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Recent legislation and Attorney General positions indicate that CEQA documents must provide quantitative and qualitative evaluation of these areas. Perhaps the most recent and most challenging change in CEQA practice involves the emergence of global warming as a topic for serious study in environmental compliance documents.
The California Legislature recently enacted AB 32, which requires the State to identify and adopt methods to roll back California’s greenhouse gas emissions. Members of the public, environmental organizations, and the Attorney General now call on public agencies to examine and mitigate in their environmental impact reports (EIRs) project contributions to the global warming phenomenon (For a summary of background information on sustainability, see http://www.epa.gov/sustainability/). At least two trial courts have ruled that this local obligation stands separate and independent of the State’s responsibility to set standards and thresholds for emissions under AB 32. The legislation alone, however, did not give rise to the need to supplement all EIRs. The Attorney General has taken the position that (i) virtually all growth and development is likely to contribute cumulatively to climate change, (ii) local agencies must set thresholds of significance in this area, and (iii) a broad array of measures exist to mitigate project contributions to global warming, and agencies should consider in their CEQA analysis. The California Association of Environmental Professionals is also working to further a uniform approach to CEQA analysis of cumulative climate change. CEQA requires that each potential mitigation measure be implemented, unless the agency makes specific findings that it is infeasible(Public Resources Code Sec. 21081).
Agencies should approach the EIR analysis relating to energy supply with greater sophistication than they did previously. For example, a discussion simply indicating which energy provider will service development may be insufficient, especially where energy supply may be inhibited by that utility’s generation capacity or its ability to rely on carbon-based generation.