How to cut greenhouse gas emissions? California finds devil in the detail

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By Jesse McKnight

Executive Vice President, The Saint Consulting Group

greenhouse-gasCalifornia enjoys a reputation for leading the US, and sometimes the world, in many ways to curtail global warming, but it is finding the devil is in the detail with its efforts to quantify green house gases and develop reduction programs.

Translating good intentions into clear criteria and feasible deadlines for changing the way California homes are built or insulated is proving elusive, if not confusing for developers already struggling in the world’s eighth largest economy.

Such is the global warming challenge if America must be to the world what California is to America, writes Thomas L. Friedman in Hot, Flat and Crowded.

In 2006, the State Legislature approved the Global Warming Solutions Act – otherwise known as AB 32 – to the Health and Safety Code. AB 32 establishes criteria and deadlines for reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions.

It specifically requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to quantify Green House Gases and develop reduction programs. These programs, ultimately, will be implemented by local agencies and builders; but AB 32 does not expressly impose additional California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) burdens or place requirements on new individual projects. Here is where things get sticky. Take a look at the Governor’s Technical Advisory on CEQA and Climate Change. Download OPR_Technical_Advisory_Publication Ready_June 19 20081 (3)

Many development project opponents – including the Attorney General – assert that CEQA requires analysis of any non-exempt potentially significant environmental impacts, including climate change, and AB 32 further supports the obligation the Environmental Impact Reviews (EIRs) consider and mitigate climate change impacts.

I expect we will see more direct rules on CEQA climate change analysis in the next year or two. At this point, climate change analysis is somewhat amorphous.

An optimistic press release from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office heralds the state’s progressive efforts as “another first for California, which continues to lead the nation and the world in its aggressive fight against global warming.”

Yet, the reality of disputes over the reach and appropriateness of climate change analysis must pose questions for other states considering similar battles. Will the current economic recession slow down or expedite the implementation of programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Do these requirements give you pause to develop in California? What opportunities may present themselves with these new requirements?

Jesse McKnight is executive vice president of The Saint Consulting Group, email or call 510 279 4271.

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