Bay Area Air District CEQA Significance Thresholds Survive Legal Challenge
The Court of Appeal upheld the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's (BAAQMD) 2010 adoption of thresholds of significance for air quality impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (California Building Industry Association v. BAAQMD). The Thresholds establish levels of emissions for air pollutants that would be considered a significant impact under CEQA.
A trial court decision last year invalidated the Thresholds based on BAAQMD's failure to comply with CEQA in the adoption process. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court decision finding that an agency adoption of significance thresholds was not a project under CEQA. The Court ruled that the public process for adoption of significance thresholds in CEQA Guidelines section 15064.7 does not require formal environmental review. The Court also ruled that the alleged indirect environmental impact of the Thresholds on future projects was too speculative and not reasonably foreseeable.
This decision is important because the BAAQMD Thresholds are used by almost all Bay Area agencies in their CEQA analysis. They also influence CEQA thresholds adopted by other air districts. The Thresholds address greenhouse gases, particulate matter and toxic air contaminants (TACs) which are often controversial issues for Projects under CEQA. Importantly, although the TAC threshold was generally upheld, the Court left open the question of whether the consideration of the health impact of existing TAC emissions on occupants of a new project was required under CEQA. This issue of whether CEQA requires the analysis of the effects of the environment on the project was most recently addressed in the case of Ballona Wetlands Land Trust v. City of Los Angeles. A further analysis of the case is available here.ShareThis