San Bernardino County Faces State Lawsuit for Ignoring Land Use Impact on Global Warming

Its population of 2 million projected to exceed 2.5 million by 2030, San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles, the biggest in the continental U.S., includes inhabitable deserts and mountains, but also an ever-larger Inland Empire -- ''freeways, fast-growing cities, traffic congestion and seemingly endless sprawl,'' and having failed to deal with sprawl-related greenhouse gases in its new 25-year growth plan is now facing a state lawsuit for ignoring land use impact on global warming.

Sued earlier on similar grounds by the Center for Biological Diversity, now joined in a separate case by the Sierra Club and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, reports USA Today writer John Ritter, the county passed its updated growth plan in March, prompting state Attorney General Jerry Brown to file an April suit under the 1970 California Environmental Quality Act, which treats greenhouse gases as any other pollution.

''San Bernardino has never seen a project it didn't like,'' said Center for Biological Diversity senior attorney Brendan Cummings. ''They rubber-stamp development. It's very much a frontier mentality.''

The Attorney General and other plaintiffs, the writer reports, want the county to augment its plan's environmental impact section with provisions for measuring greenhouse gases and reducing their emissions.

''It's ground-breaking,'' commented University of California-Berkeley's Center for Environmental Law and Policy Executive Director Richard Frank. ''California is just leading the way for other states and jurisdictions that will ultimately follow.''

Indeed, states that have also taken aggressive steps against climate change are closely watching the unprecedented lawsuit, the writer observes, mentioning Massachusetts, New York and Washington.

If the suit is successful, he writes, ''California cities and counties could be forced to take steps to limit sprawl, promote compact development, require builders to design energy-efficient houses that offer solar power, and encourage less driving, more mass transit and use of alternative fuels.''

Bernardino County spokesman David Wert expressed disappointment over the state lawsuit, saying the county has no control over 85 percent of its land, which is under municipal, state and federal jurisdiction, and its plan to combat global warming has already been redone.

Still, he promised to make sure that employment and housing centers are near transportation corridors and to step up efforts to promote compact development and mass transit.

San Diego lawyer and planning consultant Cary Lowe calls the climate-change suits against San Bernardino County ''a wake-up call'' for other jurisdictions, saying, ''They know there's a good chance they'll get sued.'' -- USA Today 6/4/2007

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