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Solimar Research

Climate Change Mandates: No, We Can't Make Them Go Away

Jan 27, 2009

Remember way back to the days when climate change and greenhouse gas emissions didn't dominate every discussion of land use and economic development in California? You know, way back in 2005. Well, Dan Logue sure does.

A freshman assemblyman from the Marysville area and former Yuba County supervisor, Logue has introduce a bill that would repeal AB 32, California's greenhouse gas emissions reduction law. "I've talked to businesses," the Republican lawmakers told the Chico Enterprise Record. "They cannot function under AB32."

Logue's bill is AB 118. I don't have to go far out on a limb to say the legislation is DOA at the Capitol.

That's not to say the world well, at least California would not be a simpler place if Gov. Schwarzenegger had never signed AB 32, SB 97, SB 375 or Executive Orders S-3-05 and S-13-08. But he did, and now policy-makers and professionals are figuring out how to implement all this stuff.

The recent UCLA Extension Land Use Law and Planning Conference made clear there is a lot to figure out. Experts talked about the Office of Planning and Research's recently released draft CEQA guidance for addressing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and the California Air Resources Board's draft guidance for greenhouse gas emissions thresholds of significance under CEQA, which was released in December.

Curtis Alling, an EDAW vice president based in Sacramento, said that under the draft CEQA guidelines, a significant impact occurs when there is a "considerable contribution" to cumulative emissions. But because the guidelines contain no quantifiable or specific thresholds, it's very difficult to figure out what is a considerable contribution.

Alling's advice:

Any large project must have a robust GHG analysis with a quantified inventory/analysis.
For small projects using a negative declaration or mitigated neg dec, mention GHG and simply hope for the best.
Agencies may continue to use categorical exemptions for projects that generate GHG.

Alling also reminded the practitioners in the audience that a project's GHG problems are not solved with a CEQA document, they are solved with project designs that reduce carbon emissions.

David Weaver, a senior associate with Environ, addressed the CARB guidance, which concerns transportation, energy use, construction and water use. Weaver said the CARB advisory needs work, as portions are unclear and could inadvertently provide wrong incentives.

On residential development, the air board says a project generating more than 14,000 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per household annually would have a significant impact. The 14,000 annual VMT is a very difficult standard, Weaver said. Only small dwelling units within large metro areas routinely meet this standard today.

According to Weaver, the CARB VMT standards are based on one of the few pieces of empirical research that attempts to quantify VMT in different metropolitan settings, John Holtzclaw's 1994 paper, "Using Residential Patterns and Transit To Decrease Auto Dependence and Costs." Holtzclaw's research focused on the Bay Area and was sponsored by Natural Resources Defense Council. This paper sought to link density and VMT, which it did; but in general it found that the more close-in a household was, the less VMT. So a San Francisco household generates less VMT than Berkeley household, which had less than a Danville household, etc.

On energy, the air board calls for a target of 30% reduction from 2008 Title 24 standards. But Title 24 standards are relative. Thus, noted Weaver, a very large house that consumes less energy than other very large houses could meet the target, while a small unit that does not use much energy may not be able to hit the target because there is so much less fat to cut.

Another problematic example: The guidance calls for 20% use of recycled construction material but gives no credit for simply using less material to build things, Weaver said.

In other words, there is a very long ways to go in figuring out exactly how to implement the climate change mandates. Comments are due February 2 on OPR's draft CEQA guidelines.

On the SB 375 front, the Air Resources Board has appointed the 21 members of the Regional Targets Advisory Committee, which is scheduled to meet for the first time on February 3. This panel is supposed to help CARB determine how much land use can contribute to meeting the AB 32 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal.

The appointees make for a very high powered group. Interestingly, the committee includes five regional transportation planning executives and only two elected officials. Certainly no shortage of big thinkers among this group.

- Paul Shigley and Bill Fulton