Regional Planners Call for Greenhouse Gas Increase

Santa Barbara One of Two Counties in State to Do So

Santa Barbara is one of only two counties in the state that is proposing to increase its greenhouse-gas emissions. (The other is El Dorado County.)

A community workshop on what targets Santa Barbara County should set for reducing greenhouse gas emissions was held Tuesday, September 14. It was hosted by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), with Mike Powers and Gregg Hart, the agency’s deputy director and government affairs coordinator respectively, presiding.

Rather than decreases, the targets SBCAG is proposing to the California Air Resources Board are a six percent increase by 2020, with a four percent increase by 2035, above the county’s current greenhouse-gas emission levels.

A presentation by Powers and Hart showed that California aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions back to the recorded levels in 1990 by the year 2020—a 30 percent reduction from present levels. Santa Barbara County emits 16.8 pounds of carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases, per capita per day, according to SBCAG estimates.

In setting the county’s targets, SBCAG considers the impact of the economic recession on the county’s short-term growth, the officials said. It also allows for the effects of emissions attributable to major institutions beyond the influence of SBCAG, like UCSB and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Over 40 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions in California come from cars and light trucks, according to the Air Resources Board, and its major focus is reducing vehicle-miles traveled by Californians. Accordingly, SBCAG examines growth patterns, land use policies, air quality, the availability of alternative modes of transportation such as car- and van-pooling, and eliminating vehicle trips altogether (e.g. telecommuting). It also looks at mass transit. However, Powers noted, if an improvement in the transit systems is proposed as an alternative, more funding will be required.

Other topics SBCAG is currently studying include lowering the carbon content of fuels, updating standards for vehicle emissions and aerodynamic efficiency, and increasing parking fines and fees.

Many of the attendees at the workshop voiced support for no net increase in per-capita greenhouse-gas emissions. It is a reasonable and attainable goal if SBCAG works in tandem with institutions like UCSB and the California Air Resources Board, they argued.

And how does Santa Barbara County compare to its neighbors? For Ventura County, a six percent reduction by 2020, and eight percent by 2030, was approved on a split vote. For San Luis Obispo County, a proposed reduction of carbon dioxide per capita of eight percent by 2020 is under consideration.

The public workshop helped the county meet its obligations under Senate Bill 375, passed into law in late 2008, which calls for public involvement in setting regional targets. Under provisions of the bill, each region’s “Metropolitan Planning Organization”—which is SBCAG, in these parts—must set emission-reduction targets and outline its plan, called a “Sustainable Communities Strategy” for meeting those targets. The California Air Resources Board reviews the targets and methodologies. In case the original strategy fails to hit the targets, the regional organizations must also establish alternative strategies. Santa Barbara County is currently on its fifth clean-air plan, according to Powers.

Final targets are expected to be adopted at the September 23 and 24 California Air Resources Board meetings.

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