As part of the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) “Climate Change Proposed Scoping Plan,” the Board, on October 24, 2008, released its Preliminary Draft Staff Proposal on recommended approaches for setting Interim significance thresholds for greenhouse gases under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Since these thresholds of significance will affect the conduct of EIRs for projects subject to CEQA, such as airport development projects and Airport Land Use Compatibility Plans, participation in the setting of these standards is critical.

California law provides that climate change is an environmental effect subject to the CEQA.  Lead agencies, such as Airport Land Use Commissions, are therefore obligated to determine whether a project’s climate change-related effects may be significant, thereby requiring preparation of an Environmental Impact Report and to impose feasible mitigation to substantially lessen any significant effects.

CARB is specifically requesting participation from the public stakeholders and local lead agencies.  The Preliminary Draft Staff Proposal suggests a “sector approach” due to the fact that “(1) some sectors contribute more substantially to the problem, and therefore should have a greater obligation for emissions reductions, and (2) looking forward, there are differing levels of emissions reductions expected from different sectors in or to meet California’s climate objectives.”

The PDSP includes flowcharts that address CARB’s “threshold concepts” for industrial projects and for residential and commercial projects.  The PDSP also states that that the staff is working on a proposal for an interim approach for thresholds for transportation projects.  CARB proposes, for example, a significance threshold of 7,000 metric tons of CO2e/year.  For Projects that go over that amount, an EIR would have to be prepared and “all feasible GHG mitigation measures implemented.”

CARB has identified a few questions to solicit public comment, but notes that the “list is not exhaustive.”

  • Will the recommended approaches have any unintended consequences, for example, encouraging the piecemealing of projects?
  • As set out in the attachments to the Staff Proposal, staff proposes to define certain performance standards (e.g., for energy efficiency) by referencing or compiling lists from existing local, State or national standards.  For some sub-sources of GHG emissions (e.g., construction, transportation, waste), ARB staff has not identified reference standards.  How should the performance standards for these sub-sources be defined?
  • Are any of the industrial, residential, or commercial project types eligible for categorical exemptions likely to contribute more significantly to climate change than staff’s preliminary analysis indicates?
  • For residential and commercial projects, staff has proposed that the GHG emissions of some projects that meet GHG performance standards might under some circumstances still be considered cumulatively considerable and therefore significant.  What types of projects might still have climate change-related impacts?

As noted above, since these thresholds of significance will affect the conduct of EIRs for projects subject to CEQA, such as airport development projects and Airport Land Use Compatibility Plans, participation in the setting of these standards is critical.

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