Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Construction Industry and Environmental Law in 2014

The intersection of the construction industry and California’s environmental codes and regulations in 2014 may have very important implications for the coming year, and looking at the current trends in environmental law is a good way to see how the courts and lawmakers are shaping the future of the industry.

In important ways, concern for the environment is reflected in new laws. For example, the Department of Housing and Community Development included a provision in their Green Building Code report that requires new construction projects to take appropriate measures to accommodate electric vehicle charging stations at residential properties and parking facilities.

The environmental law known as CEQA has appeared in the news frequently this year. A controversy arose over proposed changes to state law regarding infill projects. California developers raised concerns about guidelines that take into account “miles traveled” for projects and how they could increase litigation. The answer from the Governor’s office was that infill projects reduce the need for traveling by car, so the changes are intended to be helpful for developers of such projects as they negotiate the requirements of the environmental law.

In early 2015, the state Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case filed in Northern California regarding the standards for environmental review on the construction of a single-family property. The case revolves around the construction of a Berkley area home. Local environmental groups raised concerns about the impact of construction based on the size of the home and the steep slope of the land.  California law states rather vaguely that environmental review isn’t necessary for single family homes other than in “unusual” cases, and it’s up to the courts to decipher what meets the criteria. A ruling that extends public environmental review to the home in question may set a precedent that changes standards for construction of single family residences.

In a recent blog post, I wrote about the ruling by the Surface Transportation Board regarding CEQA lawsuits against the high speed rail. This decision reinforced the power of the federal government over transportation projects which it has authorized, above state environmental law.  The implication of this ruling is as an additional source of support for high speed rail and similar projects authorized by the federal government when the challenge is based on state law.