By Leslie Z. Walker

The California Attorney General and the Local Government Commission hosted the first of five statewide workshops, CEQA and Climate Change: Partnering with Local Agencies to Combat Global Warming, on Thursday, March 20, 2008. In his invitation to cities and counties across the state, the Attorney General explained that planning for Climate Change should not await the 2012 implementation of binding Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) emission limits and emission reduction measures required by AB 32. At the workshop, the Attorney General reiterated his position that CEQA requires GHG analysis. The line-up of morning speakers, who discussed thresholds, modeling emissions and mitigation measures, suggested that since tools exist to measure and mitigate GHGs, agencies are required to do so.

Thresholds of Significance

Barbara Lee from the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (“CAPCOA”) discussed the organization’s recently released CEQA & Climate Change: Evaluating and Addressing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Projects Subject to the California Environmental Quality Act. The report asserts that the absence of a threshold does not relieve agencies of their obligations to address GHG emissions under CEQA. In the absence of thresholds for GHGs, CAPCOA has analyzed three scenarios for GHG emission evaluation: no GHG threshold, a zero threshold, and a non-zero threshold. The report also provides a detailed list of carbon-reduction strategies and measures their effectiveness. Notably, neither the State of California nor the Attorney General has officially endorsed the CAPCOA approach, leaving everyone in the dark still as to how best to proceed.


Robert Johnston from the University of California, Davis discussed the use of modeling to calculate the emissions from general plans and regional transportation plans (“RTPs”). While the emissions from RTPs can be evaluated based on the buildout information contained in the RTP, general plans do not include buildout and therefore need to be modeled. Currently, 18 California counties are conducting this modeling using UPlan, a simple growth model which generates future land use maps from demographic inputs and assumptions. A module has been added to allow the model to project the energy and GHG impacts of growth.


Curtis Alling from EDAW addressed CEQA mitigation and planning policy. He pointed to CAPCOA’s document and the Institute for Local Government’s papers. In addition to other sources of mitigation measures, Mr. Alling discussed the Attorney General’s list of mitigation measures. This list includes measures in the categories of energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, solid waste measures, land use measures, transportation and motor vehicles, and, as a last resort, carbon offsets. The Attorney General has also included measures specific to general plans, suggesting ways to discuss Climate Change in the Conservation, Circulation, Land Use, Housing, and Open Space Elements, and/or creating a separate Climate Change Element. Without directly requiring it, the Attorney General seems to imply that he expects each city, county, and transportation planning agency to assess the individual applicability of over 100 suggested policies and strategies for reducing GHGs.

Several speakers, including the Attorney General, emphasized the importance of infill and redevelopment in preventing Climate Change. Despite the discussion of strategies for measuring, evaluating, and mitigating the effects of Climate Change, it remains unclear what guidance we will receive from the legislative and executive branches of state government. The next workshop is in Sacramento on April 3, 2008. Workshop materials are available on the Local Government Commission’s web site.

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.