEQA cases taken up by the Supreme Court. It’s also the justices’ first opportunity to confront the important legal and policy issues presented by the landmark 2008 climate change legislation popularly known as SB 375.
SB 375, formally titled the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, for the first time links California regional transportation planning and funding with state land use regulation and planning–the ultimate goal being to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from California’s transportation sector, the state’s single largest source of those emissions. The legislation does so by requiring each of the state’s regional transportation agencies to incorporate a “sustainable communities strategy” (SCS) into its periodically updated regional transportation plan. SB 375’s objective is to incentivize more sustainable land use and transportation practices, thereby reducing California’s aggregate GHG emissions.
The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) was the first regional transportation agency in California to adopt an updated transportation plan with an SB 375-required SCS component. SANDAG did so after a lengthy regulatory process that included preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR) under CEQA to assess the overall environmental consequences of its proposed transportation plan and SCS. The regional plan and SCS that SANDAG ultimately approved, while projected to achieve short-term GHG emission reduction goals, does not meet those goals over the long term. Critically, however, the SANDAG EIR did not identify and address this inconsistency; nor did EIR focus on potential mitigation measures to address the projected environmental impacts of the regional plan’s GHG emissions.