Some good legal news in California about global warming, air pollution, and maybe about buying local food

Both of these news items are via Warming Law, a blog focusing on legal issues related to climate change.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has settled a CEQA/global warming lawsuit against San Bernardino County (settlement here). This is relevant to Coyote Valley, where the EIR used the same legal theory as San Bernardino to avoid reaching a conclusion about global warming:

D. It is the County’s position that the General Plan EIR, after providing substantial disclosure and analysis of greenhouse gas emission and climate change issues, and including a factual and reasoned determination, appropriately concluded that there is no available methodology for determining whether greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the General Plan Update are significant. Accordingly, it is the County’s position that the County correctly determined, based on substantial evidence, that further discussion in the General Plan EIR of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change would be speculative;

(Settlement, page 1.)

The heart of the settlement is here:

A target for the reduction of those sources of emissions reasonably attributable to the County’s discretionary land use decisions and the County’s internal government operations, and feasible Greenhouse Gas emission reduction measures whose purpose shall be to meet this reduction target by regulating those sources of Greenhouse Gases emissions reasonably attributable to the County’s discretionary land use decisions and the County’s internal government operations.

(Page 3.)

Basically, the settlement ducks the issue of whether the emissions are significant (what the county wanted) in return for promising “feasible” reductions (what the California AG wanted). A lawsuit by environmental groups is still in place though, so this may not be the final word.

Warming Law also notes a separate statement in the newspaper, “In a compromise Tuesday, lawmakers agreed that by 2010, new rules would be adopted spelling out how to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions of projects covered by the law.” It’s unclear what this means, but probably is a promise by the AG’s office to issue new regulations under CEQA Guidelines. These regulations can interpret but cannot weaken the underlying CEQA statute. If it’s proposed legislation though, then anything is possible, good or bad.

The second development is a federal appellate court case saying Air Management Districts can order local governments to purchase clean fuel vehicles. Besides helping fight climate change and air pollution, this clears away a legal hurdle for a “buy local food” idea we’ve discussed at CGF – that local governments should preferentially buy locally-grown food. The same preemption arguments that the oil industry was using against the clean fuel vehicle policy could have been used against a “buy local” policy, but this decision seems to remove that barrier entirely.

Trivia note: I did a tiny amount of work on this case on behalf the air district, six years ago. These cases can take a long time….


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