Gas emissions

County adopts an ‘encouraging’ climate action plan

Butte County Supervisor Larry Wahl cast the lone no vote against the county’s Climate Action Plan, which was mandated by state legislation.

Butte County Supervisor Larry Wahl cast the lone no vote against the county’s Climate Action Plan, which was mandated by state legislation.

file photo BY howard hardee

The Butte County Board of Supervisors, acting under the mandate of state law, adopted a Climate Action Plan Feb. 25 that is more advisory in nature than demanding. The plan’s purpose is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and was approved by a 4-to-1 vote, with Supervisor Larry Wahl strongly opposing it.

Tim Snellings, the county’s development services director, and Dan Breedon, a principal planner in the Development Services Department, were tasked with drawing up the plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 15 percent by 2020. The year 2006 is the baseline year as directed by state legislation—Assembly Bill 32 and Senate Bill 375, which were passed in 2008. The board adopted a revised version of the county plan that substitutes the word “encourage” for the word “require” in six plan actions.

Breedon told the board members the plan was designed to meet requirements set by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but that they did have the option of removing one or more of the actions included in the plan, which should still allow it to achieve the state’s required reduction in emissions.

He recommended the board approve the plan as presented, with requirements to expand renewable energy sources by calling for things such as solar energy for new housing developments of 500 units or more, solar options for multifamily developments as well as nonresidential development, and maximizing the roof space of each to accommodate solar panels. The plan would have required that construction equipment operators “reduce fuel use and cut emissions.”

Additionally, it would have required electric vehicle outlets on external walls or inside garages on all new residential construction.

There was also a section in the plan calling for guidelines requiring employers in the county with more than 50 employees to “implement a transportation-demand management program to reduce drive-alone trips and support ridesharing, public transit, walking and bicycling.” The authority for that was also reduced from being required to just being encouraged.

“This should be a voluntary program based upon some outreach to local businesses about measures they can take to conform to the cap to reduce trips,” Breedon said.

Breedon said existing county staff should be able to manage the Climate Action Plan and encourage its implementation. The plan calls for the county to work with the local chambers of commerce to promote the alternative transportation strategies, with the county providing facilities for carpooling and park-and-ride programs.

The plan also calls for the reduction of methane gas emissions produced by decomposing waste at the Neal Road landfill. This would include adopting an ordinance calling for a 75 percent diversion rate from the landfill by 2020.

“A lot of this is about capitalizing on efforts that are ongoing, either on the public side or the private side, and taking credit for them as a goal for reducing greenhouse gases, and measuring that and aligning ourselves with state law,” Breedon said.

Gov. Jerry Brown has called for 1.5 million electric vehicles to be operating in the state by 2025, he noted, and that “translates into charging stations at homes, businesses and public facilities.”

“You go down to Sacramento [and] every parking garage has charging stations,” Breedon said. “Actually, you can get free parking if you charge [your vehicle], so there are a lot of incentives around that. We know where California is going, so we are planning on incorporating the vision into our climate action plan.”

Supervisor Wahl questioned the overall cost of the Climate Action Plan and suggested that replacing thermostats for efficiency, as called for in one part of it, will add up. He said the county was already doing enough to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions.

Wahl did not like the call for pre-wiring for solar panels or the call for charging outlets for electric cars. He also questioned the encouragement of businesses to develop transportation management programs.

“Why should we even do it?” Wahl asked. “Businesses will do that if it makes good economic sense and makes good sense for their employees. So I think that ought to be struck out of the whole plan completely.”

Four people spoke during the public comment period, including Raymond Schimmel, who questioned the notion of climate change. He said he did place solar panels on his house last year “because it penciled out” economically.

Schimmel referred to an opinion piece that Charles Krauthammer recently wrote in The Washington Post called “The myth of ‘settled science’” that called climate change into question. In the piece, Krauthammer describes himself as a “global-warming agnostic,” saying that while he’s not sure if human-caused climate change is real, he does question the dire predictions “environmental advocates” support, which call for governmental regulation that he called “socially destructive.”

In the end, Supervisors Maureen Kirk, Doug Teeter, Steve Lambert and Bill Connelly voted to adopt the Climate Action Plan, and Wahl voted no.

“This whole thing is a job-killer—it’s anti-growth, anti-development and it is not friendly to business in any sense of the word,” Wahl said.