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Alert: OPR Releases Draft Amendments to CEQA Guidelines to Incorporate Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

1/21/2009 Articles

On January 8, 2009 the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR) released their preliminary draft regulatory guidance on the analysis and mitigation of the potential effects of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The guidance consists of proposed amendments to the regulations governing CEQA (commonly known as the CEQA Guidelines).  OPR will hold two public workshops on the proposal, one in Los Angeles on Thursday, January 22nd and one in Sacramento on Monday, January 26th.  OPR recently extended the comment period on the preliminary draft CEQA Guideline Amendments (the "Amendments") until Monday, February 2, 2009. 

The proposed Amendments to the CEQA Guidelines come at the behest of the legislature which recognized the numerous questions being raised by public agencies, applicants, and environmental advocacy organizations about how to handle GHG emissions in CEQA documents.  Thus, in section 21083.05 of the Public Resources Code, the Legislature mandated that OPR develop draft guidelines by July 1, 2009.  OPR first developed a Technical Advisory document in June of 2008 to provide interim advice to lead agencies on how to handle GHG emissions in CEQA documents while OPR and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) worked to develop more concrete guidance.  CARB has released their preliminary draft of recommended approaches for setting thresholds of significance which, when finalized, will help guide lead agencies in developing their own thresholds. 

This is the first time that the public has seen OPR's proposed Amendments to the CEQA guidelines.  The Amendments consist of two entirely new sections to the CEQA Guidelines, along with modifications to twelve pre-existing sections.  Along with defining GHGs, the Amendments provide factors for determining the significance of the impacts from GHG emissions as well as the type of mitigation measures which can and should be considered to reduce the impacts of GHG emissions. 

The Amendments emphasize the importance of regional planning on GHG emissions and provide numerous opportunities for lead agencies to utilize compliance with those plans in the project specific CEQA documents through the consideration of cumulative impacts, tiering, and in Statements of Overriding considerations.  The proposed Amendments would also change the manner in which traffic impacts shall be considered by focusing on trips generated, not impacts to specific intersections.  These changes, amongst others, appear to be in furtherance of the goals of the recently adopted Senate Bill 375 which aims to promote broader and more effective regional planning for transportation and housing in order to reduce GHG emissions. 

Some of the factors that OPR's Amendments identify as relevant in determining whether a project's GHG emissions are significant include the extent to which it is in compliance with the state's AB 32 goals, whether it will increase consumption of fossil fuels or other energy resources, improve energy efficiency, or reduce GHG emissions from an existing facility.  The mitigation measure provision emphasizes that "all feasible means of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions" should be considered, and also identifies project design features, sequestration of carbon, off-site measures and/or carbon off-sets as possible mitigation measures to consider.

The Preliminary Draft CEQA Guideline Amendments are available at: http://opr.ca.gov/index.php?a=ceqa/index.html   Written comments may be submitted by 5 p.m. on February 2nd, via email to OPR at [email protected], by fax to (916) 323-3018, or by US mail to P.O. Box 3022, Sacramento, CA 95812-3044.

Related Articles:

CARB Releases Preliminary Draft of Recommended Approaches for Setting Significance Thresholds for Greenhouse Gases under CEQA

Office of Planning and Research Releases Technical Advisory on CEQA and Climate Change

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