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California Environmental Quality Act



Environment Protection or Economic Impediment

Since its appearance, the California Environmental Quality Act influenced greatly adaptation and approval of various projects. Special environment and life protection requirements were obliged. On the one hand, the California Environmental Quality Act safeguards people’s life and nature; but on the other, it stopped the economic development and in some cases – the realization of environmental protection programs.

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The California Environmental Quality Act was declared as a law in 1970 (Gold and green, 2013). It introduces the environment protection and requires local and state agencies of California to correspond with the requirements of environment protection and take measures for mitigating harmful impacts on nature and people’s lives by introducing new alternative projects and blocking of environmentally harmful ones. The agencies have to develop mitigating measures in Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and analyze the public, business, and individual projects in different resource factors, such as air quality, agricultural resources, greenhouse gases (GHG), etc.

Greenhouse Gases (GHG)

If these projects correspond with requirements, they become adopted. Among one of the most relevant requirements are GHG because they are included in the list of reasons for changes in climate, which have harmful effects on the environment and people’s life. Among the main kinds of GHG emissions from people’s activity are carbon dioxide (which has the most harmful effect), sulfur hexafluoride, nitrous oxide, methane.

The process of transportation to the project site (for example, smokestack) together with patrol based equipment for project construction and such stationary sources as gas- and coal-fired power plants and chemical plants usually are the main generators of GHG emissions (Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 2012). That is why the CEQA pays special attention to monitoring these structures and facilities. The process of monitoring includes several steps.

The first one is to create a model or develop some methodology to identify the quantity of GHG emission from the project and determine the limitations of harmful substances resulting from a particular project. The second step is to adopt the project or make alternative propositions for reducing harmful effects. For example, in order to decrease GHG emissions during the construction process, such recommendations can be used: use of alternative fuels and electricity by transportation fleet and heavy equipment; carpooling, retire and purchase of offsite carbon credits; demolition of about half of waste materials and usage of about ten percent local of building materials (Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 2012). Together with the CEQA’s approval, the projects should be often approved by the state or local government institution or ministry.

The Alameda Corridor

Among the largest, California’s transport projects from the beginning of the 21st century are the construction of the Alameda Corridor. It is a 32 km freight rail expressway connecting the railway system from Los Angeles downtown to its ports and Long Beach parallel to Alameda Street. This corridor is a kind of prolongation of a greater project – Expansion of the Panama Canal, which will allow transiting the larger amount of bigger vessels (Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, n.d.). Thus, Southern California supports the logistical project of serving big post-Panama vessels (Social Industrial Real Estate Blog, 2012).

This project will improve grade crossing and increase the efficiency of tragic flow together with supplying additional working places. Such a large project could not be unexamined by the CEQA’s commission. Pika Environment staff examined the feasibility of this project and determined its correspondence to the requirements of CEQA. Also, special researches were made to determine the harmful effects on the environment and people’s lives that could be caused by the Corridor.

The analysis incorporates characteristics of constructions and operational emission and specialized techniques of risk assessments that characterized the uncritical pollution within the tunnel. Moreover, modeling of air dispersion analysis of CO conformity was performed. The researchers confirmed the safety of this project, and the Alameda Corridor was approved (Pika Environmental, 2011).

However, not every transportation project is approved by CEQA without changes. Below, there are some examples of projects that were changed or prohibited because of the harmful influence on the environment and people’s lives.

The San Francisco Ferry Expansion Plan

The San Francisco Ferry Expansion Plan was developed for decreasing congestion on Bay Area bridges and managing increases in regional ferry service. After numerous researches, it was stated in EIR that mitigates potential impacts were not sufficiently analyzed. The environment was badly influenced by air pollution from diesel-run ferries. Numerous negotiations were held, and the alternative was presented. It was required to operate special ferries with cleaner-burning engines in order to reduce harmful air impact (CEQA Works, n.d.a).

Another strict example is the expansion of the Port Stockton in 2004. Its purpose was to increase the port’s size three times so the Stockton would significantly influence the surroundings of San Francisco Bay-Delta watershed by discharging about 4 250 000 gallons of toxic water daily. The port authorities refused to take any special mitigation measures or disclose the results of water quality control. As a result of such violations, the US District Court obliged the Port to reduce water and air quality impacts and assign 5 000 000 for mitigation (CEQA Works, n.d.b).

Neighbors Advocating Sustainable Transportation (NAST)

In 2007, the widening of Highway 50 was planned by Neighbors Advocating Sustainable Transportation (NAST). Special CEQA’s researches were made to assure that this project meets all the environment protection requirements. However, the EIR project showed some deficiencies, and some mitigation measures were included in the project, such as an extension of public transportation founding and building a special bike bridge over Highway 50.

Basically, the CEQA provides people with the possibility to learn about new projects and change them by providing alternative solutions for decreasing harmful effects or by the prohibition of these projects.

However, nowadays, there is an opinion that CEQA requirements create delays in project realization, and their prohibitions slow up economic development and even environmental protection.

A huge amount of environment protecting acts just duplicated one another. For the last 40 years, the Legislature together with Congress adopted about 120 environment protection laws, and a lot of them just have the same topic with CEQA (Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, GHG emission reduction standards, SB 375, etc.). Even when the project meets some other standards of the CEQA, it should be also challenged under CEQA. The statistics show that from 1997 to 2012, such of projects were frequently sued due to CEQA’s investigations: 59 % were infill development projects, about 36 % were public works projects, 19 % of public infrastructure, and the same percentage of mixed-used developments (CEQA working group, n.d.a).

Below, there are several examples of how CEQA’s investigations slow down the realization of environment protection and money-saving transportation projects.

How CEQA’s Investigations Slow Down the Realization of Environment Protection Projects?

In 2010, the special agreement took place between the City of Oceanside and the Waste Management sanitation company in order to replace 42 diesel fuel trucks with the truck running on clean natural gas. This agreement aimed to remove more than 3000 cars from the roads and reduce air pollution (according to the San Diego Union-Tribune). As diesel fuel is more expensive than natural gas, the cost of trucks was expected to be half of the fuel’s cost. At the same time, Waste Management got permission for building natural gas fueling station at the truck maintenance yard (Oceanside’s property) for fueling new trucks. The project was approved by CEQA.

However, several weeks later, according to an individual appeal, the CEQA’s review became inadequate due to concerns about noise from the fuel station. Then, another review investigated that the conversion to natural gas (from diesel gas) would decrease the levels of noise because the trucks would have quieter engines. In March 2013, the individual’s appeal was rejected. As a result of the abovementioned situation, the conversion of the diesel trucks to natural gas was stopped together with the stoppage of the full project of decreasing GHG emission and reducing air pollution (CEQA working group, n.d.b).

In 2005, the first phase of Expo Lines (the transit line that was developed for connection of Los Angeles Downtown and Westside) was approved. As the second phase, it was planned to extend the line to Santa Monica downtown on 6.6 miles for serving more than 60 000 riders daily till 2030. It should have been a seven-station high capacity light rail. The Expo Lines intended to decrease gas reduction and started to plan the project’s environmental protection measures in January 2007. Six alternatives to light railroad were presented, and only one of them was finally adopted.

In February 2010, the project was adopted by Expo Line together with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which had big plans considering the development of the system of transport. However, during this time, several local homeowners offered the new project that would not come through their neighborhood. They appealed to CEQA with the proposition to make the underground line, which will be very expensive. The homeowners loosed the cases; anyway, the project was stopped for 2 years. Thus, due to the stoppage of the project, a lot of money of taxpayers was lost for lawsuits, people have no job, and furthermore, the program of traffic reducing, and the decreasing of environmental pollution also has been stopped. (CEQA working group, n.d.c).

The ‘Carmageddon’ case is also very demonstrative. In July 2011 and in September 2012, one of the most congested freeways – Interstate 405 in Los Angeles has been almost ruined in terrible incidents (the case of “Carmageddon”). The traffic was stopped for several hours. This situation could be avoided if CEQA’s lawsuit appeared. Some years before, the described incidents CalTrans together with Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) designed a special plan for decreasing congestion, the project’s speeding up, and saving money.

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The LA Metro proposed special environment protection projects such as ramps, sound walls, and bridges. The company intended to spend on these projects about one billion dollars. However, the CEQA’s commission required to remove the Mulholland Drive Bridge. Two alternative designs of bridge’ replacement were presented by LA Metro. The property owners instead of low cost and bridge saving designed choose the more expensive variant with a better-looking bridge and brought numerous lawsuits to CEQA.

Finally, due to the increasing “Carmageddon”, the financial and environmental protection reasonability of the first design the project was adopted. As a result, from 4 to 6 million dollars were added to the project’s cost due to the threat of lawsuit together with increasing construction time (on 6 months) and considerable traffic shutdown. (CEQA working group, n.d.d).

Thus, the abovementioned examples show that CEQA’s system should be renewed due to the up-to-date social and economic requirements of the transportation process. The following modernization programs are proposed.

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The first is the integration of planning and environment laws. The CEQA should be up-to-dated and should focus on the decisions that could reduce project impacts and apply the standards of environment protection to the needs of further transportation development.

The second proposition is to remove duplication in CEQA’s statements. If the project is compiled with the other environment protection requirement, it should not be again adopted by CEQA’s agency.

Another important thing is that the CEQA’s lawsuits should not be imposed by anonymous that could have hidden interests (CEQA working group, n.d.e).

The above-mentioned research shows that CEQA has influenced greatly the project realization by imposing different environmental protection requirements. In most cases, this shows people’s desire to protect their lives and habitation to improve the projects. However, in some cases, the long term lawsuits caused additional expenses of taxpayers, delayed the realization of the projects that can bring significant profit, and create new working places, as well as protect the environment.

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