Bay Area Air Quality Management District Proposes Sweeping New CEQA Air Quality Guidelines

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On September 4, 2009, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) published a sweeping new set of proposed CEQA Guidelines (Draft Guidelines) for consideration by lead agencies evaluating the air quality and climate change impacts of proposed new projects. In addition to proposing thresholds of significance for GHG emissions, for the first time, BAAQMD also proposes new mechanisms for evaluating risk and hazard thresholds for the siting of stationary sources and of sensitive receptors. Also, in an amendment to BAAQMD's current CEQA Guidelines (last updated in 1999), the Draft Guidelines lower the threshold of significance for annual emissions of Reactive Organic Gases (ROG), Nitrogen Oxides (NOX) and Particulate Matter Exhaust (PM10) and set, for the first time, a standard for smaller particulates (PM2.5) and fugitive dust.

BAAQMD has asked for all comments to be submitted by September 25, 2009, and is proposing to hold a hearing to adopt the Guidelines on October 21, 2009.

GHG Thresholds

Stationary Sources. The Draft Guidelines include a GHG threshold for stationary sources of 10,000 metric tons (MT) of CO2 equivalents per year (CO2e/yr). This threshold is similar to that currently under consideration by the South Coast Air District.

Other New Projects. BAAQMD’s proposed bright-line threshold of significance for non-stationary sources GHG emissions deviates from all other proposed draft GHG thresholds currently under consideration in California. Under this threshold, in order to conclude that a project’s GHG impacts are less than significant, the project would need to be in compliance with a “Qualified Climate Action Plan,"” or emit less than 1,100 MT of CO2e/yr. A “Qualified Climate Action Plan” would include an emissions inventory, a reduction goal consistent with AB 32, implementation measures and monitoring requirements, or achieve a per residential emissions goal of 6.7 MT CO2e per capita per year or a mixed use emissions goal of 4.6 MT CO2e per service population per year.

The Draft Guidelines include a table of “Operational-Related GHG Screening Level Sizes” to assist lead agencies in determining if a proposed project would likely exceed the threshold of 1,100 MT of CO2e/yr. Under these Screening Criteria a single-family housing development larger than 56 units, or a condominium project larger than 78 units would be presumed to have a significant GHG impact, as would a supermarket over 8,000 square feet or an office park over 50,000 square feet.

The Draft Guidelines include an extensive table of mitigation measures that are recommended for use in lowering a project’s GHG emissions. Further, at recent workshops offered by BAAQMD concerning the Draft Guidelines, staff also indicated that while they have not endorsed any specific programs, they believe off-sets are viable mitigation for GHG emissions if the off-set program is “replicable” and located within California.

Plans. The Draft Guidelines recommend that for a lead agency to conclude that a proposed General, Specific, and other plan will result in less than significant GHG emissions, the plan must (1) be found to be consistent with current Air Quality Plan Control measures or (2) the increase in the rate of Vehicle Miles Traveled or vehicle trips under the proposed Plan must be less than the rate of increase in the Plan’s population growth rate.

Risk and Hazards

Siting of New Sources of Toxic Air Contaminants (TACs). The current BAAQMD CEQA Guidelines contain a cancer risk threshold from TACs of under 10 in 1 million. Under the proposed Guidelines, this standard would lower significantly to 5 in 1 million for new sources located in “impacted communities” or communities identified in BAAQMD’s CARE program, such as Eastern San Francisco, Western Alameda County and Richmond/San Pablo.

Siting of New Sensitive Receptors (residences, hospitals, schools etc.). The current BAAQMD Air Quality CEQA Guidelines establish a cancer risk threshold from TAC emissions of under 10 in 1 million. Under the Draft Guidelines this standard would remain, but lead agencies would be recommended to establish a “Zone of Influence” around each new receptor of 1,000 feet. BAAQMD proposes that lead agencies will quantify the TACs emitted by any single source within 1,000 feet of a proposed new receptor, as well as conducting an overall cumulative assessment of all TACs within 1,000 feet. This measurement would include assessments of TAC emissions from any major road or freeway within 1,000 feet of the proposed new receptor. At the Plan level, the Draft Guidelines call for lead agencies to establish “overlay zones” around existing sources of TACs and “special overlay zones” of at least 500 feet on each side of all freeways and high volume roadways.

The Draft Guidelines can be reviewed at: http://www.baaqmd.gov/Divisions/Planning-and-Research/Planning-Programs-and-Initiatives/CEQA-GUIDELINES.aspx

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