Valley attorney wins lawsuit challenging adequacy of County’s Climate Action Plan

by Sonoma Valley Sun : sonomasun – excerpt

Superior Court Judge Nancy Case Shaffer in Santa Rosa has ruled in favor of local Sonoma Valley attorney Jerry Bernhaut’s lawsuit challenging Sonoma County’s Climate Action 2020 Plan. A lawyer with River Watch, a Sonoma County firm active in filing environmental challenges, Bernhaut’s suit argued that the county’s plan violated various provisions of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act…

Commenting on the ruling, Bernhaut said, “The court’s ruling validates River Watch’s contentions that:

1. By failing to account for GHG emissions from global tourist travel and global distribution of wine and other Sonoma County products, the CAP grossly understated the true GHG emissions generated by activities in Sonoma County…

Bernhaut added, “It’s time to admit that perpetual growth on a planet with limited resources and carrying capacity is not sustainable.”

The County’s Climate Action Plan 2020 was adopted by Sonoma County last year, but River Watch’s legal action has placed the program on hold. The plan was that all nine Sonoma County cities would join the county and sign-on to the plan, conforming to its goals and methodology. That process was halted while the lawsuit proceeded, and now that the court has made its ruling, it’s unclear as to the next steps. The county can appeal the court decision, or it can decide to revamp and reissue the plan in accordance with the corrections and changes the court decision highlights.

Of particular note is the court’s reference to the need to use VMT calculations (Vehicle Miles Traveled) to better asses and calculate the full impacts of GHG (Greenhouse Gas emissions). During the recent, successful appeal of the certification of the EIR for the proposed hotel on West Napa Street, appellants objected to the fact that VMT methodology was not used to calculate the project’s GHG impacts, but city staff and the EIR consultant argued that calculations using VMT need not be used. It’s unclear what, if any, this court decision will have on that EIR, which is currently undergoing review and amendment…(more)


Does California Really Need Major Land Use and Transportation Changes to Meet Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets?

By Thomas A. Rubin : reason – excerpt


California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32, Nunez) requires the California Air Resources Board (ARB) “to adopt a statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit equivalent to the statewide greenhouse gas emissions levels in 1990 to be achieved by 2020.”[1] In other words, the Act requires the state of California to ensure that its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020 must be no higher than they were in 1990.

Subsequent legislation has emphasized the role that policymakers expect transportation and land use policies to play in reducing GHG emissions. SB 375 (Steinberg, 2008) said: “Without improved land use and transportation policy, California will not be able to achieve the goals of AB 32.” Accordingly, SB 375 assigned responsibility for achieving its emission-reduction objectives primarily to the respective metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) for each major region in the state.[2]

But how significantly do GHG emissions need to be cut to meet the targets set in the Global Warming Solutions Act? And what role might transportation and land use policies really play in reducing emissions?

How significantly do GHG emissions need to be reduced?

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) are currently well along in the preparation and adoption of the state-required regional transportation plan (RTP), titled Plan Bay Area.[3] The plan is currently out for review in draft form, along with an accompanying Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).[4]

The Bay Area’s previous RTP—Change in Motion – Transportation 2035 Plan for the San Francisco Bay Area (2009)—claimed that emissions needed to be cut by 15% by 2020 to hit the 1990-level target.[5] The 2013 update goes even further, suggesting that a 25 to 35% reduction in GHG emissions is now needed from current levels.[6]

Plan Bay Area uses this as justification to shift surface transportation expenditures from roads to transit,[7] impose restrictions and new costs designed to reduce driving,[8] limit construction of single-family detached homes in the Bay Area[9] and require that the majority of new residential construction be multifamily in designated areas around transit centers.[10] Indeed, the Plan anticipates that in 2040 multifamily and attached/townhouse residences will be so popular that prices of existing single family detached homes will drop.[11]

Yet data from the California ARB and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) paints a very different picture of California’s GHG emissions than ABAG and MTC’s Plan:

Figure 1: U.S. and California Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 1990-2011


Based on the most recent ARB report, GHG emissions in 2010 were 447.87 million metric tonnes.[12] This would only require a reduction of 4.7% to meet the 1990 target level—427 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2E).[13]

That is a significantly smaller reduction than policymakers in the Bay Area are calling for. Yet for various reasons, even this 4.7% may still overstate the actual remaining GHG emission reduction requirement.

Methodological Problems

For starters, notice that the red line on the graph above (which covers 2000–2010) sits slightly higher than the blue line (which covers 1990–2004) for the period they both comprehend.[14] The more recent report is 1.84%, 2.12%, 3.11%, 2.86% and 1.78% higher than the earlier for the five years, respectively, for a simple average of 2.34% higher.

The reason for this disparity is that ARB has adjusted its current GHG inventory method to conform to new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) protocols and other change factors.[15] This means that a given amount of GHG emissions will be recorded as higher in the report covering 2000–2010 than in the report covering 1990–2004.

Crucially, however, ARB has not revised the 1990 GHG emissions figure upwards to reflect the new methodology. The effect of this is to increase the amount of GHG emission reduction required to meet the statutory target.[16]

If we assume that the simple average 2.34% increase for the 2000–2004 year also applies to the 1990 level, to put all data on the same playing field, then the 2020 GHG emission target should actually be approximately 437 million metric tonnes. This would only require a 2.5% reduction from 2010 GHG emission levels.
Has this target already been met?(more)

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CEQA Streamlining Under California Bay Area’s “Plan Bay Area”

By Chelsea Maclean : – excerpt

On March 2, 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) released the Draft Plan Bay Area (Plan), the California Bay Area’s first integrated land use, housing and transportation plan prepared pursuant to SB 375 — the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 — which aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cars and light trucks by improving the efficiency of regional land development patterns.

The Plan integrates MTC’s long-range Regional Transportation Plan, which is intended to identify strategies and investments to maintain, manage and improve the region’s ground transportation network with ABAG’s Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) efforts to allocate specific housing targets to individual cities and counties. For the first time, the Plan also includes a sustainable communities strategy (SCS), a new element required pursuant to SB 375 to demonstrate how the region will meet its GHG targets, as established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB)…

Streamlining Mechanisms May Soon Be Tested

Future project-specific environmental review should be considered in the context of the many streamlining provisions mentioned above. Among the myriad options, the SCEA for TPPs present the greatest opportunity, given that few projects will qualify for exemptions and the analysis that may be eliminated from streamlined EIRs is limited. Upon final adoption of the Plan, and in the absence of any litigation on the Plan, many of these streamlining mechanisms — only theoretically discussed and imagined up until now — may soon be tested…. (more)