Full of Gas
Prop. 23’s passage might not radically change the county’s climate change strategy.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Monterey County is on a mission to measure and reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions. And Prop. 23 wouldn’t be likely to change that.
“Not at all,” says Tim McCormick, the county’s building services director. “The county wants a policy on this.”
What Prop. 23 would do is freeze AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which aims to reduce the state’s global warming pollution to 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent more by 2050. On Oct. 19, the county supervisors will receive a staff report on what the county’s already doing, and will do in the near future, to comply with the law.
That includes a methodology for measuring the county’s current emissions, and strategies for how to reduce them. The board has already fast-tracked permitting for alternative energy projects, offered a rebate on those permits, and considered easy actions the county can take immediately, like turning off more lights and using less water.
AB 32 isn’t the only motivator for the a local climate policy. The county has been granted about $2 million in federal stimulus funds to launch climate-savvy projects, such as auditing energy use at county buildings. The money will help the county install its own solar panels, implement a green building ordinance, reframe the planning ordinance in a greener light and educate the public about carbon reductions.
The economy, of course, a major drag on the momentum for local climate action. But putting it off could cost even more.
“If Prop. 23 delays implementing all the climate change policies, the question becomes, ‘Until when?’” says Alana Knaster, deputy director of the county’s Resource Management Agency. “It could become extremely cost prohibitive later on.”
Being fiscally conservative with climate programs is understandable in a down economy, she adds: “Some of the measures are costly, like retrofitting the county fleet or changing fixtures. It’s difficult enough to meet AB 32; it’s a very stringent requirement. But the legislation is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The longer you delay it, the more there is to reduce, and the more costly it will be.”
She compares it to failing to see a doctor when you’re sick, then landing in the emergency room. “That’s all we’re doing: We’re buying a delay that will make the problem worse and cost more to fix.”
The draft General Plan includes a lengthy list of measures to reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions to 15 percent less than 2005 levels – from conserving water to encouraging carpools to sequestering carbon in agricultural soils. It also aims to measure, forecast and track the county’s emissions.
“These are not suggestions,” Knaster says. “We’ve written them as, at a minimum, ‘We shall do these things.’”
Prop. 23 probably wouldn’t change those goals, she adds. The California Environmental Quality Act still requires the General Plan to address climate impacts. But she worries that freezing AB 32 could mean less state money, and a weaker mandate, to support the county’s efforts.
“You don’t really need legislation to address climate change, but you don’t have any arguments when you have legislation,” she says. “Right now there’s incredible collaboration among jurisdictions. I fear that with the passing of the proposition, it would be harder to get everyone around the table and say, ‘Why should I do this?’”
McCormick agrees that Prop. 23 could dampen climate efforts, but it wouldn’t remove the imperative to do something.
“The overall commitment is pretty large to make the world a greener place. I don’t think that’s going to change,” he says. “What [Prop. 23] will do is take off the mandatory portion, where it becomes very costly to meet a target. But I think that’s the last 15 percent of the race. People are still going to go 85 percent of the way there, because it’s how we want the world to be.”