GHG litigation still possible against non-compliant counties, Brown's office says

Legal News Line Mar. 12, 2008, 1:00pm


SACRAMENTO -- Despite California Attorney General Jerry Brown's new focus on outreach, California communities who fail to address greenhouse gases may still wind up in court. "Litigation is not ideal but it's still possible," Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for Brown said in an interview with LNL. "We want to keep it out of the courtroom. But it's up to everyone in the state to come up with strategies to reduce greenhouse gases." For many local governments this means taking steps to limit sprawl, use more mass transit and relying on green building design and alternative energy sources. It also means an expensive greenhouse gases inventory process that most cities and counties have yet to begin. In fact, the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) just announced its statewide guidelines last November. "There are a handful of counties who have completed their inventories but most are in the process of completing them," Cara Martinson, CSAC's legislative analyst said in an interview with LNL. "And there are quite a few smaller, more rural counties who are strapped for cash who don't have the resources or the staff to begin the process." Unlike Brown's office, CSAC views the greenhouse-gas reduction program as voluntary. Local governments don't get money from the state to help them comply with the program. "Otherwise it would be an un-funded mandate," Martinson said. This month the Attorney General's office will begin hosting meetings throughout California to educate public officials about global warming and the AG's role in the environmental review process. "We have an obligation under the law to review environmental impact reports," Lacy said. "If we see something that is going to produce large amount of greenhouse-gas emissions we want to work with the community to develop a strategy. There are a lot of cities and counties who are excited about these meetings." Lacy said the meetings will focus on undertaking a full greenhouse-gas emissions inventory, modeling future emissions and analyzing the impacts of development. In 2006 California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law mandating a 25 percent reduction in its greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020. Mandatory caps on so-called "significant sources," such as fossil fuels and methane, are scheduled to begin in 2012. Last April Brown's office filed suit against San Bernardino County – one of the fastest-growing area of the state and a home base for thousands of long-distance commuters -- for failing to take greenhouse gasses into account when it updated its 25-year master plan. The lawsuit drew quick criticism from local governments who said the state had failed to enact policies for cities and counties to follow. Sixteen states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam have similar laws regulating greenhouse gases, but no other state has used these laws to sue over global warming. Republicans in the state legislature took up San Bernardino County's cause, stalling state budget negotiations until a settlement was finally reached late last summer. But to some local leaders, the law still needs revision. "This law is the worst anti-business legislation that Sacramento has passed," Alene Taylor, a county supervisor in rural Kings County said in an interview with LNL. "It's going to make it really hard to site businesses here. One state strangulating itself is not going to help global warming." A farmer by trade, Taylor said she believes in global warming. But as an elected official in an agricultural area wrought with poverty, low educational attainment and double digit unemployment, she has her doubts the implementation of the law will be even for all 58 counties. "When it comes to greenhouse gases, we really get hurt by our dairy industry," she said. This week the Republican Minority Leader in the state legislature, Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Clovis, told LNL the party will continue to work toward a free market solution. "We don't support any government mandates," he said. The Attorney General's informational meetings will be held in Oakland, Calif. on March 20, Sacramento Calif., on April 3, April 24 in Visalia, Calif., May 15 in Los Angeles and May 23 in Monterey, Calif.

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