AMBAG helps local cities make sense of climate action plans.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Climate change policy doesn’t move at the speed of an SUV commuting from the suburbs, or even a bulldozer at a development site. It creeps along at the pace of a buffet line at Bayonet and Black Horse golf clubhouse in Seaside.
That’s where, on Nov. 16, the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments’ Energy Watch program hosted a luncheon on what state climate legislation means for local governments.
AB32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, sets statewide greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 to 1990 emission levels. The California Air Resources Board is handling the bulk of the planning, but some of it has trickled down to local agencies, including the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District.
Most of that local work has to do with the California Environmental Quality Act, explains Richard Stedman, the district’s air pollution control officer. Today, CEQA requires development planners to consider certain air pollutants, like particulates and nitrogen oxides. AB32 adds carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to that rubric – and it’s up to local jurisdictions to determine what level of emissions they consider significant.
“We’ve been shopping around our own thresholds, and we’re still working with the public,” Stedman says.
There’s a loophole: Cities and counties that develop their own “climate action plans” don’t have to comply with the air district’s limits. So far, the only local city to take advantage is Gonzales.
CAPs aren’t required by state law, but development projects that haven’t considered climate impacts under AB32 can be challenged in court. “That’s one reason we’re working to get some certainty in our jurisdiction,” Stedman says.
For some planners, though, certainty feels like an elusive target in this new world of greenhouse-gas accountability. “We have to come up with something to say to [developers],” Monterey County planner Jacqueline Onciano said at the AMBAG luncheon. “We say, ‘This applies to your project,’ but then it’s open. There are those of us who speak this language, but the developers don’t get it.”
Terry Rivasplata, an AMBAG panelist from environmental planning firm ICF Jones & Stokes, replied that CAPs should help demystify the new climate regulations. “It’s a streamlining tool for economic development,” he said. “You’re making a softer landing for these kinds of projects.”
AMBAG’s Energy Watch program is also offering support to its 21 member jurisdictions, from coordinating greenhouse gas inventories to leading staff trainings and developing CAPs.
Because Monterey County has a lot of agriculture and relatively slow development, Stedman doesn’t expect the new greenhouse gas emission thresholds to be daunting. “There are very few projects that will get hit hard by this,” he says. “Build houses that don’t leak, and you can gain a lot of energy advantages and reduce the CO2 emissions.”
A second state law, 2008’s SB375, requires regional planning organizations to cut back on transportation-related emissions. In Monterey County, the target is to hold greenhouse gas pollution from cars and light trucks to 2005 levels by 2020, and reduce them 5 percent by 2035. AMBAG is working on that effort with the Transportation Agency of Monterey County and its counterpart in Santa Cruz; the resulting “sustainable communities strategy” is slated for adoption in June 2014.