For Immediate Release, October 24, 2014
|| Nina Erlich-Williams, Public Good PR, (415) 577-1153
Gary Lasky, Sierra Club, (559) 790-3495
Rachel Hooper, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, Sierra Club, (415) 552-7272
Kevin Bundy, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 572-2527
Lawsuit Challenges Freeway-focused Merced Transportation Plan
Pollution, Sprawl From Long-range Plan Threaten Climate, Public Health
MERCED, Calif.— The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in Merced Superior Court today to challenge approval of a transportation and development plan that invests heavily in highways. The plan would dramatically increase air pollution, urban sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions.
The lawsuit challenges the Merced County Association of Governments’ (MCAG) approval in September of a Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy outlining the county’s vision for development and transportation for the next 35 years. The plan fails to meet regional goals set by the state for reducing climate pollution from vehicles, roads, and highways. The agency also failed to fully evaluate and take meaningful steps to reduce the long-term climate and public health effects of the plan.
"Unfortunately, this plan does not meaningfully address the critical issue of climate change, despite a statewide push for counties to do so," said Gary Lasky of the Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter. "Merced County is at risk of continued and deepening drought, wildfires and loss of our valuable agricultural lands if the crisis of climate change is allowed to continue unabated. Local governments must take these threats seriously and take responsibility for their contribution to the problem."
MCAG approved the plan based on an environmental impact report that does not fully address the plan’s impacts on climate change and public health or provide effective measures to reduce those impacts. In particular, the agency did not evaluate the public health impacts of toxic air pollution from planned roads and highways. These pollutants cause a host of health effects, including respiratory and cardiovascular disease and even cancer.
“Building smarter, less car-dependent communities is critical to stabilizing our climate,” said Kevin Bundy, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Merced County must move beyond the Central Valley’s legacy of highways and sprawl and start embracing ways of growing that protect both our climate and community health.”
The Merced County 2014-2040 transportation plan does, for the first time, include a “Sustainable Communities Strategy” required by California’s SB 375. Through these strategies, regional governments must reduce climate pollution from transportation and development by coordinating their road, highway, transit and land use plans. MCAG’s plan not only failed to meet regional pollution reduction targets established by the California Air Resources Board, but also failed to analyze an alternative that would have met the targets. Instead, the plan allows per capita greenhouse gas emissions to rise between 2020 and 2035.
The Center for Biological Diversity (www.biologicaldiversity.org) is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental organization. It has more than 700,000 members nationwide, including more than 150,000 members in California and more than 240 members in Merced County (www.tehipitesierraclub.org).
Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger LLP (www.smwlaw.com), whose attorneys are lead petitioners’ counsel in the case, specializes in government, land use, natural resource and environmental law. Since 1980, the firm has provided representation to public agencies and community groups throughout California.