In the Name of the Environment: Litigation Abuse Under CEQA
This Holland & Knight report is the first comprehensive study of lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Analyzing all CEQA lawsuits filed in California over a three-year period, 2010-2012, the report systematically documents widespread abuse of CEQA litigation that undermines the state’s environmental, social equity and economic priorities.
Among the study's key findings:
- CEQA litigation is not a battle between “business” and “enviros” – 49 percent of all CEQA lawsuits target taxpayer-funded projects with no business or other private sector sponsors.
- Projects designed to advance California’s environmental policy objectives are the most frequent targets of CEQA lawsuits: transit is the most frequently challenged type of infrastructure project, renewable energy is the most frequently challenged type of industrial/utility project, and housing (especially higher density housing) is the most frequently challenged type of private sector project.
- Debunking claims by special interests that CEQA combats sprawl, the study shows that infill projects are the overwhelming target of CEQA lawsuits. For infill/greenfield projects, 80 percent are in infill locations, and only 20 percent are in greenfield locations.
- CEQA litigation is overwhelmingly used in cities, targeting core urban services such as parks, schools, libraries and even senior housing.
- Sixty-four percent of those filing CEQA lawsuits are individuals or local “associations,” the vast majority of which have no prior track record of environmental advocacy – and CEQA litigation abuse is primarily the domain of Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) opponents and special interests such as competitors and labor unions seeking non-environmental outcomes.
The study's authors suggest that ending CEQA litigation abuse is the most cost-effective way to restore the state's middle-class job base; make housing more affordable; ensure that taxpayer funds are spent on projects – not process; and improve the future of the nearly nine million Californians living in poverty. The authors recommend three moderate reforms to curtail the abuse:
- Require those filing CEQA lawsuits to disclose their identity and environmental (or non-environmental) interests.
- Eliminate duplicative lawsuits aimed at derailing plans and projects that have already completed the CEQA process.
- Preserve CEQA’s existing environmental review and public comment requirements, as well as access to litigation remedies for environmental purposes – but restrict judicial invalidation of project approvals to those projects that would harm public health, destroy irreplaceable tribal resources or threaten the ecology.
Previous Holland & Knight publications on CEQA include:
- CEQA Judicial Outcomes: Fifteen Years of Reported California Appellate and Supreme Court Decisions, Holland & Knight alert, May 2015
- California's Social Priorities, Chapman University Center for Demographics and Policy, 2015
- California Environmental Quality Act, Greenhouse Gas Regulation and Climate Change, Chapman University Center for Demographics and Policy, 2015
- To Lead on Climate Change, California Must also Lead on Poverty Reduction, Los Angeles Daily News, June 3, 2015
- The National Environmental Policy Act in the Ninth Circuit: Once the Leader, Now the Follower?, Environmental Practice, December 2014
- OPR Proposes to Increase CEQA's Costs, Complexity, and Litigation Risks with SB 743 Implementation, Holland & Knight alert, August 22, 2014
- Analysis of Recent Challenges to Environmental Impact Reports, Holland & Knight alert, December 2012