Calif. recommends tight emissions threshold for compliance
California regulators weighed in this week on how state environmental protection laws should be adjusted to account for new buildings' greenhouse gas emissions.
The state's Air Resources Board issued proposed guidelines for industrial, commercial and residential projects under the California Environmental Quality Act. The three sectors make up about 30 percent of the state's total greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the past year, a number of lawsuits on the state and local levels have entrenched CEQA as a valid tool to force builders to take climate change into account. Now, agencies are busy narrowing down the law's scope as it applies to greenhouse gas emissions.
For industrial projects, ARB set a bar that it predicts will force 90 percent of proposals to go through emissions-mitigation planning under CEQA. The threshold for industrial projects is 7,000 metric tons per year of CO2 equivalent. This includes emissions from industrial operations, electricity purchases and water use. Projects whose emissions are expected to be below the threshold wouldn't have to analyze their effect on climate change under CEQA, although there are plenty of other emissions regulations on the state level that might apply to them, including energy efficiency standards and anti-idling laws.
For residential and commercial projects, ARB held off on setting a specific threshold. It's also still working on standards for transportation projects (38 percent of statewide emissions in 2004) and dairies.
While CEQA gives local agencies authority to decide what triggers a review under the law, many are expected to use the state standards as a template. Several regional agencies -- including the South Coast region, San Joaquin Valley and San Diego County -- are already coming up with emissions standards.
Matt Vespa, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who sued the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District earlier this month over its CEQA thresholds, said ARB's proposed guidelines were encouraging.
San Joaquin had said dairies could avoid mitigating their emissions as long as they were below 42,000 metric tons, a figure Vespa said was far too high to achieve significant emissions reductions.
The state's limit of 7,000 metric tons appears to be predicated on averting dangerous climate change, rather than merely complying with the state's emissions target for 2020, Vespa said. Local agencies have been taking a "myopic view" in setting their thresholds with 2020 in mind, he said.
While the state's CEQA guidelines won't be binding, "it would surprise me if this wasn't embraced" by local agencies, he said. "If you're doing something less stringent, you're going to have to justify it."
ARB will make a final recommendation in January.
Click here to view the state's proposed CEQA guidelines for industrial, residential and commercial projects.
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