Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For release after 2 p.m. Pacific Standard Time,
Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006

Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (760) 366-2232 ext 302
John Buse, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 533-4416

Conservation Group Challenges City of Banning’s
Approval of Black Bench Project
For Failure to Mitigate Greenhouse Gas Emissions

RIVERSIDE, Calif. –The Center for Biological Diversity filed a groundbreaking lawsuit today in Riverside Superior Court to challenge the City of Banning’s approval of the sprawling “Black Bench” development, charging that it will contribute to global warming, air pollution and other environmental harm. The proposed development would place more than 1,400 new houses on natural grasslands and chaparral at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains, remote from Banning’s core.

Today’s action claims that Banning failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, (CEQA), one of California’s bedrock environmental statutes. The Act requires careful examination and disclosure of all environmental impacts of proposed developments.

“The City violated CEQA because it failed to give necessary attention to the project’s effects on wildlife, threatened habitat, air quality, and the extension of sprawl-inducing services to a rural area,” said Center staff attorney John Buse. “And the City utterly ignored the project’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Temperatures are rising as a result of emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for energy. Environmental scientists have indicated that California is particularly vulnerable to global warming. Many consequences are already being felt statewide and are expected to intensify in coming decades. Evidence of impacts includes a reduced snowpack and water availability, increasing frequency and intensity of droughts and heat waves, the decline and loss of species, and coastal inundation from rising sea levels.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions now will prevent the worst consequences of future warming. The world’s leading experts have also shown that reducing emissions to minimize impacts will be far cheaper than allowing emissions to continue and then attempting to adapt to the consequences. California is leading the nation in greenhouse gas reduction strategies, including new laws to limit greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles (AB 1493, Pavley, 2002) and the country’s first mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions (AB 32, Nunez and Pavley, 2006).

Compliance with CEQA is a critical component of achieving the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. Under CEQA, cities, counties and other agencies have a duty to disclose all of a project’s significant environmental impacts, and then to avoid, reduce and mitigate those impacts to the maximum extent feasible.

“One of the most significant environmental impacts from these additional 1500 suburban sprawl-style houses is the increased greenhouse gas emissions,” said Kassie Siegel, Director of the Center’s Climate, Air and Energy Program. “Yet the City of Banning refused to even consider these emissions in the Environmental Impact Report. The City of Banning must be held accountable for compliance with its CEQA obligations.”

A sharply divided Banning City Council approved the Black Bench project in October over the objections of the Center, local businesses and residents who also argued that the project’s leapfrog development would lead to more intense development in the rural San Gorgonio pass area, destroy valuable wildlands and worsen the region’s already poor air quality.

“It would be fundamentally unfair to allow a major new source of greenhouse gas emissions like the Black Bench project to escape review,” said Siegel. “This may be the first case challenging a city’s shirking of its obligation to disclose and mitigate a project’s greenhouse gas emissions, but it won’t be the last.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with over 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitat.


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