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Court Ruling Sides With Regional Officials Over Statewide Climate Goals
"A highly anticipated ruling by the state Supreme Court on Thursday sided with San Diego County’s regional transportation agency over the state attorney general and some environmental groups, which had sued to lessen spending on freeways and increase funding for mass transit," writes Joshua Emerson Smith, environmental reporter for the Union-Tribune.
The Cleveland National Forest Foundation — with support from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris — sued the agency in 2011 over the environmental impact report for a $214 billion, long-range transportation funding blueprint.
SANDAG was the first of California's 18 metropolitan planning organizations to comply with a landmark law, the "Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008," aka SB 375, to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated from transportation "through coordinated transportation and land use planning with the goal of more sustainable communities," according to the California Air Resources Board, which administers the climate law. Transportation accounts for 39 percent of the state's GHG emissions.
Environmentalists, led by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, which has also launched Transit San Diego, charged that the environmental impact report on their regional transportation plan and sustainable communities strategy was insufficient, and that SANDAG needed to consider former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's executive order of 2005 that required GHG emission requirements to the year 2050.
In a 6-1 ruling [pdf] last Thursday, the state's highest court reversed one critical aspect of the appellate court ruling, and also ruled on the applicability of the 2005 executive order, concluding that "SANDAG properly conducted the greenhouse gas analysis in the environmental review of its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, finding that the agency 'sufficiently informed the public, based on the information available at the time, about the regional plan‘s greenhouse gas impacts,'" notes the SANDAG press release.
“We are very pleased with today’s outcome,” SANDAG Chair and County Supervisor Ron Roberts said. “Rulings by the lower courts left local governments confused about how they should analyze greenhouse gas emissions; should we follow state law as established by the Legislature, or follow executive orders issued by the governor?"
However, U-T's Smith writes that the decision was limited, "leaving the appellate-court decision largely intact, plaintiffs said. The full impact of the appellate court’s decision is unclear, with more proceedings expected in coming months."
In response to charges made by the plaintiffs, "SANDAG officials have said that while sprawling, car-centric planning currently has negative environmental impacts, technologies such as electric vehicles may make such concerns largely irrelevant in the future," adds Smith.
“We disagree with the court’s narrow ruling, but this decision will clearly push transportation planners to better evaluate the massive greenhouse pollution generated by decades of sprawl development and neglect of public transit,” said Bundy.
Hat tip to Michael Momeni, Sierra Club California Committee on Transportation and Sustainable Communities.
- Government / Politics
- San Diego County
- CEQA Litigation
- Environmental Impact Report
- Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)
- SB 375
- Sustainable Communities Strategy
- California Air Resources Board
- California Supreme Court
- Center for Biological Diversity
- Cleveland National Forest Foundation
- Sierra Club California
- Kevin Bundy
- Kamala Harris
- Ron Roberts
- Joshua Emerson Smith