Air District’s Environmental Standards Face Skeptical Justices

State Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical Wednesday of the Bay Area air district’s environmental standards that would require developers of new projects to consider the harm residents and workers might suffer from local conditions, like air pollution from nearby freeways.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s guidelines, issued in 2010, would advise local agencies on the environmental studies they should require from developers before approving their projects. Like the environmental impact reports required for most developments for 45 years in California, the studies required by the new standards would allow public input and would have to consider alternatives that would reduce any significant environmental damage. Developers have fought to limit the scope of the law and argue that environmental impact reports are often needlessly time-consuming and expensive.

The Bay Area guidelines would expand the traditional scope of the law — assessing an impact a project would have on the environment — to include existing environmental conditions that would affect project workers and residents. Those conditions could include the dangers of wildfires, floods and earthquakes in addition to polluted air.

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