Much ado about something
Looking beyond the hype surrounding Chico’s nebulous greenhouse-gas survey
Amid political controversy, Danny Salazar has somehow remained relatively at ease with his role heading an environmental survey that Chico leaders are counting on.
Chosen by Chico State as the project manager, he’s kept his composure despite his rather tedious task of tallying the entire greenhouse-gas emissions of Chico—and amid local rumblings questioning his expertise.
Salazar is not a Chico State student, although one would assume so from reading a recent post about the survey by Lon Glazner, a former Chico Sustainability Task Force member and NorCalBlogs blogger, who calls Salazar a graduate student.
Salazar, who did attend Chico State, conducted a greenhouse-gas inventory for the university as his master’s thesis and has since completed an inventory for the city of Fort Bragg. Glazner acknowledges the latter but questions the use of student assistants in a study that some think will influence significant decisions: “Would you put your life in the hands of $10/hour interns?”
Salazar is the first to admit his job won’t be easy. He’s charged with determining the greenhouse-gas production of all city agencies—including the Police Department and road maintenance crews—and all infrastructure associated with the city for the past year, as well as from 1990. He’s also tabulating the community’s output for those years.
In many instances, his task will involve gathering records for energy and transportation. A specialized computer program will convert the data into a reasonable estimate of greenhouse-gas levels. The undertaking certainly sounds daunting, which is why Salazar is hiring three student interns to help gather records and assist with data entry.
The most tedious part of completing the inventory will be going into every city building to collect gas and electric bills, he said.
Every city has different challenges when it comes to lowering emissions, Salazar said. By identifying the problems within Chico, decision-makers will be better informed to tailor a plan for reducing emissions and energy consumption.
“People have been talking for years about changing the inefficient light bulbs in the City Council room,” Salazar said. “Hopefully this inventory will be a means for change.”
While Glazner and others in the blogosphere have questioned the methods behind the study, its funding has been equally controversial.
City councilmembers agreed last month to allocate funds for the $30,000 survey, but the issue wasn’t without debate. During some intense discussion, Councilman Larry Wahl (who cast the lone no vote) reminded the panel of the city’s budget crisis. His frustrations were obviously compounded by his opposition about a year earlier to the proposed U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.
In October 2006, Wahl was among three councilmembers who voted against signing onto the agreement. He and others questioned the financial ramifications of the document, but were assured there were none. After the agreement passed 4-3, its details fell to a newly formed Sustainability Task Force (the same group that ultimately recommended the allocation of funds for the survey).
A month after that meeting, the council’s makeup changed. Chico voters bid adieu to incumbent Councilman Dan Herbert, who also voted against the agreement. That left just Wahl and Councilman Steve Bertagna as the conservative minority on the seven-person panel.
Surprisingly, Bertagna, the other holdout on the climate protection agreement, supported the recent allocation to Chico State to complete the inventory.
Bertagna says he cast his vote strictly for economic reasons. He believes climate change is a natural process occurring independent of emissions, but said reducing them is the “right thing to do” for the local economy.
“Green is the biggest buzzword in the economy right now,” he said. “I believe that this is the way to economic development.”
Councilman Scott Gruendl was finishing his term as mayor in the fall of 2006 when he brought the climate protection agreement to the table. He was the second California mayor to successfully sign onto the document.
Originally the brainchild of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, the agreement asks cities to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to the levels stipulated in the international Kyoto Protocol, a treaty outlined a decade ago calling for a worldwide effort to curb emissions production below the levels found in 1990.
The United States was one of very few developed nations not to sign onto the accord when it went into effect a few years ago. Since that time, many dissenting state and local governments have been working to meet the guidelines within their own jurisdictions.
Based on bids from outside consultants, Gruendl insists the city is getting a bargain by contracting with the university.
“They’re doing about $90,000 worth of work for $30,000,” he said.
Because he and the interns can focus exclusively on the task, Salazar expects to complete the study in six months, as opposed to what could take other consulting firms up to two years. Already about a month into the project, he plans to give a progress report by the end of January at Chico State.
When the study is complete, Salazar anticipates making suggestions that would not only reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but also will save the taxpayers money on energy. Some examples may include increasing the use of alternative fuels, such as ethanol, by the police fleet and other government vehicles; making roads bicycle-friendly; and installing more solar arrays.
While a majority of councilmembers appear committed to the local climate initiative, the endeavor still faces challenges. Salazar said the hardest part of lowering overall emissions will be getting businesses involved in the effort. Whether or not his suggestions are implemented by the council and the public is beyond his control.
“Ultimately, this is up to the community,” he said.