The California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) recently posted final adopted text for amendments to the CEQA Guidelines. The result of over five years of development efforts by the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research and CNRA, the amendments are the most comprehensive update to the CEQA Guidelines since 1998. In “Natural Resources Agency Finalizes Updates to the CEQA Guidelines,” Pillsbury environmental attorneys Norman F. Carlin, Kevin Ashe and Eric Moorman explore the wide range of issues covered in the amendments, including the new Vehicle-Miles-Traveled (VMT) methodology for analyzing transportation impacts; use of regulatory standards as significance thresholds; environmental baselines; and numerous procedural and technical improvements.
On June 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided the case of Center for Biological Diversity, et al., v. Export-Import Bank of the U.S., affirming the ruling of the District Court, which granted Export-Import Bank of the United States’ (Ex-Im Bank) summary judgement motion finding that, “as a threshold matter,” the plaintiff environmental groups lacked standing to pursue either of their National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) or Endangered Species Act (ESA)] claims. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held “that the action is not moot [but] affirm the district court on the question of standing.”
At the end of April, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued new guidance regarding the evaluation and negotiation of Endangered Species Act Section 10(a)(1)(b) incidental take permits (ITPs). The guidance has significant implications for private project proponents considering whether to undertake the often time-consuming and costly process of seeking an ITP and preparing a habitat conservation plan (HCP) in support of that application. In a recent article for Law360, colleagues Wayne M. Whitlock, Norman F. Carlin and Eric Moorman examined the background and legal framework of the ESA and the implications of the FWS guidance memorandum for prospective permittees.
On November 21, the California Fifth District Court of Appeal issued its decision in Association of Irritated Residents v. Kern County Board of Supervisors, 2017 WL 5590096, a challenge to the County’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approval for modifications at the Alon Bakersfield Refinery. Among other things, the Association of Irritated Residents (AIR) claimed that, since crude oil processing was shut down when work on the EIR began, the EIR should have considered the refinery’s inactive condition as the “baseline,” treating impacts of resuming typical operation as impacts of the new project. Rejecting AIR’s argument, the court held that, since refinery operations fluctuated over time, the use of data from operations in a representative prior year to identify the baseline level of activity was appropriate under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Continue reading
On October 19, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a draft Strategic Plan (the Plan) for public comment. The Plan establishes goals and long-term objectives for increasing investment and streamlining federal environmental review and approval of transportation infrastructure projects over the next five years (Fiscal Years 2018-2022). Comments on the draft Plan are due by November 13, 2017. Continue reading
On August 2, 2017, the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) released its first update to the General Plan Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) since 2003. The Guidelines provide guidance to cities and counties throughout California on the preparation and content of their General Plans, which govern land uses and zoning within their jurisdictions. The updated Guidelines contain new recommended policies, information resources, and reflect recent legislation regarding General Plans.
On July 31, 2017, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register, for a proposed regulation that would establish new, experimental procedures to encourage use of public-private partnerships (P3s), joint developments and other private investment mechanisms in surface transportation capital projects. The rulemaking is linked to a statutory provision in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, which requires FTA to identify provisions at 49 U.S.C. chapter 53 and any regulations or practices thereunder that impede greater use of P3s and private investment. Potential private investors in public transportation infrastructure projects, as well as local and state transportation agencies that may be considering mechanisms of private funding, should be aware of the proposed new procedures. Public comments on the proposal are due September 29, 2017.
On July 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided the case of United States v. Sierra Pacific Industries, et al. This is referred to as the “ Moonlight Fire” case.
The Ninth Circuit framed the issues before it as follows:
We are asked to decide whether certain allegations of fraud, some of which were known before the parties settled, and some of which came to light after the settlement, rise to a level of fraud on the court, such that relief from the settlement agreement is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(d)(3).
On July 6, the California Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated decision in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission (case no. S221980). In this case, coastal homeowners alleged that, in issuing a permit to construct a protective seawall, the California Coastal Commission imposed unconstitutional conditions. In particular, the plaintiffs objected to the permit being limited to a 20-year term, after which they could be required to remove the seawall. However, to the disappointment of many who closely watched the case (as well as the plaintiffs), the Court declined to reach constitutional issues. Instead, the Court ruled that the homeowners waived their objection to permit conditions by constructing the seawall prior to the resolution of litigation.
Following cannabis legalization in California, municipalities are beginning to face difficult decisions related to land use and planning. The challenge in siting industrial and residential uses, often in conflict, is not new for cities and their planners. But the new twist of cannabis growing and processing, treated as an industrial use in most cities, adds an added layer of complexity to land use decisions where lack of housing is also an issue.