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CALIFORNIA ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY ACT

California is a national leader in climate-change policy, with dozens of laws addressing greenhouse gas pollution and energy efficiency — including, most famously, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The nation’s first mandatory cap on greenhouse gas pollution, this law requires greenhouse gas emissions to fall to 1990 levels by 2020, and that’s not all: A 2005 executive order sets a goal of emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Meeting these reductions while the state continues to grow will be challenging, which is why the Center has led the charge to bring the state’s flagship land-use and environmental protection statute, the California Environmental Quality Act, into play. The California Environmental Quality Act requires state and local agencies to assess and reduce the environmental impacts of new development projects prior to their approval, providing the ideal forum for analyzing solutions to global warming before new projects add to it. Since the Act was passed in 1970, it’s gained a proven track record of having a positive effect on air quality, water supply, and plants and wildlife. The problem was, prior to the Center’s advocacy, global warming and greenhouse gas emissions were almost universally ignored during the important California Environmental Quality Act review process.

OUR CAMPAIGN

The Center has filed scores of comment letters and brought a number of lawsuits against entities including the cities of Banning, Desert Hot Springs, and Perris for approving plans for developments that didn’t take measures to address global warming impacts. In 2007, we joined with other conservation groups and California Attorney General Jerry Brown in a landmark challenge of San Bernardino County’s failure to consider greenhouse gas emissions in adopting its long-range growth plan. Our suit, along with the attorney general’s, resulted in a settlement requiring San Bernardino County to inventory greenhouse gas emissions, set reduction targets for greenhouse gases, and adopt feasible measures to meet those targets for the next 20 years. The Center was recognized for this victory in Environment Now’s Top Achievements Report 2007, a yearly review of the most successful environmental initiatives led by nonprofits in Southern California.

More recently, we've used the California Environmental Quality Act to combat fracking in the state: In October 1012, we and allies , represented by Earthjustice, filed suit against the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources — the the agency responsible for regulating the state's oil and gas industry — for failing to abide by the Act in regulating California fracking.

Earlier, in 2010, we settled lawsuits with Walmart requiring the retail giant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in two planned Southern California "supercenters" — adding to another victory over Walmart in 2009, when we blocked the construction of a CO2-spewing Supercenter near Joshua Tree Park. Our California Environmental Quality Act actions in 2008 included winning the rejection of a proposal for the Palmwood luxury resort because it didn’t address greenhouse gas emissions; moving to intervene in the licensing process for the Carlsbad Energy Center Project to ensure it addresses its emissions; filing suit against the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to force a Central Valley mega-dairy to reduce its greenhouse gases and other pollutants; and beginning our ongoing campaign to ensure that logging companies and the California Department of Forestry no longer ignore the atmospheric effects of clearcut logging.

Pressure from the Center, Attorney General Brown and others has helped California make great strides toward considering and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new growth. Of course, this progress hasn't gone unnoticed, and oil companies, developers and others are lobbying hard for a legislative rollback to gut the California Environmental Quality Act and remove the requirement to address greenhouse gas pollution. We’re vigorously defending the Act against these attacks, at the same time working for its full implementation as one of California’s most important global warming laws.

Photo © iStockphotos.com/Sean Barley