The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (“AB 32”) set statewide goals for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions. On November 30, 2015, the Supreme Court of California held in Center for Biological Diversity v. California Department of Fish and Wildlife that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) could use AB 32 to set the standard for GHG emissions in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Newhall Ranch Project. However, the court held that the administrative record lacked substantial evidence to support its finding that emission would not be “significant.”
This was the first case in California that dealt with the interplay of GHG and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance. CEQA requires all local agencies to prepare an EIR for any project that they intend to carry out or approve that might have a significant effect on the environment. Neither AB 32 nor the California Air Resources Board’s scoping plan set out a method for CEQA analysis of GHG emissions. Thus, the court held that in the absence of local standards, CDFA properly adopted AB 32’s state reduction targets for GHG emissions as the threshold-of-significance standard in an EIR. This holding introduced more uncertainties about how public agencies can estimate the significance of GHG emissions, as the court failed to provide a local standard or any specific guidelines for project-level GHG emissions. This In Brief will first provide an overview of CEQA and AB 32. Then, it will introduce the Newhall Ranch Project. Finally, it will discuss the relevant court holdings and analyze their impacts.