January 10, 2008

California Air Pollution Control Officers Association Releases Guidance on CEQA and Climate Change

Holland & Knight Alert
Jennifer L. Hernandez

On January 3, 2008, the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (CAPCOA) released its long awaited guidance on consideration and mitigation of climate change impacts. “CEQA and Climate Change”1 (White Paper) is the most comprehensive and detailed effort to date to address incorporation of climate change into California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance. It also provides significant insights into how air district managers are thinking, and the diversity of their thinking, on this topic. It is also likely to be highly influential on Air Quality Management Districts (AQMDs) developing approaches, significance criteria and mitigation measures for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Overall, the White Paper is consistent with Holland & Knight’s previous advice on climate change and CEQA to date.

Significance Criteria 

The White Paper does not single out any one approach to generating thresholds of significance or mitigation measures for climate change impacts from projects. Instead, it describes two main approaches for evaluating significance and describes the pros and cons of several variants on the two approaches. The first approach is to ground the significance threshold in the targets specified in Executive Order S-03-05 and AB 32.2 The second approach develops tiered significance criteria based upon project size and type.

Because of the substantial uncertainty surrounding California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulation of GHGs under AB 32, the White Paper favors the second approach and identifies six quantitative significance thresholds that might be utilized by AQMDs. Based on these evaluations, it appears that CAPCOA may favor a three-tiered approach to significance thresholds where (1) projects with zero net GHG emissions are deemed not to have significant climate change impacts; (2) projects generating 900 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year (tCO2e/y), or 50 residential units, or equivalent commercial square footage are considered cumulatively significant and must impose some relatively minor mitigation measures; and (3) projects of 9000 tCO2e/y, or 500 residential units, or the equivalent commercial square footage are considered cumulatively significant and require much more stringent mitigation.

Other significance thresholds proposed in the White Paper include: (1) the use of the mandatory GHG reporting threshold for stationary sources recently adopted by CARB, 25,000 tCO2e/y; (20 the recommendation for mandatory reporting made by the Market Advisory Committee, 10,000 tCO2e/y; and (3) the GHG emissions equivalent to the ceilings for other criteria pollutants, estimated to be 40,000 to 50,000 tCO2e/y.

Quantification of Emissions

The White Paper recommends that project construction and operational GHG emissions be quantified and discussed in CEQA analyses. It defines operational emissions as consisting of area source emissions due to combustion of fossil fuels on site, emissions due to auto trips and indirect emissions due to electricity usage. Significantly, the White Paper recommends against a requirement that life-cycle emissions of materials or products incorporated into the project be
included in the emissions inventory because such emissions are highly uncertain and are outside the control of the project applicant. The White Paper recommends use of standardized emissions modeling tools such as URBEMIS, EMFAC and the CCAR SRP while recognizing that more sophisticated models similar to the I-PLACE3S model are urgently needed to better estimate GHG emissions and emission reductions at the community level.

Mitigation Measures

The White Paper contains an extensive list of mitigation measures. It also attempts to evaluate each suggested measure based upon its emissions reduction potential, cost, technical and logistical feasibility, and secondary effects. These include measures to encourage the following: 

• bicycling, walking, and transit use
• parking measures
• high density and mixed use development
• transportation demand management measures
• pedestrian friendly development
• energy efficiency standards substantially in excess of Title 24, onsite renewable energy generation and LEED certified construction
• measures to reduce construction-related GHG emissions 

Which of these mitigation measures would be recommended for a particular project type or size is unclear. However, in its discussion of significance thresholds, the White Paper does use TDM measures, Leed Platinum Certification, 40 percent exceedance of Title 24 efficiency standards, onsite renewable energy, mandatory transit passes, and purchase of carbon offsets up to 90 percent of remaining emissions as examples of appropriate mitigation measures for large projects.


CAPCOA lays out a wide range of strategies for addressing GHG emissions in CEQA documents. This may indicate continued disagreement among AQMDs on the appropriate response to this emerging regulatory challenge. The White Paper acknowledges and illustrates that while there is broad consensus that GHG emissions from development must be considered in CEQA documents, there is a great diversity of views as to how this should be done amongst air quality professionals. The White Paper is one piece in an as yet incomplete puzzle that will continue to evolve as AQMDs promulgate specific guidance, CARB promulgates regulation under AB 32 and as case law on the topic develops. Thus we continue to recommend that before submitting a DEIR to public comment, project proponents confer with their legal counsel to be sure that its climate change discussion reflects the latest developments in this rapidly evolving arena.

1. CAPCOA, CEQA and Climate Change: Evaluating and Addressing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Projects Subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (Jan. 2008), available at http://www.capcoa.org/index.php  

2. Executive Order S-03-05 (June 1, 2005) sets GHG reduction targets of year 2000 emissions by 2010, of 1990 emissions by 2020, and of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) mandates reduction of California GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

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