By Leslie Z. Walker

Attorney General Jerry Brown and the County of San Bernardino have reached a landmark settlement in the state’s global warming suit against the County. 

In April of this year, Attorney General Brown filed suit challenging the adequacy of the EIR for San Bernardino County’s General Plan. The Attorney General alleged that the EIR failed to comply with the requirements of CEQA in its analysis of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and diesel engine exhaust emissions. 

The parties reached a settlement last week that allows the updated General Plan to remain in effect, but requires that the County amend the plan within the next 30 months. The amendment must add a policy of greenhouse gas reduction and call for the adoption of a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan. The County will conduct an environmental review under CEQA of both the General Plan amendment and the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan. 

The amended General Plan will include an inventory of all known, or reasonably discoverable, sources of greenhouse gases in the County.  Because definitive data sources for this inventory do not exist, the parties agreed that the measurements will be estimates, but the estimates will be supported by substantial evidence and will represent the County’s best efforts. The agreement provides that the County will inventory emissions for 1990 and the current year and will project emissions for 2020. In addition, the County will create a target for the reduction of sources of emissions reasonably attributable to the County’s discretionary land use decisions. 

Recognizing that the County is one of the first local governments affirmatively required to address greenhouse gases in its General Plan update, the Attorney General agreed to assist the County in obtaining available funding from state and federal sources to aid the County in complying with the agreement. 

The agreement did not include any measurable targets or specific actions. However, the Attorney General’s press release on the agreement lists the following as feasible mitigation measures:

  • High-density developments that reduce vehicle trips and utilize public transit.
  • Parking spaces for high-occupancy vehicles and car-share programs.
  • Electric vehicle charging facilities and conveniently located alternative fueling stations.
  • Limits on parking.
  • Transportation impact fees on developments to fund public transit service.
  • Regional transportation centers where various types of public transportation meet.
  • Energy efficient design for buildings, appliances, lighting and office equipment.
  • Solar panels, water reuse systems and on-site renewable energy production.
  • Methane recovery in landfills and wastewater treatment plants to generate electricity.
  • Carbon emissions credit purchases that fund alternative energy projects.

The litigation against San Bernardino was the state’s first suit over a general plan’s impact on global warming. In the absence of regulatory guidance, this agreement may serve as one benchmark in addressing greenhouse gases in CEQA documents.

Leslie Walker is an associate with Abbott & Kindermann, LLP.  For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, environmental and planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.