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Environmental Review Cases Stack Up At State High Court

The state Supreme Court has accepted a case involving the baseline for an environmental impact report of a Southern California oil refinery project. The decision to accept the case means the state high court now has four California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) cases pending.

In the latest case, the Second District Court of Appeal ruled that actual emissions from ConocoPhillip's Los Angeles Refinery should serve as the baseline for measuring impact of proposed refinery modifications. The court threw out a South Coast Air Quality Management District EIR that instead used permitted emission levels as the baseline, even though actual emissions were less than half the amount permitted (see CP&DR Legal Digest, March 2008). Although a line of cases indicates that permitted levels would be the proper baseline for an EIR, the court said those cases were inapplicable because they involved permitted levels that had been subject to environmental review. The refinery's permitted emissions had not undergone prior CEQA review.

The case is Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District, No. S161190.

Due for a decision by July 1 is a case involving the EIR for the Cal-Fed Bay-Delta project. The Third District Court of Appeal in 2005 ruled the document inadequate for a number of reasons, including the document's lack of an alternative that did not contemplate a halt to future state population growth (see CP&DR Legal Digest, November 2005). The case, Bay-Delta Coordinated Proceedings, No. S138974, was argued on April 2.

One of the other pending cases has been heavily briefed and appears ready for oral argument. That case, Save Tara v. City of West Hollywood, No. S151402), concerns whether or not the city's signing of a conditional agreement with a developer to sell a city-owned property constituted a "project" for CEQA purposes (see CP&DR Legal Digest, April 2007). An appellate court said the conditional agreement should have undergone environmental review, even though it required CEQA compliance prior to development.

The final CEQA case before the state Supreme Court concerns whether the statute of limitations ran out before opponents of a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter in Stockton filed a lawsuit challenging the city's lack of environmental review for the project. That case is Citizens for Sensible Planning v. City of Stockton, No. S159690 (see CP&DR Local Watch, February 2008).
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