A statewide cap on driving?

Here's the thing nobody is quite willing to say out loud about implementing California's climate change law in the land use arena: The state may have to place an overall cap on vehicle miles traveled (VMT), even as it must accommodate more growth.

Last Friday at UCLA Extension's annual Land Use Law and Planning Conference, keynote speaker Anthony Eggert, senior policy advisor at the California Air Resources Board, issued what amounted to a plea for help from the 400 land use practitioners gathered in the room.

CARB is charged with implementing AB 32. Land use is presumed to be part of the solution, but no specific implementation plan for land use has been adopted. Pinch-hitting for his boss, CARB Chair Mary Nichols, Eggert said it is not clear to CARB how much reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can come from reducing VMT, or from limiting VMT increase on future development projects. Without quite saying that there should be an overall restriction on VMT, he asked the land use practitioners for help in determining what level of greenhouse gas ,

Eggert said there are three ways to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gases:

1. Regulating vehicles
2. Regulating fuels
3. Changing or reducing vehicle usage as measured by VMT.

He acknowledged that it's unlikely that the state will hit the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets contained in AB 32, the state's climate change bill, without attacking the question of VMT. Like everybody else who's addressed the question in public, Eggerts stopped short of saying that VMT will have to be capped and/or reduced in order to meet the AB 32 target.

But he did say that CARB is still working on "the best mix of incentives and requirements" that will limit VMT – or, at least VMT growth – as a way of tackling the greenhouse gas problem. He was not specific about what these carrots and sticks would be, but he did say that CARB supported strengthening the role of regional planning agencies in forcing land use change that will limit VMT.

This is essentially the same approach contained in SB 375 (Steinberg), which is likely to be the legislative vehicle that will lay out the way AB 32 will be implemented in the land use arena. Again without being specific, SB 375 calls for regional planning agencies to create a "preferred growth scenario" that would meet AB 32 targets. Most experts believe that land use change must account for 10-15% of greenhouse gas reduction.

It's hard to imagine how this would happen without creating a target – or maybe a cap – on VMT in each region around the state as a way of meeting a land use-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal.

Eggert and other speakers on Friday indicated that more aggressive use of the California Environmental Quality Act is part of the solution, but CEQA analyses are likely to identify how to limit growth in VMT, not how to reduce it.

-- Bill Fulton