Sustainability and the American Dream: Closer Than You Think
Yesterday I opened up my mail to find the following report from the Cato Institute: “Reducing Livability: How Sustainability Planning Threatens the American Dream.” The author’s basic point is that Americans universally “aspire to live in a single family home with a yard” and that sustainability plans, like those of San Francisco and Portland, push people into high density, transit accessible areas that take away their basic freedoms. Instead, he says, if you want sustainability, provide more van and carpool options to get suburbanites to work.
As someone who studied urban planning, I could take on a number of points in this piece, not least of which is the theory that all Americans want the same kind of housing. I would bet real money that any number of Bay Area workers, especially those with below-median household incomes, would be thrilled to live a little closer to their jobs and to solid transit options. The SF-based organization SPUR does fantastic work on this issue.
But it’s also true that there are Californians who literally can’t get out of their cars and onto buses and trains, because of where they live (far flung rural areas) or what they do (jobs at night and other off-commute times). Those Californians deserve sustainable options too, like getting out of old, inefficient vehicles into cleaner and safer cars.
They also deserve to breathe cleaner air in their homes and on those endless commutes. Luckily, California just passed new truck pollution standards designed to do just that. As of January 1, drivers of heavy diesel trucks built after 1995 will need to install filters to reduce particulate matter pollution. Those driving models with older engines will have until early 2015 or 2016, depending on the model year, to purchase engines built in 2010 or later. This is no small thing: Heavy trucks produce 43 percent of California’s diesel particulate pollution and are a serious contributor to asthma and even cancer.
That’s what’s happening on the vehicle side. On the fuels side, the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, designed to encourage the production of cleaner transportation fuels, was just curtailed for the first time since it was implemented in 2007 – the U.S. EPA has reduced the amount of ethanol and biodiesel it will require fuel producers to blend into their products moving forward. That makes California’s own Low-Carbon Fuel Standard even more essential to changing our fuel mix here at home, but also may make it a little more challenging to achieve that goal.
In other news this past week (thanks to James Barba for his research, as always!):
- Gearing up for 2014: There are a number of possible ballot initiatives being teed up for 2014, among them an increase in the vehicle license fee, aka the “car tax”; an $11.1 billion water bond; and a school bond to raise funds for new construction and maintenance. There are currently three bills set for consideration in the new legislative session that would put new school funding to the voters: AB 41 (Buchanan), SB 45 (Corbett) and SB 301 (Liu). As I’ve argued many times in this blog, school facilities are a much-overlooked piece of the sustainability puzzle, and a new school bond could be a perfect place to make the connection.
- Speaking of that school/energy nexus: The first apportionment of Prop 39 funds is set to go out next week. The California Department of education will distribute $106 million to local educational agencies (LEAs) for energy planning activities. You can find your school district’s award amount in an apportionment schedule available here.
- And speaking of water: Capital Public Radio’s Katie Orr reports that California may only be able to meet 5 percent of our statewide water delivery requests in 2014. Yes, I said five percent. To be fair, early last year the Department of Water Resources projected 5 percent and actually met nearly 50 percent of demand. But there’s no question water scarcity is a growing threat to the state’s economy, especially to the more than 80,000 farms and ranches that produced $45 billion in output last year. And as I noted last week, water shortages also contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions: as hydropower capacity wanes, the state is forced to compensate with other baseload power options, primarily natural gas.
- Fracking (Note that I would have said “Speaking of natural gas”, except that we don’t actually do much fracking for natural gas in California – here, we extract mainly shale oil, which is just one of the many fracking facts that not many people know): The California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) released draft fracking regulations last week, and this week notified well operators of new disclosure requirements under SB4. Well operators planning to conduct well stimulation treatments such as fracking and acidizing will need to start actually telling their neighbors about it as early as December 2, 2013.
- State budget – good news for once!: According to California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, California is on track to end the current fiscal year with a $2.4 billion surplus. That’s not a typo, I said surplus! Hm, maybe it’s time to replace the funds taken from the AB32 cap and trade account and the school Emergency Repair Program? The latter commitment, as we have written in the past, has been punted each and every year since 2006.
- Warsaw walk-out: A group of 132 developing nations walked out of the ongoing U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, when wealthier member nations refused to meaningfully address the need for a mechanism to fund climate adaptation and relief efforts in the poorest and hardest hit countries. The growing costs of climate change and extreme weather events are being borne disproportionately by the world’s least developed nations, which have contributed least to the problem historically.
- Kinda embarrassing but kinda nice too: I just found out that I’ve been named one of Campaign and Elections Magazine’s list of the Top 50 Influencers in 2014. My wonderful colleagues did a press release this morning that made me blush. Thanks guys!
That’s it for this week! I’ll do a short post early next week in recognition that you all will be off your computers and phones over the Thanksgiving break (yes you will – you deserve it!). As we so often hear in global climate negotiations: Anon! Anon!