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CA Supreme Court rules in SANDAG's favor in Regional Transportation Plan case

July 13, 2017 - In a ruling released today, the California Supreme Court concluded that SANDAG properly conducted the greenhouse gas analysis in the environmental review of its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, finding that the agency “sufficiently informed the public, based on the information available at the time, about the regional plan‘s greenhouse gas impacts.”

“We are very pleased with today’s outcome,” SANDAG Chair and County Supervisor Ron Roberts said. “Rulings by the lower courts left local governments confused about how they should analyze greenhouse gas emissions; should we follow state law as established by the Legislature, or follow executive orders issued by the governor? The Court clarified today that our responsibility is to state law, and that SANDAG appropriately followed that law.”

Back in March of 2015, the state’s highest Court agreed to hear the case, focusing on the issue of whether the environmental impact report (EIR) for a regional transportation plan (RTP) must include an analysis of the plan's consistency with the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals reflected in Governor’s Executive Order No. S-3-05 to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Prior to that – in late 2014 – a three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal issued a split decision on whether SANDAG fully complied with state environmental laws in preparing the EIR for its RTP. Two of the three justices concluded that the EIR needed to do more analysis. The third justice disagreed, concluding that SANDAG had applied the correct standards in analyzing the potential environmental impacts of the RTP.

SANDAG appealed to the California Supreme Court, which decided by a 6-1 margin in the agency’s favor.

“We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal insofar as it determined that the 2011 EIR‘s analysis of greenhouse gas emission impacts rendered the EIR inadequate and required revision,” the ruling stated. “We remand to the Court of Appeal for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

SANDAG completed the 2050 RTP – a long-range planning document that outlines $214 billion in transportation investments – in 2011. The Cleveland National Forest Foundation and other petitioners subsequently filed suit challenging the EIR, a separate document that analyzes the environmental impacts of the RTP.

Federal law requires that the region’s RTP be updated every four years. The 2050 RTP has since been superseded by San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan, which was approved by the SANDAG Board in October 2015. No legal challenges have been filed against San Diego Forward or its EIR.

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