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Latest OPR CEQA Guidelines Emphasize Local Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plans in CEQA Review

Senate Bill 97 directed the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to develop regulations for the analysis and mitigation of greenhouse gases under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). OPR has issued a final draft of these regulations as amendments to the CEQA Guidelines.

For the Guidelines to become law, the Natural Resources Agency must approve them by January 1, 2010.

The Guidelines require local agencies to quantify or describe the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of proposed projects and to mitigate GHG emissions when feasible. The Guidelines emphasize the importance of local greenhouse gas reduction plans (such as local climate action plans) as a means for both providing and streamlining CEQA review for projects. An agency may find a project’s impact due to GHG less than significant if the project is consistent with a local climate action plan.

In general, the Guidelines have preserved agency discretion in performing GHG analysis under CEQA. The agency has the discretion to choose a standard for determining whether GHG emissions from a project are significant. OPR rejected calls to set a statewide standard of significance for GHGs and appears to be moving away from the California Air Resource Board’s proposed advisory significance thresholds, which require both numerical and performance-based significance thresholds. Instead, the Guidelines expressly allow an agency to use performance-based and/or qualitative standards as long as the agency makes a good-faith effort to describe, estimate or calculate the amount of greenhouse gases.

As for mitigation, the Guidelines suggest five GHG mitigation measures, including but not limited to: measures in an existing climate action plan or mitigation program; reductions through the implementation of project features or design; off-site measures; sequestration of greenhouse gases; and specific measures identified by programmatic documents (such as a general plan).

Overall, the proposed Guidelines provide an opportunity for agencies to seize some control of the issue of analysis of GHGs under CEQA. They preserve local discretion to choose a significance standard based on substantial evidence. They also allow agencies to rely on local climate action plans and greenhouse gas reduction plans for CEQA review.

The final draft guidelines are available on OPR’s website, which you may access by clicking here.

Meyers Nave has been advising various agencies on the use of local climate action and greenhouse gas reduction plans for CEQA review and is assisting in the development of these Plans. Meyers Nave attorneys have also been extensively involved in the development of options for analyzing GHGs under CEQA. For answers to questions about the guidelines, or GHG emissions under CEQA, please contact Tim Cremin.