California’s Supreme Court last week gave the state’s Air Resources Board (ARB) the green light to proceed with a statewide cap-and-trade program that seeks to cut California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The court unanimously upheld an appellate court decision that cleared the way for the board to continue rulemaking for its cap-and-trade program while a lawsuit brought by environmental justice groups is ongoing.

In the original case, Association of Irritated Residents, et al. v. California Air Resources Board, et al. (CPF-09-509562), Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith in February had partially granted a writ of mandate to petitioners—environmental justice groups that say the program exposes poor and minority groups to more pollution. These groups had alleged that CARB’s climate change scoping plan violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as well as A.B. 32, California’s landmark 2006 climate change law.

A.B. 32 tasked CARB with developing a roadmap to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. According to CARB, this means cutting about 30% from business-as-usual levels projected for 2020, or about 15% from today’s levels. The agency’s “scoping plan” includes a range of actions, including direct regulations and market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade system. The agency on Dec. 16 approved a resolution ordering its executive officer to proceed with finalizing cap-and-trade regulations for the program.

But a Court of Appeals in June issued a stay of the Superior Court order, allowing rulemaking to resume. The petitioners had gone to the Supreme Court asking the high court to reverse the Court of Appeal decision and lift the stay of the Superior Court order, thereby halting rulemaking.

The ARB said it has already revised the CEQA analysis, and the ARB board approved the expanded CEQA analysis in August.

Sources: POWERnews, California ARB