CLIMATE CHANGE ROUNDUP: Smart Growth Holds Promise, Hurdles Remain

By Published On: August 14, 2009

California communities can be more energy efficient and cut greenhouse gas emissions by limiting sprawl in favor of carefully planned denser development, sometimes called “smart growth,” urban planners agreed at a California Energy Commission workshop August 11. However, they added, there are significant hurdles, key among them the way local governments are financed. For instance, Sacramento County--which through its local council of governments adopted a plan projected to cut vehicle miles traveled per capita 6 to 10 percent by 2035--gets most of its sales tax revenue from cars and construction materials. The county gets 22 percent of total sales tax revenue from car sales and repairs, 10 percent from sale of fuels, and 19 percent from sales of building materials, according to Judy Robinson, county infill and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Stimulus coordinator. Federal and state lawmakers and agencies need to direct more fiscal support to cities and counties for infrastructure--such as transit--that supports smart growth, she added. Developers are uncertain about whether home buyers and commercial tenants are willing to pay the extra cost for distributed generation technologies and energy efficient features in new homes and buildings, noted Doug Newman, National Energy Center for Sustainable Communities executive director. To overcome the risk, he recommended a number of steps, including easing restrictions on interconnecting distributed generation technologies to the grid, like solar rooftops, plus utility incentives for green building and energy efficient community design. Along with energy efficient and smart growth development, cutting vehicle use depends upon additional policies, including tolls for driving and increased investment in public transit based on integrated land use and transportation planning, said Steven Winkelman, Center for Clean Air Policy director of transportation and adaptation programs. He added that $4 a gallon gas seemed to cut auto use too. * * * * Cleaning up and growing the economy was the topic of an August 11 alternative energy conference in Las Vegas, sponsored in part by U.S. Senate leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Reid was accompanied by energy officials, including Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu--as well as former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, and businessman T. Boone Pickens. They insisted the success of a green energy industry in the U.S. depends on sustained public and private leadership and commitment. “Building a clean energy economy will create jobs, save consumers money, and drive new private investment into a more productive, innovative and efficient economy,” they stated for the “National Clean Energy Summit 2.0.” The leaders called for binding carbon reductions, putting a price on carbon, and continuing funding for alternative energy job training. The conference leaders also urged the federal government to provide significant manufacturing incentives for renewable energy technologies, and to use public lands in the West “to their maximum potential to produce renewable energy while maintaining natural resources.” A report released by conference cosponsors the Center for American Progress and Energy Future Coalition the same day concluded that retrofitting 40 percent of America’s homes and small businesses, or 50 million buildings, could create 625,000 jobs in construction and manufacturing, cut consumer utility bills by up to $64 billion dollars, and increase private investment by billions of dollars. * * * * The peer reviews are in at the federal Environmental Protection Agency, that is, those regarding analyses of the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol, gasoline, and other fuels. The peer reviewers examined EPA’s analysis in four areas: -Land use modeling (use of satellite data/land conversion greenhouse gas emission factors); -Methods to account for the variable timing of greenhouse gas emissions; -Greenhouse gas emissions from foreign crop production (modeling and data used); and, -How the models EPA relied on are used together to provide overall lifecycle estimates. The reviewers--which outlined their findings in four separate volumes--generally found that the EPA analysis adhered to sound scientific principles, but found room for improvement. For instance, they suggested that EPA seek to use finer resolution photos of land use changes and that the agency tap into additional sources of data related to agricultural land use changes. Last May, EPA found in its analysis of life cycle emissions that ethanol can either cut greenhouse gas emissions or increase them relative to gasoline. It cuts greenhouse gases when the production plants use corn as a feedstock and are powered by electricity made from natural gas or biomass. However, corn-based ethanol made in production plants that run on coal-fired power produce more life cycle greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to EPA. The analysis took into account the energy used in growing corn and turning it into ethanol, plus releases of carbon dioxide that may occur when new land is cleared and cultivated to replace the corn once used as food but now made into fuel. EPA is taking public comments on the peer review, which comes as part of the agency’s efforts to revise the federal renewable fuel standard to make sure it cuts rather than increases greenhouse gas emissions. * * * * California is the least vulnerable state in the nation to gasoline price hikes, according to a report the Natural Resources Defense Council released August 11, because the state has taken more steps than other states to cut petroleum dependence. The report cited California policies aimed at cutting greenhouse gases, including the state’s clean car and low carbon fuel standards, among other actions. The most vulnerable state was Mississippi. * * * * The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents local and state air pollution control agencies like the California Air Resources Board, is asking the Senate to tighten up the House-passed energy and climate change measure, HR 2454. The bill seeks to cut greenhouse gases through a number of avenues. Specifically, the association wants states to be able to set their own stricter caps on carbon emissions in state run cap-and-trade programs. The bill would prohibit any state caps on carbon until 2018. The association also wants a federal low-carbon fuel standard and a renewable energy standard of 25 percent by 2025. As passed by the House, the bill would seek to meet 20 percent of the nation’s electricity needs by 2020 through a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy. The bill’s authors entertained the concept of a low-carbon fuel standard in an early draft of the measure, but dropped it before formally introducing HR 2454. * * * * The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit August 13 against the California Department of Forestry over the agency’s alleged failure to analyze the carbon and climate consequences of clear-cutting when it approved a logging plan in the Sierra Nevada. At issue is a plan by Sierra Pacific Industries to log 400 acres in Tehama and Butte Counties. The lawsuit, filed in Tehama County Superior Court, claims the state violated the California Environmental Quality Act and the Forest Practices Act when it approved the timber-harvest plan without disclosing, analyzing, or mitigating the carbon dioxide emissions that will result from the logging. Over two dozen similar logging plans by Sierra Pacific Industries, which owns nearly 1.7 million acres of forest land in California, are awaiting approval from the Department of Forestry.

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