• EIR Not Required Prior to City’s Adoption of Plastic Bag Ordinance
  • July 25, 2011 | Author: Michelle Ouellette
  • Law Firm: Best Best & Krieger LLP - Riverside Office
  • In a decision issued yesterday under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) - Save the Plastic Bag Coalition v. City of Manhattan Beach, No. S180720 - the Supreme Court upheld the City of Manhattan Beach’s ordinance prohibiting retailers from providing plastic shopping bags to customers. Although the city’s Negative Declaration concluded that banning point-of-sale plastic bag distribution would not have a significant environmental effect under CEQA, the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition (a group of plastic bag manufacturers and distributors) argued that such a ban would increase the production and attendant environmental impacts of paper bags.

    In its decision, the Supreme Court upheld the city’s CEQA documentation and ban on point-of-sale plastic bag distribution. The Supreme Court held that “[s]ubstantial evidence and common sense support the City’s determination that its ordinance would have no significant environmental effect. Therefore, a negative declaration was sufficient to comply with the requirements of [CEQA].” The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court’s dissenting opinion which had argued CEQA requirements would be stretched to the point of absurdity if a small city were required to prepare an EIR on the effects of increased paper bag use that might result from a partial ban on plastic bags. The Court found that CEQA simply does not demand an exhaustive comparative analysis of relative environmental detriments for every alternative course of action. The Court further found that the city was “small enough that even the cumulative effects of its ordinance would be negligible.” An ordinance passed by a city of less than 40,000 with a retail sector of under 220 establishments has only a miniscule contributive effect on the broader environment. The Supreme Court noted, however, that had the case involved a similar ordinance affecting a county of 10 million, the outcome may very well have been different on contributive effect grounds.

    Through the Save the Plastic Bag decision, the Court has reaffirmed the substantial discretion afforded public agencies across California when determining whether a CEQA project will have a potentially significant environmental effect.