SB 532 - CEQA Litigation Magnet

By Loretta Macktal, Executive Assistant to the Vice President, Government Relations

Capitol Update, March 28, 2003 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

On April 7 the Senate Environmental Quality Committee will hear SB 532 (Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles), a bill to unjustifiably expand the scope of cumulative impact assessment in existing California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) law. It would establish highly subjective standards for triggering cumulative risk assessments that would likely be the subject of extensive litigation. The effect of the bill would be to impose additional costs and delay in the CEQA process at a time when the state should be seeking opportunities to reduce costs and delays in order to stimulate California's economy.

Existing CEQA law already requires that environmental impact reports (EIRs) include an analysis of a proposed project's cumulative environmental impacts as well as an analysis of the proposed project's "growth-inducing impacts." (CEQA Guidelines Sec 15130, subd. (a)(1) and 15255). This requirement also extends to agencies whose environmental documents are certified by the Secretary of Resources to be the "functional equivalent" of EIRs (e.g. timber harvest plans, etc.). The 1998 amendments to the CEQA Guidelines direct preparers of EIR's to either disclose any incremental impacts that are found to be cumulatively considerable (in light of pre-existing conditions) or to defend a conclusion to the contrary.

SB 532 would broaden the scope of this assessment to include cumulative health risk assessments where a "reasonable possibility" exists that a project would pose a significant risk to public health from exposure to one or more toxic substances.

This language is so vague that health risk assessments could become a default requirement for most projects, despite the fact that all sources of emissions would already be subject to stringent, health-based regulatory standards. Moreover, the scientific community has not yet developed reliable tools for estimating cumulative exposures to multiple pollutants, much less tools for evaluating cumulative health effects (i.e. how multiple substances interact and react in the body). Absent these tools, it is unclear what criteria lead agencies would use to conduct cumulative impact analyses for purposes of determining appropriate mitigation measures.

The effect of this bill would be to exponentially increase the amount of litigation on CEQA project decisions. The combination of new requirements for a health risk assessment on most projects and the uncertain standard to be used to judge the cumulative health impacts (and the cumulative health risk reduction of a proposed mitigation measure) will provide a rich environment for expensive and lengthy lawsuits.

A better approach to concerns about the health risk impact of projects would be to update health standards in the regulatory programs from which they derive, not on a project-by-project basis under CEQA.

CMTA will be opposing SB 532 on April 7.
Read more Environmental Impacts articles

Capitol updates archive 989898989