As a legislative committee reviewed the Air Resources
Board’s plan to reduce greenhouse gasses, a deal was announced
on a new bill that will implement a key piece of the
plan, and give the state a voice in limiting urban
A broad coalition, including environmentalists, builders
and local governments, crowded into a Capitol hearing
room Wednesday to announce an agreement on a bill,
SB 375 by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. It would give new regional councils, and
the state Air Resources Board, new authority over local
land-use and transportation planning decisions.
The goal, say stakeholders, is to create new, “smart-growth” developments that combine infill housing and transportation
hubs to reduce the need to drive automobiles.
Under the agreement, developers would be able to expedite
their projects and get
exemptions from the California Environmental Quality
Act, the state’s principal environmental protection statute. In return,
environmentalists would have a greater say in how and
where projects are located to best reduce greenhouse
“SB 375 would become the vehicle to implement the land use
portion of AB 32,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air
Resources Board. “It would carry out the draft scoping plan for the land-use sector.”
The amended SB 375 is expected to be heard in Assembly Appropriations
Under the draft plan released by the ARB in June, the
state seeks to eliminate 2 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions through land-use decisions that will reduce the need for Californians
to drive. But Nichols said the ARB would not get involved
in micromanaging local land-use decisions.
“The ARB will not be making land-use decisions,” she said. “We will just set targets. It will be up to the locals
to implement the plans that meet those targets.”
Under its plan to implement AB 32, the ARB has devised a framework that would reduce
greenhouse gas emissions by 169 million metric tons over the next 20 years -– a 30 percent reduction from current 2020 projections.
Steinberg said if his bill is signed into law, it will
become a key part of that plan.
“I’m proud that local governments, housing builders, environmental
advocates and others all recognize that to reduce greenhouse
gasses and promote a better way of life, our communities
must change the way they grow.”
In the draft plan, about 1.5 percent of that reduction - 2 million metric tons -- is expected to come from land-use decisions.
Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, said he would like to see land-use decisions account for a bigger piece of the overall
greenhouse gas reductions set forth in AB 32.
“The governor talked about 18 million metric tons at one point,” Jones said Wednesday. “It concerns me that we’re really missing an opportunity to do more.”
Steinberg said SB 375 could well lead to larger greenhouse gas reductions,
but those targets would ultimately be set by the ARB.
Under the deal hatched in SB 375, developers would get assurances that new developments
would be streamlined. They would also get key exemptions
from the California Environmental Quality Act.
“The CEQA relief is huge for us,” said Ed Manning, lobbyist for the California Major
Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo said she was confident
the bill would allow local cities to retain control
over land-use decisions. “This bill sets forward goals and objectives on a regional
level, but leaves decisions to the jurisdictions themselves,” she said.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Tom Adams, president of the California
League of Conservation Voters, said the bill mounted
to “new authority for the ARB.”
“This bill lets the ARB set targets for greenhouse gas
emissions, but all planning decisions will be left
to the local governments.”
Steinberg said his bill does not punish cities that
refuse to adhere to the regional growth plan. But it
would push those cities to the back of the line when
it comes time to dole out the more than $5 billion in federal and state transportation funds
that are available to cities annually.
But land use is a small portion of the overall AB 32 implementation plan.
A variety of interests - environmental, pro-business and legislative - said the proposals before the ARB lack critical detail,
such as market modeling and analyses of how the “cap-and-trade” system actually would work in practice.
Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Riverside, said he was concerned that AB 32 was being implemented without enough consideration
over how the new restrictions would impact the state’s economy.
“The ARB is pursuing a wide range of ideas without a
firm grasp of the economic costs,” he said. “I don’t know how we can honestly evaluate the strategies
in the scoping plan without that analysis.”
Nichols said the ARB was “in the process of completing macroeconomic modeling” to try to come up with the proper regulatory mix to
reach the greenhouse gas reduction goals without harming
the state’s economy. She expects those models to be released
later this month.
But, she said, there are “limits on the details of modeling,” and that the ARB would not be able to come up with
a dollar figure connected to the implementation costs
of AB 32.
“I’m setting you up now for disappointment,” she said.
Democrats also had some criticisms of the plan, saying
it was too cautious and vague.
“It’s a reasonable but cautious approach,” Kehoe said of the ARB’s proposal. “My main criticism is that the plan was not nearly detailed
enough. The discussions that went on between ARB staff
and other stakeholders were on a much more detailed
level than what was reflected in the plan.”
Kehoe said “the appendix cured a little bit of that,” but some big questions remain.
Among them is the notion of a western regional market
that has emerged as a critical issue in California’s law to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The original
law, AB 32 by former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, Assemblyman Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, makes no mention of such a system. But
last year, the governors of several states jointly
announced their support of the regional market, called
the Western Climate Initiative.
But environmentalists remain concerned at the WCI,
an informal body that was created a year after the
passage of the California law. One critic likened the
WCI to a political adjunct of the highly-political Western Governor’s Association and described it as a “political chat room of the governors, with lots of
flash and dash.” Another questioned the governors’ regional authority to create and enforce the carbon-credit market.
“WCI isn’t like some governing body. It is just a decision-making forum. The final recommendations will be in
September, and then it will be up to the states to
implement them,” said Jason Barbose of Environment California, which
has raised questions about the WCI. “That agreement isn’t binding in any legal sense,” he added.