In a March 2018 decision, the First Appellate District examined several CEQA issues pertinent to petroleum refining and hazardous materials transport. In Rodeo Citizens Association v. County of Contra Costa, the appeals court affirmed several findings of the lower court, dismissing challenges to the environmental impact report (“EIR”) prepared for a propane and butane recovery project at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. (The appeals court did not review the trial court’s order to the county to set aside the certification of the EIR and correct several other air quality related issues.) The appeals court found the risk of rail transportation of propane and butane was appropriately measured against the baseline of existing risks; the project description did not mask plans for the refinery to alter its crude oil feedstock; and that greenhouse gas impacts from downstream uses of petroleum products need not be evaluated.
On January 12, 2018, the First Appellate District held that the California Attorney General need not exhaust administrative remedies in order to contest the adequacy of Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as is normally required of third-party challengers under Section 21177. City of Long Beach v. City of Los Angeles, Case No. A148993 (2018). The Appeals Court also held that BNSF Railway Company’s (BNSF) proposed construction of a new railyard in Southern California failed to adequately consider air quality impacts from the project. The case emphasizes the need for EIRs to consider impacts to ambient air pollutant concentrations and the cumulative impacts of such pollutants under CEQA, even if the underlying analysis may be time consuming and difficult to generate.
On remand from the California Supreme Court, the First Appellate District has issued its second ruling in California Building Industry Assn. v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District. In this case, CBIA challenged BAAQMD’s 2010 “CEQA Air Quality Guidelines”—specifically, the Guidelines’ thresholds and methods for assessing the effects of siting new sensitive receptors (residences) near existing sources of toxic air contaminants and other harmful air emissions, such as freeways. Last year, the California Supreme Court held that CEQA “does not generally require an agency to consider the effects of existing environmental conditions on a proposed project’s future users or residents” (so-called ‘CEQA-in-Reverse’). Requiring analysis of the existing environment’s effects on a project, the Supreme Court emphasized, would “impermissibly expand the scope of CEQA.” The Supreme Court remanded the case to the First District Court of Appeal to apply its general ruling to the specific aspects of the BAAQMD Guidelines still in dispute.