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Supreme Court declines home builders' appeal of California air pollution law


WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by the National Assn. of Home Builders that sought to invalidate a California air pollution law.

The law, adopted in 2005 by the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District, requires housing developers to offset carbon emissions generated by their building projects with either green initiatives or payments to the district to fund off-site pollution reduction efforts.

The Washington-based NAHB challenged the law in federal court in 2006. The trade group that represents residential developers argued that only the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had jurisdiction to regulate developers' environmental obligations.

The lawsuit and subsequent appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were rejected. Judges in both lower courts cited provisions in the U.S. Clean Air Act allowing local and regional air quality protection districts in California to limit pollution caused by trucks and heavy equipment associated with construction.

The NAHB sought the Supreme Court review in June.

Aside from the added expense of mitigating their carbon outputs, the law could amount to a costly litigation risk for homebuilders. Legal costs stemming from disputes over emission measurements or the effectiveness of mitigation actions are not likely to be covered by insurance for most privately held construction companies.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear the case.

“We were glad to stand with the San Joaquin air district to defend this rule,” said Paul Cort, an attorney for the Oakland, Calif.-based Earthjustice, which filed a brief opposing the NAHB's petition for Supreme Court review. “No special interest (group) should have a free ride in a region where schools and parents are frequently warned to keep children indoors on bad air days.”

“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not elect to hear our case,” a spokeswoman for the association said in an email. “However, the Supreme Court receives thousands of petitions every year and hears only a fraction of those cases, so it is rare to have a case taken by the court.”