If an irresistible force meets a stationary object, one possible outcome is a stalled climate action plan. Caught between the realities of an ever-warming climate and a culture steeped in fossil fuels, city, state and county planners have been trying for years to find acceptable and realistic ways to avert disaster. It’s a daunting task and, perhaps unsurprisingly, has taken years of effort with little result.
In 2006, under the leadership of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California passed Assembly Bill 32, a law requiring California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This target was met, largely through the implementation of the cap and trade system. program, which essentially placed a market value on the right to pollute. Overall, companies have found it cheaper to clean up their technologies than to pay pollution fees to the state.
Ten years later, under Governor Jerry Brown, the state passed Senate Bill 32, which required further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to 40% of their 1990 levels by 2030. That deadline is now less than eight years away.
A variety of similar state laws and executive orders have since been issued. To speed up the process, the state amended the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to make greenhouse gas emissions a pollutant that needed to be measured, reported and mitigated. The resulting changes to the CEQA guidelines were finalized in 2018.
Calculating greenhouse gas emissions is a difficult and expensive task. To simplify things, the state now allows an entity – such as a city or county – to create a climate action plan (CAP), in which the emissions of an entire community are calculated, and the ways to reduce them identified and possibly codified. It’s similar to the logic behind a building code: everyone has to follow the same set of standards, rather than each individual builder creating their own standards and then convincing the buyer that the walls won’t collapse or the electrical system will not catch fire. . Once the CAP is approved and adopted, any project approved by the city or county must conform to the objectives of the plan.
Some recommended ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions include substituting electric power for oil or natural gas, locating new buildings in areas that do not require a lot of driving (refilling), encouraging people to cycle or take the bus instead of driving and, of course, to encourage the substitution of electric vehicles for gasoline-powered cars.
A draft climate action plan was written in 2012, county long-range planner Michael Richardson said, but it was not acceptable to the oversight board at the time.
Several local cities had already begun — or completed — their own versions of these plans, focusing on the aspects of climate change that affected them most. These documents were often incorporated into the city’s general plan or its local coastal plan (a document required by the California Coastal Commission for oceanfront features). Eureka, for example, has an extensive “sea level rise adaptation” plan addressing the effects of flooding on its many low-lying areas.
The Karuk tribe currently has its own climate action plan.
Arcata has been working on its climate action plan for over 20 years. However, it’s unclear if the document was ever updated, or if any of the plan’s criteria were ever actually met. The document on the city’s webpage calls for updates in 2010.
The county had also made some preliminary efforts. In 2007, the Oversight Council joined the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, which recommended a five-step process to reduce local carbon emissions. These steps included measuring existing emission levels, forecasting their growth, setting a reduction target, creating a plan to reduce them, and tracking and verifying the results. Around this time, the county decided that increasing carbon storage on timber and farmland might be its most effective way to fight global warming.
But in 2017, when the county’s new master plan was adopted, the county inserted a section on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change into its air quality element. By then, local scientist Aldaron Laird had made public his extensive studies of the dangers of sea level rise along Humboldt Bay, and county officials were well aware that something had to be done. made. So, two years later, a planner, Connor McGuignan, was borrowed from AmeriCorps to put together a preliminary CAP.
McGuignan held several workshops throughout the county, with PowerPoint presentations and large sheets of paper for people to write their own ideas on. The underlying mathematical studies of greenhouse gas emissions were carried out by the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. Staff members from the six incorporated cities joined the county in producing a draft CAP, which was posted on the county’s website last year. It has since been deleted. McGuignan has moved on, although his name is still incorrectly listed as a contact person on the county’s website.
The draft plan drew widespread criticism, including from environmental groups who deemed it unrealistic. While supporting the plan’s goals, a local environmentalist believed the deadline could not be met.
“The plan’s goal is for 30 percent of all vehicles to be electric by 2030,” said Wendy Ring, author of the radio show Cool Solutions, which airs on public radio stations across the country, and herself the owner of an electric vehicle. “But for that to happen, half of all Humboldt residents would have to buy electric vehicles, starting now.”
She noted that many people avoid electric vehicles due to their high initial cost, limited range and lack of adequate charging stations. Also, in rural areas, trucks are a necessity for many homeowners.
The massive electrification under the plan would require PG&E to replace its transformers, she said, and in some cases individual homeowners could be held responsible for some of the costs.
She also criticized the assumption that electrifying a home will necessarily lead to less fossil fuel use. “It depends on what time you use the network,” she said. “Solar is good, but it’s only available during the day. Most electricity consumption at home occurs at night, when the grid is powered by natural gas.
A coalition of environmental groups — RCCER, 350 Humboldt, the Northcoast Environmental Center, the Center for Responsible Transportation Priorities and EPIC — sent a joint 15-page letter, complete with footnotes, to county planner Michael Richardson, containing numerous criticisms of the methodology and conclusions of the plan. .
A recurring theme was the lack of firm city and county commitments to achieve the plan’s goals. Another was an apparent disconnect from reality that occasionally surfaced. For example, “The CAP objective of increasing the price of parking by 25% is difficult to apply uniformly. In particular, most parking in the county, even in downtown areas, is currently free, so it’s unclear what a 25% price increase would mean.
Specifically: “The expectation that local municipalities that are
who often struggle to fund services will be able to commit staff time for this is unrealistic. Similarly, expecting one person (the CAP Coordinator) to find sources of funding and to track, facilitate and administer those funds, in addition to facilitating public awareness, helping cities implement plans and track progress…sets that person, and that plan, set for failure.
Energy is only as clean as the source it comes from, and many environmentalists have criticized the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, which provided the basic calculations for the plan, for its inclusion of biomass, which is energy based on wood, as a renewable energy. fuel source.
“Wood is more polluting than coal,” said Nancy Ihara, a member of 11th Hour, a local climate activist group. “You put all that carbon into the atmosphere when you burn it, but to replace it, it takes 40 or 50 years for a tree to grow. We do not have much time.
The draft plan was supposed to undergo an environmental review, but that did not happen. The county worked collaboratively with the six incorporated cities and the various entities may not have been able to reach consensus on everything in the plan. Or maybe they just have too much to do.
Richardson said the revised plan would be released on March 17, but that date has passed. When contacted, he said the county hopes to release the document today – March 28 – but is still awaiting additional comments from the town of Arcata.
As of noon today, the draft plan had not appeared on the county’s website, and Richardson had not responded to numerous inquiries asking for an update.
We will keep you posted.