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State Issues Guidance For Addressing Climate Change Under CEQA

State law requires the Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) to develop new CEQA Guidelines for the analysis and mitigation of Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) emissions in CEQA documents on or before January 1, 2010. On June 19, OPR, in consultation with the Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Air Resources Board (“ARB”), released interim guidance in the form of a Technical Advisory on GHG analysis in CEQA documents.

OPR recommends that lead agencies develop a consistent approach and follow three basic steps for their analyses: (1) identify and quantify GHG emissions; (2) assess the significance of the impact on climate change; and (3) if the impact is significant, identify mitigation measures and/or alternatives to reduce the impact to a less than significant level.

Step 1: Identify and Quantify GHG Emissions

OPR recommends that lead agencies undertake a good-faith effort, based on available scientific and technical information, to estimate GHG emissions from a project. OPR specifically identifies vehicle traffic, energy consumption, water usage, and construction as potential sources of GHG emissions. The Technical Advisory contains an appendix describing tools for estimating emissions.

Step 2: Establish a Threshold of Significance and Determine Whether Impact is Significant

OPR recognizes that establishing a threshold of significance for GHG emissions is “perhaps the most difficult part of the climate change analysis.” To assist lead agencies on this issue and to ensure more uniform approach to GHG analyses, OPR has asked ARB technical staff to recommend a statewide threshold of significance for GHG emissions. While this statewide threshold is pending, OPR recommends that lead agencies, using existing conditions as a baseline, “undertake a project-by-project analysis, consistent with available guidance and current CEQA practice” to determine the significance of impacts. The Technical Advisory also notes that while “climate change is ultimately a cumulative impact, not every individual project that emits GHGs must necessarily be found to contribute to a significant cumulative impact on the environment.” Most importantly, OPR advises that a significant threshold of no new emissions is not required.

Step 3: Mitigate or Avoid the Impacts

If a lead agency determines a project will have a significant impact due to GHG emissions, it should consider alternatives or mitigation measures to reduce or offset project emissions. These measures could include reducing vehicle miles traveled, energy and water conservation measures, and sequestering carbon as an offset to project emissions, among other options. OPR also encourages the use of programmatic mitigation measures and plan level strategies for reducing GHG emissions through transit oriented development, congestion reduction, jobs-to-housing balance, and other land use policies.

OPR’s Technical Advisory can be found by clicking here.

Meyers Nave has been advising its clients on issues related to GHG emissions analysis and CEQA compliance since AB 32 took effect in January 2007. If you have any questions related to these issues or the OPR Technical Advisory, please do not hesitate to contact us.

If you have questions regarding any of these issues, please do not hesitate to contact Tim Cremin or Ed Grutzmacher.