Warehouse project approval violated California environmental laws, attorney general says

World Logistics Center

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Air Resources Board say the city of Moreno Valley disregarded state environmental regulations when it approved the massive World Logistics Center warehouse project in 2015.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Jan. 10 with the Fourth District Court of Appeals, the attorney general said the city “improperly” concluded the 40 million-square-foot center would fall under the Air Resources Board’s Cap-and-Trade emissions regulation program.

The program limits the pollution companies can generate and allows companies below that limit to sell credits to companies that do not meet the targets. But according to the brief, while the program applies to major polluters like oil companies and electricity generators it does not include development projects including warehouses and logistics centers. Those entities fall under the purview of local governments like Moreno Valley.

The city “used the cap and trade program, which does not impose any regulatory requirements on this Project,” as “an excuse not to analyze and mitigate the Project’s climate change impacts,” the filing states. That approach “mischaracterizes the way state climate policies work,” and violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Quoting the state law, the filing notes that CEQA directs local governments to take “all action necessary” to protect the environment, recognizing the importance of local action driven through “meaningful” consideration of environmental impacts.”

Tim McGillivray, public information officer for Moreno Valley, declined to discuss the filing, saying the city does not comment on pending litigation.

Council members approved the World Logistics Center project on a 3-2 vote in August 2015.

Located at the intersection of two major transportation corridors (SR-60 and I-215), within overnight delivery range to 11 Western states, the 2,610-acre Center is part of a larger boom in Southern California warehouse development, as e-commerce and the promise of two-day shipping compel retailers and manufacturers to get product as close to customers as possible.

Moreno Valley is also part of the South Coast Air Basin — a region that has some of the worst air pollution in the country.

The center is projected to add nearly 70,000 daily vehicle trips in the region and to cause the release of more than 385,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases  into the atmosphere every year, nearly 40 times the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s CEQA threshold of significance for GHG emissions.

Among the complaints cited in the brief, which comments on two different lawsuits against the city and the developer, Highland Fairview, is that the city’s environmental analysis did not take into account the center’s emissions beyond the year 2030, “despite the fact that the project’s full operation will not start until five years later, in 2035.”

Highland Fairview did not immediately respond to FreightWaves’ request for comment. But according to the project website, the center will be a model of sustainable design, featuring state-of-the-art water conservation and clean diesel technology strategies. The center is also expected to create 20,000 permanent jobs.

Those features are unlikely to placate California regulatory and enforcement agencies.

CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols said in a statement that large distribution centers with heavy truck traffic “must take responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions and smog-forming exhaust they generate.”

“They cannot hide behind legal fictions to ignore the need to protect public health and the environment. The message for this developer — and others contemplating this illegal ploy — is clear: Distribution centers need to move towards zero-emission trucks and cargo equipment. They can’t duck their responsibility to the community where they are located, or pass on the costs of their pollution in the form of unhealthy air and poor health.”