Natural Resources Agency Proposes Draft CEQA Guidelines on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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The formulation of statewide guidelines for the evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions under the California Environmental Quality is now one step closer to reality. On July 3, the Natural Resources Agency began the formal rulemaking process for the adoption of such guidelines, which includes a public comment period and public hearings over the summer.

Senate Bill 97, adopted in 2007, directed the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research to transmit proposed CEQA Guidelines governing the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions to the Natural Resources Agency by July 1, and OPR beat that deadline by several months, submitting a draft of proposed guidelines in April. SB 97 requires the Natural Resources Agency to complete the process of adopting these guidelines by January 1. The Agency’s formal rulemaking process will include public hearings in Sacramento and Los Angeles, and a written comment period which runs through August 20, 2009.

The Draft Greenhouse Gas Guidelines are generally similar to the draft submitted to the Agency by OPR. Some of the notable aspects of the Draft Guidelines include the following:

  • Generally, the draft Guidelines seek to apply CEQA’s existing basic rules for impact analysis to the topic of greenhouse gas emissions, specifying in several instances, for example, that determinations on greenhouse gas emissions must be supported by substantial evidence, just like other CEQA determinations.
  • Proposed Guideline 15183.5 sets forth specific provisions on tiering and streamlined review of greenhouse gas emission issues.
  • The proposed Guidelines would provide that lead agencies may determine that a project's incremental contribution to a cumulative effect is not considerable if the project complies with a previously adopted plan that includes specific requirements to reduce the cumulative impact in question. The types of plans that can serve as the basis for this finding include a broad category of "plans or regulations for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions." (proposed amendment to Guideline 15064)
  • A new Guideline is proposed to provide guidance on determining the significance of impacts resulting from a project’s greenhouse gas emissions. This guideline also refers to the compliance with plan approach, and indicates that lead agencies have discretion to determine which type of methodology to use to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions (proposed Guideline 15064.4).
  • Guideline 15126.4 would be amended to provide general guidance on mitigation of the impacts of a project’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Guideline 15130 on cumulative impacts would be revised to include greenhouse gas reduction plans in the types of plans that can be considered in preparing a cumulative impact analysis. Proposed new subsection 15130(f) would require EIRs to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions of a project when the incremental contribution of those emissions may be cumulatively considerable.
  • Appendix F of the Guidelines, specifying how EIRs should evaluate energy conservation, is strengthened in several respects.
  • The draft Guidelines would also add general questions on greenhouse gas emissions to the Appendix G checklist that is used to determine whether impacts are significant, and whether a negative declaration or EIR should be prepared.
  • In addition to revising several Guidelines to add provisions governing greenhouse gas emissions, the Agency proposes to amend the Appendix G checklist questions by adding specific questions on forestry and revising some of the checklist questions governing traffic impacts..

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