CARB Adopts Aggressive Targets to Meet State Greenhouse Gas Laws

    Photo: Mark Stozier via ## Streetsblog##
Photo: Mark Stozier via ## 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.”

Opponents of higher standards were energized early in the meeting when Ken Yeager, a Board Member from the Bay Area, took on the sprawl lobby and sharply criticized the Building Industry Association’s claims that setting these standards would cause gas prices to rise to $9 a gallon.  While this type of fear-mongering might work in the Inland Empire or Orange County, it fell flat in front of the CARB.

But now Southern California’s political leadership is faced with a challenge.  Remember, SCAG is the largest MPO in the country and represents Los Angeles County as well as Imperial, Orange, Riverside, Ventura and San Bernadino Counties.  There’s going to be a lot of negotiating to devise a plan that works for all of these areas and has a chance of meeting these goals.

That being said, a little personal responsibility could go a long way in reducing emissions.  A terrified op/ed in the San Diego Union Tribune does the math on what kind of changes people would have to make in their own transportation plans to reach San Diego’s emission reduction goals.  The Union-Tribune writer calls the measures to reach a 13% personal reduction, “harsh.”  Remember, achieving just one of them would allow a driver to meet their personal goal:

To achieve a 13 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, a motorist could do one of the following:

• Telecommute to work two days a month

• Carpool to work four days a month

• Bike or walk instead of driving 18 miles a week

• Take a bus instead of driving 21 miles a week.

As SCAG responds to last week’s CARB meeting, we’ll keep you posted.

  • Emissions standards are so … meta. Wouldn’t it be more effective to use monitoring of emissions with a detailed analysis of a city’s traffic by counting the number of pedestrians, cyclists, and other modes of transit? With this data, you can set a benchmark for percentage of trips to be taken by a given mode, and direct roadway engineering and planning to design for those benchmarks. The emissions data should be secondary to mode split and other measurements to really be effective.

  • Katie M.

    Hey Damien–
    Minor point, but SCAG’s jurisdiction includes Ventura County, too. I know we can be easy to forget, but we are enthusiastic (well, most of us are) about reducing our county’s GHG emissions, and many of our jurisdictions are actively pursuing projects to help meet the new CARB goals (e.g. Ojai’s Complete Streets update, Ventura’s new parking standards). We’re not only strawberries and cows up here.


  • SCAG’s jurisdiction also includes Imperial County. This Fall SCAG will welcome its 190th member city. In case you are keeping score:

    United Nations: 192 Member States
    Southern California Association of Governments: 190 Member Cities

  • Sorry to make you all feel left out. I’ll fix right now.

  • I once heard that SCAG’s board has more voting members than the California assembly…that’s a pretty huge amount of perspectives to bring together.

    btw – it’s great to see LAC Metro support the higher targets last week – would be even better if they continued to demonstrate that leadership in person at SCAG meetings – most of them all are voting members of the SCAG board too – the urban cores of Southern CA will carry much of the GHG reductions – we need the urban leaders to be part of SCAG’s discussions – others on the SCAG board would likely benefit from hearing from them directly at the regional meetings.

  • True Freedom

    If we have anything more than a 17% increase of population during the time period we reduce emissions by 15% per capita.. we’ve gained nothing. Sadly, most of the efforts of “smart growth” seem to target increasing population density.. even above current zoning limits in the name of reducing emissions. Sounds like we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

    More things to consider:
    1) having people live close to work sounds great. In the real world, people change jobs every five years on average. Few move each time. At my job, everyone could afford to live closeby, but that would mean selling the house, uprooting kids, etc. We have folks commuting to Pasadena from Long Beach, Santa Monica, and as far away as Murrieta. Thankfully, I live 3 miles away and bike to work.

    2) pollution is harmful on a global scale, but more harmful on a local scale. We may be able to cut emissions in half by crunching people into one tenth the physical space. Global emissions down by 50%, local emissions up by 250%. Is that the right tradeoff?

    3) Density runs the risk of increasing congestion. Increasing congestion decreases efficiency, increases pollution, increases stress, decreases productivity, health, and quality of life. Traveling on a open road can take a fraction of the time and produce far fewer emissions that driving a much shorter distance in congestion. We need to be very careful how we implement all this…



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