Today, in an opinion authored by Justice Liu, the California Supreme Court ruled that the greenhouse gas analysis in an environmental impact report (“EIR”) prepared for the San Diego Association of Government’s (“SANDAG”) regional transportation plan (“RTP”) did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), but did little to resolve uncertainties in addressing climate change issues under CEQA.  As we previewed in our May discussion of the oral argument in this case, Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments, the majority of the Court found that SANDAG’s discussion of the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions was adequate given the state of science and guidance, at least at the time of the issuance of the RTP in 2011. The Supreme Court cautioned, however, that this EIR should not be considered a template for future projects as developing science and regulations will likely provide further guidance on this issue.

Golden Gate TrafficSince the passage of AB 32 in 2006, the methods for climate change analysis under CEQA have taken a number of turns. Most recently, the California Supreme Court in Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish & Wildlife (2015) 62 Cal.4th 204, concluded that an EIR for a major development project (Newhall Ranch) lacked substantial evidence to show that the project’s reductions in emissions would be consistent with AB 32’s statewide goal for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions by the year 2020. In a harbinger of its impending opinion in Cleveland National Forest v. San Diego Assoc. of Governments, the Court suggested that AB 32’s goal for 2020 may become less and less relevant as 2020 fast approaches. The Supreme Court’s opinion did state, however, that “[w]hile the burden of CEQA’s mandate in this context can be substantial, methods for complying with CEQA do exist”—expressly referencing consistency with regional climate action plans or sustainable communities strategies under SB 375.

On June 30, the First Appellate District issued an opinion that offered some hope to agencies struggling with climate analysis by rejecting a challenge to the regional GHG reduction mandates of “Plan Bay Area,” the sustainable communities strategy developed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to comply with the requirements of SB 375. In Bay Area Citizens v. Association of Bay Area Governments, the appeals court rejected petitioner’s argument that the EIR for the Plan should have taken into account reductions in GHGs that will occur under statewide GHG reduction mandates.