By a 3-2 majority, the county supervisors took the first step toward banning the use of natural gas in new residential and commercial developments in hopes of lessening the county’s cumulative greenhouse-gas footprint. Natural gas used for cooking and heating, the supervisors were told by their sustainability experts, accounts for fully one-third of the county’s carbon emissions, and natural gas — methane — is 25 times more environmentally destructive when it comes to climate change. There was considerable debate by dueling public stakeholders, but the outcome was never in doubt. The supervisors’ action puts the county on track to get ahead of new state rules and regulations soon to take effect, but only by a few years. The real fight will be over possible exemptions. Andy Caldwell of the Coalition for Labor, Agriculture & Business asked that agricultural operations be exempt. Activists with a host of environmental organizations argued there was little time left for the supervisors to act, given the pace of climate change. Natural gas, they noted, increased asthma in young children by 40 percent.
The City of Santa Barbara, which passed a similar measure within the last year, exempted laboratories, restaurants, and remodels. County planners have yet to address such carve-outs and promised an extensive public outreach process before they weigh in. Perhaps the most problematic sticking point for making the transition is whether the electrical grid upon which Santa Barbara currently depends can handle the additional demand. Supervisor Bob Nelson — who opposed the proposed new mandates — observed how earlier in the day, the supervisors voted not to require a Carpinteria cannabis grower to install odor-eating carbon scrubbers in part because there wasn’t a reliable electrical supply for the energy-intensive devices. How could they now mandate a much more sweeping transition to electrical power? Nelson wondered. Supervisor Joan Hartmann highlighted the ever-present danger of gas leaks, noting that women are better at smelling them than their male counterparts. As far as mandates were concerned, she noted that building codes are chock-full of mandates — to ensure public safety — and that these codes are updated every three years as a matter of state law.