California’s process to challenge thermal power plants will likely be put to the judicial test in the coming years.  The California Court of Appeal has granted publication of its recent opinion in Communities for a Better Environment v. State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, (Dec. 22, 2017, No. A141299) __Cal.App.5th __, which reverses the trial court’s dismissal of a complaint by environmental groups Communities for a Better Environment and Center for Biological Diversity (collectively “Communities”), challenging the constitutionality of the limited judicial review available for thermal power plant licenses issued in California.  You can find our previous post detailing Communities’ complaint here.

In January 2014, the Alameda County Superior Court dismissed Communities’ claims that statutory provisions of California’s power plant siting law, the Warren-Alquist Act, violated article VI, section 10 of the California Constitution.  Under this unique facet of the Warren-Alquist Act, any challenge to a decision by the California Energy Commission on a thermal power plant license must be appealed directly to the California Supreme Court.  (Cal. Pub. Resources Code, § 25531(a).)  The trial court sided with the Energy Commission and the California State Controller, who argued that the case was not grounded in any actual existing controversy among Communities and the Commission, sought an advisory opinion only, and was not ripe for review.  The trial court concluded that Communities had failed to meet its burden to show how its complaint could be amended to state a justiciable cause of action, and, thus, it dismissed the matter with prejudice and entered judgment in favor of the Energy Commission and the Controller.Continue Reading Court of Appeal Rules Challenge to Constitutionality of Power Plant Licensing Appeals Process is Ripe for Judicial Review

Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and Center for Biological Diversity (Center) filed suit on May 29, 2013 to challenge the constitutionality of a provision of California law that requires appeal directly to the California Supreme Court of any decision on a thermal power plant license by the California Energy Commission.  The Supreme Court has discretion whether to take such appeals.  The lawsuit, filed May 29, 2013 in Alameda Superior Court, alleges that California Public Resources Code section 25531(a) violates article VI, section 10 of the California Constitution, by restricting the judicial forums available to citizens to challenge Energy Commission decisions.  The complaint also alleges that section 25531(b) restricts a court’s ability to review the facts of such challenges, in violation of the separation of powers. 

Section 25531 is part of the Warren-Alquist Act, which governs the Energy Commission and grants the Commission exclusive jurisdiction over the permitting of all thermal power plants in California that are 50 MW or larger.  For other electrical generating facilities, such as wind and solar farms and thermal power plants of less than 50 MW, legal challenges to agency decisions are filed in state superior court and go through the normal appeals process.

Plaintiffs have named the State Controller’s Office, as well as the Energy Commission, as defendants.  The complaint requests declaratory relief, that Section 25531(a) violates article VI, section 10 and Section 25531(b) violates the separation of powers doctrine.  Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief, to enjoin the state from expenditure of funds to implement these provisions of the Warren-Alquist Act.Continue Reading New Lawsuit Challenges the California Supreme Court’s Original Jurisdiction over Power Plant Siting Cases