Calif. law linking land use, emissions passes court test

Correction appended.

SAN FRANCISCO -- A California law aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from land-use changes has survived its first court challenge from a major oil company.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga tossed out an environmental impact report Friday for a proposed Chevron Corp. refinery expansion in Richmond, Calif., saying the analysis failed to account for the project's greenhouse gas emissions as is required by the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

Zuniga said Chevron and the city had ignored greenhouse gas mitigation measures in approving a plan to expand the refinery, as required under CEQA. The judge also dismissed Chevron's contention that the expansion is not intended to enable the refinery to process a heavier form of crude oil.

"The [environmental analysis] project description is unclear and inconsistent as to whether [the] project will or will not enable Chevron to process a heavier crude slate than it is currently processing," Zuniga wrote.


The case represents the first time a major oil company has had to cope with CEQA's greenhouse gas requirements. Early court battles over the law's new climate provisions, which require developers to plan mitigation for carbon-dioxide emissions, have been limited primarily to municipalities looking to upgrade urban plans.

Earthjustice, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and several community groups had filed a lawsuit against Chevron and the Richmond City Council last September seeking a rejection of the environmental impact report.

In oral arguments last month, William Rostov, a staff attorney at Earthjustice, charged Chevron with trying to defer its CEQA obligation to some unspecified future date. He urged the court to reject the project's approval and send a signal to other developers that the law has teeth needed to force a carbon analysis (ClimateWire, May 21).

Rostov said the project would let Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, Calif., switch to processing dirtier oils that would increase carbon dioxide emissions and toxics. He said Richmond officials glossed over the issue in the environmental impact report approved by the City Council.

Attorneys for Chevron and the city countered that the oil giant had completed the work required by CEQA. Ronald Van Buskirk, who had argued on Chevron's behalf before Zuniga, insisted that the environmental groups had ignored the CEQA documents approved by the Richmond City Council in the name of blocking any development.

Chevron is expected to revise its analysis and resubmit its project application to the city.

Correction: The law survived its first court challenge from a major oil company.

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