In September 2012, the Court of Appeal in Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center v. County of Siskiyou affirmed the approval of a 15 MW biomass-fueled cogeneration plant in northern California. This case is the first published state court opinion regarding a challenge to the approval of a biomass energy project in California.
At the core of the lawsuit was the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), with challenges to the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and its analysis regarding alternatives, air quality, noise, and water resource impacts, among others. The case highlights the importance of managing risk throughout the administrative approval process, specifically in developing a thorough, well-documented EIR that allows for informed decision making. In doing so, project applicants may enjoy the protection of a relatively high degree of deference in judicial review, even where the EIR has some errors (as CEQA does not require perfection, but rather informed decision making), and can thereby help control the likelihood of surviving a challenge in court.