Palomar Airport Expansion: Part III: Still More FAA & County Environmental Ploys, Blog #12

Still More Palomar Ploys


Blogs 10 & 11 noted Ploys 1-5 that the FAA & County use to sidestep environmental requirements: minimize the project scope, curb project alternatives, fudge the environmental baseline, redefine significant impacts, and ignore the cumulative and growth inducing impacts of Palomar Airport projects.  Today, Ploys 6 & 7, 

Ploy 6: Claim Project Environmental Impacts have been Previously Assessed

California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA] Guidelines §§15162(a) & 15163 allow a project to be built without a new assessment if an old assessment remains valid.   A new assessment is needed if substantial project changes, changed circumstances, or new information suggests new or more serious significant project impacts. 

In 2007, the County said that its 2007 Palomar Terminal Project had already been assessed.  The County relied on the County’s 1997 Palomar Airport Master Plan [MP] with minor 2005 updates, on a 1997 County MP CEQA Negative Declaration, and on a 1994 Carlsbad CEQA Master EIR for the Carlsbad General Plan update.

The 2007 Palomar project included passenger terminal relocation, a new customs facility, relocation of on-airport parking to newly acquired lots off the Airport, and other improvements.   The County 2007 finding did not comply with CEQA Guidelines §15162 and 15163 for many reasons including:

  • The 1994 and 1997 data relied on was more than 10 years old.  Courts reviewing environmental compliance balk at stale data.
  • The 1994 Carlsbad General Plan EIR did not assess the Palomar Airport or any other individual projects.  The EIR was simply a “program-level” EIR that identified general mitigation measures that might be imposed on projects within a 42 square mile area.
  • The 1997 County Master Plan Negative Declaration improperly relied on the Carlsbad 1994 “Statement of Overriding Considerations [SOC].”  As the 1994 Carlsbad General Plan noted, cumulative projects allowed by the Plan including Palomar Airport would create cumulatively significant air quality, noise, traffic, and other impacts.   As CEQA allows, Carlsbad then adopted the SOC so that Carlsbad would have a General Plan to govern City development.  Such adoptions are common because the General Plan simply creates rules that apply to future individual projects undertaken.


In short, the 2007 County environmental finding created the impression that prior Palomar project-level CEQA analysis was completed.  In reality, such analysis was not made, no specific project level significant impacts were identified, and no mitigation measures were imposed on Palomar operations.  

Certainly, no Palomar Airport landfill safety issues were discussed.  Those issues relate to underground landfill fires and continued emissions of explosive levels of methane gas occurring between 2005 and 2009.  From County analysis in 2007 to construction in 2009, the County could hardly claim that no new issues of significance had arisen.  

Ploy 7: Avoid “Thresholds of Significance”

Assume a new air carrier at Palomar Airport will operate two new plane models collectively emitting 100 tons annually of carbon dioxide (a contributor to greenhouse gases) into the air.  Is this 100-ton annual increase significant?  

A proper analysis compares the 100 tons to any “red-flag” significance levels that the air quality agencies have targeted for carbon dioxide.  Do FAA and County environmental analyses avoid such air quality levels?  To better understand the issue, first consider a non-Palomar example. 

Assume your preteen’s weight jumped from 100 to 110-pounds in 2011.  And from 110 to 120-pounds in 2011.  If the baseline weight is viewed as 100-pounds, then the gain is 20 pounds.   But the weight gain might also be viewed as a 10 pound weight gain in 2011 and a 10 more pounds in 2012 using the new 2011 baseline of 110-pounds.  As a parent, should you be concerned?  The answer depends not on when the weight was gained but on what the total weight gain is.

Now assume you are the FAA or County and know that a 100-ton annual increase in carbon dioxide new plane emissions at Palomar triggers the need to prepare an EIR or EIS.  How might you avoid this trigger?

If you are the FAA, you could approve new plane model 1 for use at Palomar in 2011 and new plane model 2 for use at Palomar in 2012.   Why?  You can split the 100-ton collective emissions of the two plane models into two emission levels, each of which is below the red flag air quality threshold.  How?  You have created two different assessment baselines, one for 2011 and one for 2012. 

Similarly, if you are the County, you could grant the new air carrier a one-year permit for 2011 and a new one-year permit for 2012.  

As of now, the County has still not granted California Pacific Airlines a long-term permit to operate at Palomar even though CPA plans to begin long-term Palomar operations soon.  Hence, no County multiyear CEQA analysis for CPA operations.  

What air quality analysis did the FAA do when it prepared the July 2012 environmental assessment [EA] for CPA’s new service at Palomar?  Did the FAA include air emissions for both the EMB-170 and EMB-190 planes?  And, to calculate air quality emissions, should the FAA have used “ three EMB-170 or EMB-190 aircraft” and 30 daily operations [landings and takeoffs] as it did? [See CPA EA page 1-3, § 1.3 and page 2-2, §2.2.2]  Or should the FAA  have used CPA’s five-year plan numbers of 15 aircraft and 44 daily flights from Carlsbad in 2015?  [See CPA undated “EMB 170 Carlsbad Operations” promotional package provided to County.]

To properly assess the impact of CPA operations on air quality, should the FAA have identified annual carbon dioxide increases or cumulative increases or both? [See FAA EA Table 4-2, Emissions Inventory Results (annual net emissions increase), EA page 4-8].  Note how the method used separates critical carbon dioxide levels.  Is the FAA avoiding proper threshold analysis?   Review the FAA CPA EA.  You decide.

Do the FAA & County use more ploys to avoid proper environmental analysis?  Yes.  But next week a break from tedious environmental issues.  We next look at competitive hot dog eaters and Palomar Airport capacity.

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