Skip to main content

California Court Affirms Communities’ Right to Fight Permits for Dirty Power Plants

Victory: A California state judge has affirmed the right of communities to challenge fossil fuel project decisions in their local Superior Court
A natural gas-fueled power plant located near Los Angeles, California

A natural gas-fueled power plant located near Los Angeles, California

Dan Solomon / Shutterstock
April 5, 2019
Oakland, CA —

A California state judge has affirmed the constitutional right of residents concerned about air and climate pollution to challenge power plant siting decisions in their local Superior Court.

In 2013, Earthjustice, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a 2001 law limiting judicial review of the California Energy Commission’s power-plant approvals to the California Supreme Court. Wednesday’s decision in the Alameda County Superior Court sides with the groups, agreeing that Superior Courts have jurisdiction to hear appeals of the Energy Commission’s licensing decisions.

“While primarily a health and climate case, this was also an access to justice case,” said Stacey Geis, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s California regional office. “It is crucial that fossil fuel companies and utilities in California can no longer sidestep judicial review for huge fossil fuel projects, which could lock us into decades of dirty energy dependence. There are both environmental and economic clean energy alternatives.”

Californians have become increasingly concerned about the construction of more gas power plants. These facilities are among the largest new stationary sources of air pollution in the state and commit California to an energy future based on fossil fuels, including gas obtained by fracking. “Natural gas” used for power generation is composed primarily of the super-pollutant methane, which has 87 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

The California legislature established the Energy Commission in 1974 to serve in part as a one-stop permitting authority for thermal power plants 50 megawatts or higher. Since the 1990s, plants built by independent power producers only require a license from the Commission, which has a long history of approving natural gas power plants whenever an energy company asks — even in the face of strong public opposition.

Communities and advocates have been limited to appealing those decisions in the California Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has not taken even one direct appeal of a licensing decision since 2001.

“Over the last two decades, CBE has had to fight new polluting power plants in our communities again and again,” said CBE legal director Shana Lazerow. “Based on our experience, the Energy Commission is completely confident that it need never justify its decisions in any court of law. This decision ends the unconstitutional bar to Superior Court review, opening the door for communities who would have to pay the price with their health and safety.”

“This decision ensures that California communities have a fair shot at protecting themselves from dirty and dangerous fossil fuel power plants,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, deputy director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Gas plants don’t belong near homes and schools, and they have no place in California’s clean energy future.”

Your timing is perfect …

At Earthjustice, we’re more than just lawyers in a courtroom. We’re a nonprofit in the business of building a better future for our planet. Our 135 lawyers measure success in clean air, clean water, and safeguards for communities across the country. We stand alongside our hundreds of public-interest clients at the frontlines of the fight for a better today and tomorrow. Case by case, our lawyers face off against deep-pocketed interests and today’s unprecedented attacks on our environment, health, and climate — and we win.

You have only a few days left to make a tax-deductible donation investing in our work that will immediately triple in value, thanks to a generous first-ever match offer from our Board of Trustees.

Whether you give $5 or $5,000, this will be the best investment you make today.

(Not convinced? Research our legal victories and see our clients, all of whom we represent free of charge.)

Contacts

Stacey Geis, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2000, ext. 2122

Shana Lazerow, Communities for a Better Environment, (510) 302-0430, ext. 18

Maya Golden-Krasner, Center for Biological Diversity, (213) 785-5402

Overruling Trump.