Builders, communities get some early guidance on emissions

NORTH BAY – As government policy evolves on all levels to cut human-caused emissions of what are considered climate-changing gases, state and Bay Area air-quality regulators recently released draft guidelines aimed at helping planning officials and the building industry gauge how much would be considered too much from a given project per environmental-protection laws.

The guidance has been requested since the passage of Senate Bill 97, which required analysis of such emissions as an environmental impact under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, and subsequent legal action by the state Attorney General’s office, environmental groups and project opponents for failure to address this impact.

State government is still formulating specific greenhouse-gas “thresholds of significance,” which trigger the level of environmental-impact review required for a project, but the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in mid-April released draft emissions-mitigation guidelines. However, the state Air Resources Board, which in December released draft rules, continues to work on revised thresholds after a flurry of construction industry comments challenging the metrics.

“For a while, we hoped we would get thresholds we can use,” said Kristine Gaspar, senior environmental planner for Santa Rosa-based Winzler & Kelly.

Meanwhile, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in late April released a draft update of 1999 CEQA thresholds for various pollutants and for the first time included proposals for greenhouse-gas thresholds.

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