Santa Barbara County is on track to meet or exceed the state target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, based on a report delivered Sept. 12 to the Board of Supervisors, who directed staff to investigate more ways to reduce the county’s carbon footprint.
Supervisors voted 4-1, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting, to accept and file the first Energy and Climate Action Plan Progress Report since the board adopted the plan in May 2015.
The decision included a directive to the County Sustainability Committee, which is tasked with implementing the plan, to develop options for a miles-per-gallon standard with a list of which county vehicles it could apply to.
The committee was also directed to have the Human Resources Department become more involved in the effort, collaborate with cities, nonprofit organizations and industry and present the board with a workshop on carbon farming.
Adam voted “no” because he doesn’t believe in the plan and explained his position to a group of students in the audience.
“We’re forming all this stuff on your back, because we’re not taking care of the roads and were not taking care of the buildings,” he said. “When you get here, you’re going to find buildings uninhabitable, unusable, and you have to give us new buildings.”
Adam said putting up solar arrays to save money is fine, except it will be seven to eight years to realize a return on the investment. Instead, he said, the county should be putting those funds into things that will make an immediate difference in people’s lives and the local economy.
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf immediately disagreed.
“I want to tell you just the opposite of what was told to you by Supervisor Adam,” she said to the students. “What was not mentioned was the health of the community. Every one of us bears some responsibility (for that).”
The plan and report on its progress through 2016 was developed by the Sustainability Committee, consisting of 16 staff members representing 10 county departments and divisions plus two representatives of partner agencies — the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and County Air Pollution Control District.
Jennifer Cregar, project supervisor for the Energy and Sustainability Initiatives Division, said the plan “was a way of showing our commitment to meeting the state greenhouse gas reduction goals” of cutting 2007 emissions by 15 percent by 2020.
In that 2007 base year, the county was producing a little more than 1.19 million metric tons of carbon equivalent, she said. By 2016, that number was a little less than 1.06 million metric tons.
“Currently, we’re 14 percent below the 2007 level, so we’re just 1 percent short of our goals,” Cregar told the board, pointing out the plan only refers to the county’s unincorporated areas and does not include its cities.
But she noted Gov. Jerry Brown just issued a new directive calling for a 40-percent reduction in emissions by 2030.
“We will need to update (the plan) to make the state’s deeper goals,” she said.
The current plan identified actions the county and community can take to reach the 2020 goal.
Those include upgrading the county fleet with newer, less-polluting vehicles, encouraging businesses to participate in the food scraps collection, recycling and composting programs and promoting homeowners to participate in the emPower solarization and SBCAG Traffic Solutions programs.
The plan also streamlines the environmental review process, required by the California Environmental Quality Act, for such projects as large-scale solar arrays or mixed-use developments to reduce commuting.
In fact, transportation is the county’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by residential energy and then commercial energy use.
Cregar said the county’s progress toward meeting its goal is measured in two ways. One is the “snapshot” approach, which measures the change in emissions every two to five years but can’t attribute the changes to specific actions.
“We are very much on track to meet climate action goals and in line with where other jurisdictions are” based on the snapshot approach, she said.
The other method is the “livestream” approach, which she called the “gold standard,” that measures emissions annually or more often and ties changes in emissions to specific actions, although she noted some data is currently not available.
“We really need both to tell us the complete story,” Cregar said.
The next steps for the county and committee are to work on improving reporting and implementation, completing the greenhouse gas inventory update and revise the plan by the end of 2020 to meet the deeper state reduction targets, continue streamlined environmental reviews and possibly include smaller cities in the reduction efforts.
Public comment on the plan was mixed, from disdain to encouragement.
Andy Caldwell, of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, said the board is suffering from the belief “we can all make a difference.”
While the county is trying to deal with about 2 million metric tons of emissions, Caldwell said the state has to deal with 440 million tons and China is putting out 8.5 billion tons.
“This is global,” he said. “We’re supposed to be dealing with it on a global basis. … What you’re doing doesn’t matter.”
But Cameron Gray, transportation and climate specialist for the Community Environmental Council, disagreed.
“There are things we can do and this county’s (efforts) do matter,” he said. “You can be a leader. There are real societal and environmental benefits.”
First District Supervisor Das Williams agreed.
“I think one of the worst (things) we tell ourselves is we don’t make a difference,” he said, adding, “I hope we’ll make a lot more progress in the next year.”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said the plan is showing a lot of efficiencies.
“Whether you believe in climate change or not, it’s good to have things improve efficiency,” he said.
Board Chairwoman and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann pointed out the county’s plan did earn an award.
She said what’s important is “what’s going to make the future better for you.”