Judge Bars Implementation of Calif. Cap-and-Trade Plan, Orders Further Review

A California Superior Court judge in San Francisco has provisionally ruled that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) did not adequately comply with requirements from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The tentative decision could prevent implementation of a statewide cap-and-trade program due to start next year until CARB addresses those requirements.

In the case, Association of Irritated Residents, et al. v. California Air Resources Board, et al. (CPF-09-509562), Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith partially granted a writ of mandate to petitioners, environmental justice groups, which had alleged that CARB’s climate change scoping plan violated the state’s environmental policy act 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.

In the court’s decision, Judge Goldsmith denied all claims that CARB’s scoping plan violated A.B. 32 but found that the agency did not fully consider the impacts of alternatives to a cap-and-trade plan, as required by the CEQA. He also ruled that CARB’s approval of the scoping plan before completing the environmental review, as required by CEQA, was illegal.

By issuing a writ of mandate, the court effectively, if tentatively, barred CARB from further implementing the scoping plan until it complies with CEQA requirements.

Reuters quoted Alegria De La Cruz, an attorney representing petitioners, as saying that both sides can still file objections to the tentative ruling (within 15 days from Jan. 21), which can also be appealed.

In related news, an independent review panel formed by CARB, the California Energy Commission, and the California Public Utilities Commission last week concluded that long-term geologic storage of carbon dioxide was beneficial to state residents and recommended its inclusion in state GHG-reduction measures.

The panel admitted in a report that carbon capture and storage was challenging but offered recommendations to resolve or begin a process to resolve those challenges. Some of those recommendations include addressing the need for clear and consistent regulatory requirements and authority for permitting all phases of those projects, including capture, transport, and storage.

Sources: POWERnews, CARB, Reuters

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