San Diego MPO's Analysis of RTP's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rejected

The Natural Lawyer

In a decision with implications for all transportation projects in California, the California Court of Appeal held that the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation projects in a metropolitan transportation plan violated the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA").  The metropolitan planning organization for San Diego, the San Diego Association of Governments ("SANDAG"), certified an environmental impact report ("EIR") evaluating the impacts of the San Diego metropolitan transportation plan. The transportation plan also serves as a Sustainable Communities Strategy to implement state law regarding regional housing needs and to comply with regional targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from autos and light trucks.   SANDAG concluded that the transportation plan achieved greenhouse gas emission reductions for 2020 and 2035 approved by the California Resources Board (CARB) for the San Diego region. 

The EIR disclosed that GHG emissions in the SANDAG region would increase after 2035 with implementation of the transportation plan as a result of population increases, but the EIR did not analyze whether the transportation plan was consistent with the much more aggressive 2050 GHG's reduction goal in the Executive Order adopted by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005.  The Executive Order established a goal of reducing GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.  In 2006 the Legislature enacted a law ("AB 32") that required CARB to determine the state's 1990 GHG emission level and to identify GHG reductions to achieve the 2020 goal.  In 2008 the Legislature enacted another law ("SB 375") that directed CARB to establish regional GHG reduction targets for autos and light trucks for 2020 and 2035.  Neither AB 32 nor SB 375 required CARB to establish GHG reduction targets to achieve the Executive Order's 2050 reduction goal, but SB 375 required CARB to update the regional GHG reduction targets through 2050. 

In a 2-1 decision, the Court held that SANDAG violated CEQA because the EIR (1) did not evaluate the RTP's consistency with the 2050 GHG emission reduction goal in the Executive Order, and (2) did not evaluate adequately alternatives and mitigation measures that could "substantially lessen the [RTPs'] significant" GHG emissions impacts. The Court reasoned that the Legislature endorsed the Executive Order's 2050 goal because the Legislature tasked CARB with establishing GHG emission reduction targets after 2020, and required CARB to revisit the SB 375 regional emission targets every eight years through 2050.  The Court concluded that the "EIR's failure to analyze the transportation plan's consistency with the . . .  Executive Order's overarching goal of ongoing greenhouse gas emission reductions, was therefore a failure to analyze the transportation plan's consistency with state climate policy."

SANDAG has voted to seek review of the decision by the California Supreme Court.

Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments,
231 Cal.App.4th 1056 (2014).

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