Californians were introduced to Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32) in 2006, when the California Global Warming Solutions Act was adopted.  At first, environmental practitioners scrambled to understand what this regulation meant for their projects, particularly in the realm of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and in City and County land use planning and discretionary actions.  Six years and a myriad of opinion pieces and guidance documents later, the impact of AB 32 on a project or plan-analysis level is, if not well understood for most actions, at least navigable.

On the state level, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) adopted the Climate Change Scoping Plan (Scoping Plan) in 2008, which outlined the baseline and future-year greenhouse gas emissions inventory for the state, and the regulatory and voluntary measure compliance path to achieve the emission reduction goals of AB 32.  Amendments to the CEQA Guidelines (effective 2010) provided guidance to public agencies regarding the analysis and mitigation of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions in CEQA documents.

At the local level, cities, counties, and municipal agencies are determining baseline, current and future year greenhouse gas emissions inventories, and adopting plans and policies aimed to reduce their greenhouse gas impacts to support compliance with AB 32.  Air pollution control and air quality management districts are providing formal and informal guidance on how to analyze greenhouse gas impacts from projects and plans during the CEQA process, often utilizing or tiering off compliance with local adopted plans and/or AB 32 emission reductions goals.

All of this is grand, but does AB 32 have potential ramifications or use outside of California?  Specifically, is there any correlation or use for AB 32 compliance within the framework of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?

The short answer is: No – there is no clear or direct correlation between AB 32 compliance and NEPA compliance.  So, why are there more paragraphs after this statement? Why should this blog go on? Although currently there is no direct correlation, AB 32 provides a framework that federal agencies can refine to analyze the effect of federal actions on greenhouse gas emissions.

National guidance via the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), on when and how a federal agency should consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in their proposed actions is currently in draft form and, compared to current CEQA guidance, quite brief.  The CEQ’s draft guidance includes a presumptive threshold of 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent direct emissions from a proposed action as the trigger for a federal agency to consider preparing a quantitative analysis (compared to California’s mandatory reporting threshold of 10,000 metric tons for select stationary sources). In addition, the CEQ’s guidance includes recommendations for agencies to assess the effects of climate change on the proposed action and the project’s design.

How can AB 32 compliance be utilized in NEPA compliance?  As a result of AB 32, the level of detail, specificity, and confidence in greenhouse gas emissions inventories for projects and plans in California has been dramatically increased.  In addition, emission reduction programs, policies and measures have blossomed into quantifiable actions that can be incorporated into project analysis.  California has, on a state and regional basis, made concrete steps to understanding the potential environmental impacts of climate change on the landscape, biota, water systems, energy systems, and air quality.

In all, AB 32 compliance has created consistency in how local agencies in California disclose the direct and indirect emissions anticipated from development of a project or plan, and more broadly, how climate change may affect the future operations of that development.  Essentially, AB 32 compliance has created tools and a library of resources that can be revised and refined for NEPA analysis and disclosure purposes.

The analysis of greenhouse gases is becoming increasing complex and esoteric and this trend appears likely to continue.  FirstCarbon Solutions can offer advice and assistance with projects, and can help you strategize how best to comply with the latest greenhouse gas guidance and carbon management advice. Call now for a free consultation.


Did you enjoy this post? The author of this article is Chrystal Meier. Learn more about her here.

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