December 2012

Analysis of Recent Challenges to Environmental Impact Reports

Daniel R. Golub | Jennifer L. Hernandez

This report analyzes 95 published opinions from 1997 to 2012 in which CEQA plaintiffs litigated the validity of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to the California Court of Appeal or Supreme Court. Among its findings:

  • Of the cases which could be characterized as involving “greenfield” or “infill” projects, 59% involved infill development projects.
  • More than a third of projects challenged (36%) were public projects rather than private development.
  • Notwithstanding claims about CEQA’s importance as a tool in fighting industrial pollution, fewer than 11% of these cases involve industrial projects. The most commonly challenged types of projects were infrastructure projects (19% of cases) and mixed use developments (also 19%), followed by residential and commercial development.
  • The vast majority of cases - 73% - were brought, at least in part, by local organizations as plaintiffs. State and regional-level organizations (e.g., environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club) were only involved in 26% of the cases, most of the time in tandem with a local organization plaintiff. 43% of the local organizations are unincorporated associations, which do not need to disclose their members, including potential economic or other interests, when filing CEQA lawsuits.
  • In the cases in which courts found an EIR deficient, the adequacy of water supply (34%), traffic impacts (25%), and air quality impacts (25%), were the most likely to be identified as inadequately analyzed.

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