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How the RCPA is Moving Forward on Climate Action
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Climate change is already affecting our community by magnifying the intensity of storms, droughts, and, most recently, fires. Sonoma County is committed to addressing climate change through local action, and that means the RCPA is focusing on ways to keep moving forward following the lawsuit that blocked the Climate Action 2020 Plan.
Creating Clear Policy Goals
The first step was taken on November 11, 2017, when the RPCA adopted a resolution establishing the same mitigation and adaptation goals, as well as greenhouse gas reduction targets, as developed by the community through the Climate Action 2020 planning process. A template for a similar policy is also available for all Sonoma County jurisdictions to consider in order to align countywide efforts to address climate change. Together, the RCPA and member policy commitments can provide clear direction to residents, local businesses, staff, and grant makers, about priorities for community operations and development.
The State has set statewide greenhouse gas reduction targets and Sonoma County’s local governments acknowledge their role in meeting those targets through land use, infrastructure, utilities, and other investments directed at a local level. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has also set regional targets through the Clean Air Plan. The recent RCPA policy action commits us to the same long term targets, and charts a course for our work to achieve deeper reductions.
Promoting the Climate Action Playbook and Implementation Tools
RCPA was previously sued when it adopted a climate action plan. The lawsuit voided the usefulness of the climate action plan as a tool to address the California Environmental Quality Act in a consistent and efficient manner, but the plan is still a very useful reflection of community priorities for climate action. It can serve as a playbook for local implementation ideas and collaboration. The irony of the lawsuit was that noone contested the importance of the emissions reduction measures, and the plaintiff supported their implementation. So do we. RCPA staff will continue to support implementation with grant funded pilots and programs, research, case studies, model policy language, legislative advocacy, and community education.
Supporting fire recovery and climate resilience
Our local Climate Hazards and Vulnerabilities Assessment outlines the vulnerabilities we face due to climate change and there are many strategies in the Climate Action 2020 playbook that reduce emissions and help strengthen climate resilience. The RCPA will continue to collaborate with leaders in the scientific community working to understand climate changes in real time. This means better planning for changing risks through the Sonoma County Resilience Team, comprised of multiple Agency and non-governmental partners.
Despite the recent legal setback to the formal planning elements of the Climate Action 2020 Plan, the RCPA will continue its work to build local capacity to solve climate related challenges and harness new opportunities for economic prosperity and community well-being.
RCPA decision not to appeal the legal challenge to the CA2020 Environmental Impact Report
Thursday, September 28, 2017
As you know, the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority developed the Climate Action 2020 and Beyond plan last year to go beyond the State’s 2020 target and deliver on even more ambitious local goals to reduce greenhouse gases. All nine Sonoma County cities and the county worked to develop the plan. It was a chance for each local government to set long term goals, to establish short term implementation priorities, and to implement measurement and monitoring tools to guide progress. An associated Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was a chance to vet the GHG measures in the plan, review their secondary impacts, and to provide the analysis required to go forward with the measures.
Unfortunately, implementation was put on hold while a lawsuit against the adequacy of the EIR was filed by California River Watch (not to be confused with the environmental organization Riverkeeper). The trial court issued an adverse ruling which would require the RCPA to appeal or rescind certification of the EIR. The judgment is very frustrating because it ignored information in the record and misconstrued the basic purpose of the plan. We continue to believe the plan is consistent with best practices for community climate action planning, and if money and staff resources were not at issue, we would appeal. There is also an issue of timing, as Climate Action 2020 was also just a first step and statewide planning is now focusing on 2030 targets.
Our agency lacks the resources for a costly appeals process, so the RCPA Board authorized counsel and the Executive Director to enter into an agreement with California River Watch that will conclude the litigation. The agreement stipulates that the RCPA pays $226,912 in attorney fees, in two installment payments over two years. As further requirements of the settlement, RCPA would agree not to appeal, and California River Watch has committed not to challenge the measures in the plan.
RCPA works with all the local agencies in the County, and is a separate agency from all of them. It is important to –understand that RCPA is not a part of the County government, and it was voluntarily created by all ten local jurisdictions to help navigate the challenges created by climate change. We operate with a very small budget and staff, and focus on securing grant funding, coordinating with people like you, and supporting government decision makers in understanding local opportunities to prevent and adapt to climate change. Most of our funding is grant money.
The Plan was voluntarily developed by the local jurisdictions to be a policy framework for increasing coordination and accountability, and, if adopted, it would have further institutionalized local commitments to address climate change.
It is disappointing that one group can stall a good set of climate solutions by co-opting the California Environmental Quality Act for purposes for which it was never intended. We absolutely need big solutions, but we also need small steps to integrate climate change considerations into all aspects of government, business operations, and everyday life.
We are fortunate that, on the whole, our community accepts the science and urgency of climate change. As a result, local leaders have been able to pioneer climate solutions like urban growth boundaries, open space protections, Sonoma Clean Power, efficiency financing, carbon free water, among many others, to protect the environment and enhance the quality of life in Sonoma County.
Going forward, we will continue to focus on things most people want that make people’s lives better, all the while helping more people understand that major shifts towards a carbon free economy are both urgently needed and possible.
We must keep working to make carbon free technologies the easy or only choice. We will not solve the problem by pushing growth elsewhere, to communities or states willing to grow without constraint or vision. Instead we must demonstrate a viable path towards climate smart prosperity, something Sonoma County is well positioned to do.
The future will be bright if we all decide that we can contribute to solving the problem and support each other – our neighbors, local businesses, elected officials, non-profits – in working to change things for the better.
CA2020 was intended as the formal guide for local policy and program actions, at the RCPA and for our member governments. Unfortunately, the lawsuit eliminated its enforceability and usefulness as a future CEQA compliance tool. Ironically, we faced a lawsuit from a plaintiff that stated it supported the measures in the plan, but the lawsuit has for understandable reasons stalled the implementation of the plan. The ideas contained in the plan are sound. The RCPA Board and staff will continue to work to coordinate between the local jurisdictions, pursue funding and financing to implement solutions, support members in developing policies, and track progress. The extent to which we can do more – and we need to do a lot more – will depend on the will and support of the community at large.
Sonoma County’s 1990 and 2010 Emissions Explained
Friday, August 26, 2016
The final draft of Climate Action 2020 and Beyond was released in July 2016. The RCPA received questions from community members related to the 1990 and 2010 greenhouse gas inventories for Sonoma County and what has happened in the County since 1990 related to emissions. The information below seeks to address the questions and comments.
Q: Why is there a difference between the Figures ES-1 and 2-2 in the Draft Plan?
A: There was an error in the Draft Plan where a cell was missed from Figures ES-1 showing emission estimates in the Executive Summary. This left Santa Rosa out of 1990 emissions. The correct data including Santa Rosa’s 1990 emissions are included in Table 2-1, Table 2-3 and Figure 2-2 of the Draft Plan, as well as of the Final Plan. While the error is regrettable, catching errors are part of the reason we release draft plans.
Q: What changes were made to the 1990 back-cast between the draft and final plans?
A: There was one change made to the 1990 back-cast between the Draft and Final Plan, where improvements to the methodology for estimating historic livestock emissions were made based on more local data provided by the Sonoma Resource Conservation District. The result was a backcast that went from 3.966 to 3.944 million MTCO2e.
Q: How did fuel efficiency impact transportation emissions between 1990 and 2010?
A: Sonoma County’s population grew by 19% between 1990 and 2010. Residents also drove more, with an increase of 32% in vehicle miles traveled. At the same time, overall emissions only grew by 12% during that same period mainly due to increased fuel efficiency.
Note: These trends do not include data from Santa Rosa because the city already has a CAP; still the RCPA believes these trends to be representative of countywide trends.
Q: Why do several sectors show a decrease in emissions between 1990 and 2010?
A: Solid waste is not one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, however there were significant reductions between 1990 and 2010 due to increased diversion from the landfill and better collection of methane from the material that was landfilled. In 2010 there was 46% less solid waste being landfilled compared to 1990. At the same time, there was an increase in methane captured from an estimated 51% in 1990 to 82% in 2010. 1
Building emissions show a decrease of 8% between 1990 and 2010 due to increases in building and appliance efficiency along with a lower carbon intensity of electricity from PG&E (572 pounds CO2e per megawatt hour in 1990 compared to 445 pounds CO2e per megawatt hour in 2010). 2
A 42% reduction in cattle between 1990 and 2010 resulted in a commensurate reduction in their associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Ultimately increases in vehicle efficiency, together with decreased landfilling, better methane capture, reductions in livestock and a general decrease in the emissions intensity of many activities seem to have resulted in an 8.7% reduction in overall emissions between 1990 and 2010. Some of these changes, such as livestock reduction, may not be repeatable; while others, like increased vehicle efficiency, are found in measures for future emission reductions. You can view estimates of emissions by sector below, along with a forecast for the business as usual scenario:
Note: The 2010 inventory is calculated in detail while other years represent projections or interpolations between those projections. There is more specific inventory data for 1990 and 2010, by jurisdiction and sector, available in this online spreadsheet.
Q: Do annexations that occurred between 1990 and 2010 impact the greenhouse gas reduction target?
A: Climate Action 2020 and Beyond builds a path for future emission reductions by taking advantage of opportunities to work together. Part of the reason we have a countywide greenhouse gas reduction goal is because it makes more sense to address this challenge as a community.
When it comes to calculating a greenhouse gas inventory, there are advantages of using a countywide approach with an overall county boundary that hasn’t changed since 1850. This helps correct for issues related to annexations by comparing 1990 and 2010 emissions within the same county boundary.
2016 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record (exceeding previous records in 2014 and 2015). If there was ever a time when local action on climate change was critical, it is now as we wait for better international action to ramp up in 2020 under the Paris Agreement.
The RCPA will continue to share data in better ways and work with the community to improve accuracy. At the same time, the overall goals for the plan and the benefits of implementing the measures remain the same. Throughout the development of the plan it’s been a theme that we can do more if we work together. The RCPA seeks to do as much as it can as soon as it can within its charge as a regional agency.