OC Register: The newest tool in the fight against climate change? City planners

March 28, 2017 – The Orange County Register – Lauren Williams reports – When people think of combating climate change they usually think big.

International accords, federal mandates, state regulations – all have been big-picture tools used to reign in greenhouse gases. Laws and trade deals oversee everything from auto efficiency and power plant emissions to the rise of green industries like solar energy. And those forces, in turn, help to drive or abate global warming.

Now, that dynamic might be changing.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the key piece of legislation in the Obama administration’s fight against global warming. Trump’s move is likely to spark legal battles with national and international environmentalist groups, who generally want to see the United States lead the world in beating back climate change.

But even before that fight begins, environmentalists have already launched a second front against warming – this one waged at the level of city planning documents.

“We’ve always tried to focus on the local level,” said Roger Gloss, an organizer with Orange County for Climate Action, a group that hopes to reduce global warming through local efforts. “But given what’s going on in Washington, the bottom up approach is more important than ever.

“If Washington is not going to do anything, or go in the wrong direction, then anything that’s going to happen has to happen from the bottom up.”

How small scale? Consider:

In 2015, days after 195 countries agreed to enter the Paris Climate Accord – a deal aimed at cutting greenhouse gases in the U.S. alone by 26 percent over the next eight years – the city of San Diego made its own ambitious climate pledge. San Diego, by making changes to its general plan, vowed to cut its greenhouse emissions in half by 2035, shift half the city’s fleet vehicles to electric power by 2020 and recycle almost all the methane created at city-owned water treatment and sewage plants.

Unlike other pledges that lacked teeth, San Diego’s Climate Action Plan is legally binding. If the city doesn’t meet its goals it could be sued, said Nicole Capretz, an environmental lawyer and founder of the non-profit Climate Action Campaign, which proposed and backed the city’s plan.

“The beautiful thing about these climate plans is there’s something for everybody, there’s a win for everybody,” Capretz said, arguing climate action plans can both improve business and the quality of life for residents. “We make that political argument.”

Now, other cities and environmentalists are following San Diego’s lead. As city planners work to redesign zoning and other regulations in places as diverse as Irvine and Pasadena, along with several cities in San Diego county, advocates are looking hard at the blueprint forged by Capretz.

It’s not a soft goal. In California, cities are required to enact ordinances that are compliant with state environmental laws. Though the rules don’t have to be as strict as those adopted in San Diego, every municipality is required to try to follow AB 32, the 2006 law that calls for California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Partly because of city rules, California remains on course to meet the ambitious mandate set out by the law, according to the state Air Resources Board. Greenhouse emissions statewide peaked in 2004, and have declined steadily since then even as California’s population has jumped by 11 percent. In 2014, the last year for which statistics are available, total greenhouse gas emissions measured 441.5 million metric tons – a decrease by 2.8 million metric tons from the previous year.

Some goals in a city’s global warming plan can be small and easily attainable, like planting trees to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and create shadier, cooler paths in an (overall) warming world. Others are more ambitious and require tax money for things like shifting a city’s transportation fleet from gasoline to electric power.

“Usually, when you do a cost-benefit analysis, you discover the benefits largely outweigh the costs,” Capretz said.

Those costs include short-term gains, such as lower gasoline bills, and long-term benefits, such as reduced repair bills. Cities and school districts that invest in solar power, for example, can cut big money from their electric costs almost instantly, savings that can help offset the initial investment costs.

But up-front costs also can be expensive, and not always an easy sell to taxpayers.

“You need to do an analysis; don’t get me wrong. You need to move forward with those measures that will give you the biggest bang for your buck,” Capretz said.

Read the full article here.

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