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Posts from the "Greenhouse Gas" Category

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Why You Should Be Angry About CA’s “Highest Gas Tax in the Country”

I know it’s tempting to gloat.

Today, newspaper headlines are blaring the news that with the newest increase in the state’s gas tax, that California now has the highest gas tax in the country.

As I said, I know it’s tempting.

But, it’s the result of bad policy. None of the money from that increased gas tax will go to fix California’s crumbling infrastructure, or restore and fund any local transit system, or paint an inch of new bike lanes. It’s all going to the general fund, thanks to Arnold Schwarzengger and a short-sighted legislature.

To balance the state budget in 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed, pushed for, and eventually signed a law that changed the tax structure for gas taxes with a so-called “fuel swap.” The new tax structure eliminated the sales tax on fuel and raised the excise tax. The purpose of the change was to eliminate funds that were dedicated towards transportation from the gas tax so that the Governor could balance the state budget with fewer cuts elsewhere and no tax increases.

After years of Governors Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis “declaring a fiscal emergency” to basically rob transit operations funds that were dedicated by voters in 2002 and 2006, the State Supreme Court ruled that there had to be an actual emergency, not just a lack of political will, to declare and emergency. It was at this point, that Schwarzengger devised the “fuel swap” plan.

The program also allowed the state to raise gas taxes so that the amount collected remains static even as the amount of fuel consumed decreases. If this meant a consistent level of funding for transit and road repair projects, the program might be more popular and useful.

But it doesn’t. As George Runner, a member of the state Board of Equalization that approved today’s increase noted when he voted against it, “The goal of the fuel tax swap wasn’t good  tax policy. Instead, its sole purpose was to allow the Legislature to move more than a billion dollars in gas tax revenues into the state’s general fund.”

The plan was met with scorn by newspaperstransit advocates and environmentalists when it was proposed. Today’s news is just the by-product of that bad decision.  Read more…

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Brown’s Budget Sends Cap and Trade Funds to Black Hole of General Fund

When California passed it’s land-mark Greenhouse Gas reduction laws in 2006, residents and businesses were assured that funds raised through the controversial “cap and trade” program would be invested in programs and projects that would further reduce emissions.

That promise is turning out to be a lot of hot air.

Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown unveiled his budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that includes the first round of funds collected under the cap and trade system. In the budget, Brown “loans” the half billion in funds collected to the general fund to be paid back at some point in the unspecified future.

“We disagree with the Governor’s proposal to transfer the $500 million in cap-and-trade auction revenues to the general fund and postpone needed investments in projects and programs that could achieve greenhouse gas reductions this year,” writes Stuart Cohen, the executive director of TransForm CA.

“While we appreciate the Governor’s interest in taking a prudent approach to ensure that the cap-and-trade revenues are spent in ways that best meet the program’s goals of maximizing greenhouse gas reductions there are existing and proposed transportation projects and programs that these revenues could be invested in to meet these goals and reap significant economic and public health benefits for all Californians, especially disadvantaged communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. “

Brown’s budget announcement comes on the heels of reports that carbon concentrations have crossed the 400 parts per million threshold widely recognized as a dangerous level that could drastically worsen human-caused climate change. In recent months, environmental and transportation advocacy groups were arguing over how the cap and trade funds could be spent. Debates over questions on whether highway repair should be considered a project that reduces greenhouse gas emissions seem quaint when the state refuses to actually use the funds on climate change projects. Read more…

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Metro Takes a Stand on Cap and Trade Funds: Spend Them on Sustainable Transportation

Cap and Trade explained. If that first company can't find a trading partner, then they get fined. Image: Pon87

As part of today’s Metro Board meeting, the Board of Directors passed a motion calling on the state’s Air Resources Board to spend funds collected through the state’s cap and trade program on sustainable transportation funding.

California’s cap-and-trade program is the state’s primary strategy for reducing the State’s greenhouse gas emissions to meet emissions reduction targets as required by the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The largest portion of the state’s emissions comes from the transportation sector.  Advocates, such as TransForm California and Move L.A. argue that for Los Angeles to achieve long-term emissions reductions, they will need sustained investment in expanding public transit, biking and walking, and ensuring affordable and transit-accessible housing.

Governor Jerry Brown’s administration states that transportation must be one of the main areas in which cap and trade funds are invested. Brown and many environmentalists believe that these funds could be key for regions, and the state, to meet the goals set out by its landmark greenhouse gas laws SB 375 and AB 32. However, given Caltrans continued belief that expanding highways is a great way to reduce vehicle emissions, it is important that strict guidelines be in place for how cap and trade transportation dollars are spent.

The Metro motion doesn’t go as far as the call made by advocates earlier this month for cap and trade funding standards for transportation. The motion follows guidelines put together by the Transportation Coalition for Livable Communities (TCLC). These guidelines include: revenue from “fuel auctions” should go towards transportation, county government bodies should have control over project selection, funds should fund cost effective and innovative projects, and all cap and trade funds should go towards projects that advance the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

While conceding that the TCLC (and Metro) platform is a good one, TransForm’s Cap and Trade manager, Ryan Wiggins, explains the differences between his coalition’s proposed standards and that of TCLC/Metro. Read more…

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Advocates, TransForm, Move L.A. Demand that Cap and Trade Funds Go For Cleaner Transportation

California Air Resources Board meets in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Ryan Wiggins

When California created a “cap and trade” system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide, it was widely agreed the funds raised would be spent on programs that reduce these emissions in their own right. With nearly 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas coming from the transportation sector, it makes sense for a hearty investment in active transportation and transit.

Yet, according to Ryan Wiggins, the cap and trade Director for TransForm, many political figures and car-culture advocacy groups are arguing that cap and trade transportation dollars should go towards improving road conditions. By making it easier for vehicles to go faster, it will reduce the individual emissions of each vehicle. This logic is applied regularly when Caltrans and Metro officials argue about the need to widen freeways such as the 710 Big Dig Project or the never-ending 405 Widening Project in the Sepulveda Pass.

Yet many local advocates agree with Wiggins, that funding active transportation and transit need to be the priority when the state’s Air Resrouces Board (CARB) decides how to allocate its funds. Yesterday, CARB held a hearing in Downtown Los Angeles and advocates attended to make the case for a cleaner transportation network that creates transportation options and reduces emissions and transportation costs.

“ We need investment in transit, especially transit operating budgets, and active transportation infrastructure to support the GHG emission reduction goals of SB 375. Federal and state transportation funding has been stagnant and even declining for years”, said Denny Zane, Executive Director of Move LA. Read more…

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NRDC/Move L.A. Push Governor on Smart Growth Bill, Praise Regional Plans

Over the last year, three large regional transportation authorities have passed regional transportation plans that tie together transportation, land use, greenhouse gas emissions and public health mandated by S.B. 375 in 2008. Today, a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Move L.A. praises the Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego regional planning areas for passing these plans and promotes legislation that could make future plans even better.

Click on the image to see the full report.

Despite the passage of the first regional plans and the continued enthusiasm of S.B. 375, NRDC isn’t happy with the current state of plan. “…a plan is not enough,” writes Amanda Eaken at the NRDC Switchboard. “From the very beginning, we knew that we needed to bring new resources to these communities if we wanted to see the real change SB 375 envisions.”

As Streetsblog has discussed in the past, the new regional plans in San Diego and Los Angeles have significant drawbacks. In San Diego, local advocates filed suit against the plan arguing that transit, walkability and bicycling projects are pushed to the end of the thirty year plan so that highway projects can be funded earlier. They were joined in their lawsuit by State Attorney General Kamala Harris. In the Greater Los Angeles region, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health estimates a $40 billion need for bicycles and pedestrian projects. The plan allocates less than 3% of that need.

However, the authors have a solution: Governor Brown needs to sign Senate Bill 1156. Read more…

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AG Joins Lawsuit Against Highway-Friendly “Transit Plan” in San Diego

When the San Diego Association of Governments passed its regional transportation plan, which will direct transportation spending in the region for decades, the agency hailed the plan as a national model.  This was the first plan passed that followed the standards of SB 375, the California environmental law that set greenhouse gas reduction targets based on transportation and development planning.


Kamala Harris

The agency declared victory, but many local advocates weren’t convinced.

“If this is a national and regional model, we’re in bad shape,” Dough McFetridge of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation grumbled to Streetsblog last November.  ”We have a need — a tremendous need — for transit right now, today. This proposal puts funding transit off into so far in to the future that many of us won’t be around anymore.”

McFetridge and other environmental groups pressed forward with a lawsuit claiming that the EIR for the plan was flawed because it didn’t take into account the impact new highway construction would have on vehicles miles traveled.  This week their lawsuit received a major boost when California Attorney General Kamala Harris joined their efforts.

“The 3.2 million residents of the San Diego region already suffer from the seventh worst ozone pollution in the country,” said Harris in a press release. “Spending our transit dollars in the right way today will improve the economy, create sustainable jobs and ensure that future generations do not continue to suffer from heavily polluted air.”

The lawsuit argues that the environmental review of the transit plan did not adequately analyze the public health impacts of the increased air pollution. The San Diego region already has a very high risk of cancer from particulate matter emitted by diesel engines and vehicles and there is no analysis as to whether this risk will increase.  By prioritizing highway expansion in the first years of the plan, SANDAG claims more pedestrian, bicycle and transit expansion in the plan even though those plans may never happen.  The bulk of the investment in transit and active transportation begins decades from now.

“The attorney general’s intervention in this case supports our argument that SANDAG’s plan is deeply flawed,” said Kathryn Phillips of the Sierra Club.  ”We’re encouraged that the State of California is serious about limiting air pollution and climate change pollution created by transportation in the region.”

Read more…

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California’s Climate Laws Undermined by Weak Transpo Policies, Investment

California's lack of good transportation policies and transit investment points to a failure in Sacramento. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/aquafornia/2731909303/##aquafornia##

California's lack of bold transportation policies and transit investment points to a failure in Sacramento. Photo: aquafornia

A new report from NRDC and Smart Growth America — which examines what all 50 states are doing to curb greenhouse gas emissions from transportation — lauds California as the most progressive state on policy, but points out that its transportation and spending priorities don’t match the bold blueprints, particularly as it relates to public transit.

It all points to Sacramento, where legislators have continuously raided the only dedicated fund for transit, leading to massive cuts statewide.

The report praises the state’s smart-growth law, SB375, as a model for other states, noting that “it puts in place a strong framework that can be used to drive better coordination between transportation and land use, and, of particular relevance to this analysis, to do so in a way that reduces GHGs.” It remains uncertain, however, “whether SB 375 will deliver results on the ground as opposed to just changes in planning documents.”

In September, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 2035, a move that will compel the state’s metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to better integrate land use and transportation planning. The real test for SB375 will come at the local level as MPOs draft plans to meet the targets.

Unless the state prioritizes investments in sustainable transportation, California’s progressive policies will continue to be undermined.

“Huge cuts to public transit threaten these (policy) gains and could lead to even more devastating consequences for California communities and the economy,” said a joint press release from Smart Growth California, NRDC, TransForm and the Sierra Club of California. “In California, transportation policies and spending decisions are not in line with the state’s bold commitments to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide and other emissions being pumped into the air.”

Read more…

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Opponents of Clean Air Having Trouble Gaining Traction for Prop 23

No political battle in the upcoming November election is as easy to sloganeer as the battle over Proposition 23, a measure that would suspend the state’s landmark global warming law, AB 32.  Depending on your point of view, the measure is either about “jobs over the environment” or “Texas Oil Companies Meddling in California.”

Across the state, the effort to repeal AB 32 at the ballot box has been lampooned as an effort by Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro to overturn a law that would, in the long run, severely reduce their bottom lines.  And what if this reducing emissions thing catches on in other states?  It could be a catastrophe for the oil industry.

The only high-profile politician who supports the measure is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Carly Fiorina.  Democrat Jerry Brown, who is running for governor, is against itSo is  the man he wants to replace, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The Republican gubernatorial nominee, Meg Whitman, claims she is against it even though she embraces the idea of delaying the law for one year. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa laughs at it, and the Los Angeles Times editorializes against it.  Senators Boxer and Feinstein?  They’re both against it too.

This lack of political support is reflected in a Field poll released earlier this week that showed a an 11 point gap, 45 percent to 34 percent running against passage of the proposition.  The bedrock of support for the measure seems to be the uneducated.  The less time you’ve spent in the classroom, the more likely you are to support Proposition 23. Read more…

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CARB Adopts Aggressive Targets to Meet State Greenhouse Gas Laws

    Photo: Mark Stozier via ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2010/09/24/in-historic-vote-carb-adopts-targets-under-landmark-anti-sprawl-bill/##SF Streetsblog##

Photo: Mark Stozier via SF Streetsblog

Last Thursday, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) voted unanimously to adopt ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reductions statewide by 2020 and 2035.  Thursday’s vote, hours after the Metro Board of Directors voted to endorse high standards for the Southland, will compel Municipal Planning Organizations (MPO’s) to create development and transportation plans that will encourage Smart Growth and discourage catering to long commutes in single occupancy automobiles.

Under California’s landmark anti-sprawl bill, SB375, the state’s 18 MPOs were required to set emissions reductions targets and Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS) within regional transportation plans.  Los Angeles’ MPO is the Southern California Association of Governments, a body that voted endorsed weaker standards a few weeks ago.  That vote, while politically telling, can and was overturned by CARB.  To be clear, Southern California’s targets are an eight percent reduction by 2020 and a thirteen percent reduction at 2035 of yearly greenhouse gas emissions from the 2005 emission levels.

In a press release, ARB Board Mary Nichols explains how a state mandate to meet certain development goals can be both a carrot and a stick:

“These targets are ambitious, achievable and very good news for California communities.  Improved planning means cleaner air in our cities, less time stuck in your car, and healthier, more sustainable communities,” said ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols. “Cities that choose to develop Sustainable Communities Plans that meet these targets have an advantage when it comes to attracting the kinds of vibrant, healthy development that people want.” Read more…

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Proposition 23 Opponents: Climate Change Impacts National Security

Photo

Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr

Climate change is a national security risk that will be exacerbated if Californians pass Proposition 23, the voter initiative on the ballot this November that would suspend California’s AB 32 climate change law, say opponents of the measure, such as former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz.

Shultz and financier Thomas Steyer, co-chairs of the No on Propostion 23 campaign, held a media briefing today on what they described as the threats to America’s energy security and economy if California’s landmark 2006 climate change law was suspended.

“The issue of climate, the issue of economics, the issue of national security all point us in the same direction. We need to get control of our use of energy and the way we produce it, the way we use it,” said Shultz, a former marine who fought in World War II and later served as Secretary of State for President Ronald Reagan.

Steyer said Prop 23 would continue to mire America in an unstable energy policy. “Our energy use, our approach to climate, the health of our economy, our ability to develop new technologies and build new businesses, all of these factor into our national security,” he said, adding that “dismantling rules that foster innovation and that make us more energy secure doesn’t make sense.”

Shultz tied American energy policy to the threat of terrorism and rogue states just days before the anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks.

“The security implications of our energy situation are compounded greatly by the fact that the revenues that are generated by our use of oil and that of others go, in part, to countries that don’t wish us well,” said Shultz. “Undoubtedly some of this money is slopping over into the hands of terrorists, the 9/11 people. I think the security side of this is very important to recognize.”

Read more…