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Court says California planners must consider climate impacts of emissions from the transportation sector
Bob Berwyn | Summit County Voice


Effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a global level means tackling transportation, which accounts for more than 25 percent of all CO2 emissions in the U.S. bberwyn photo.

Planners and elected officials may not be able to ignore the climate impacts of transportation for much longer. A California appeals court last week ruled against the San Diego Association of Governments in a lawsuit centered on a freeway oriented plan that fails to assess climate and public health risks of a transportation plan that invests heavily in freeways and subsidizes sprawl at the expense of public transit.


The transportation sector is the second biggest source of greenhouse gases (28 percent, just behind power generation (32 percent). he majority of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion of petroleum-based products, like gasoline, in internal combustion engines.


According to the EPA, the largest sources of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions include passenger cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans. These sources account for over half of the emissions from the sector. The remainder of greenhouse gas emissions comes from other modes of transportation, including freight trucks, commercial aircraft, ships, boats, and trains as well as pipelines and lubricants.


A coalition of conservation groups challenged the regional plan under the California Environmental Quality Act, joined by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.


“The court of appeal confirmed that San Diego County officials can’t sweep the threat of climate disruption under the rug,” said Kevin Bundy, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we’re going to make the changes necessary to avoid global warming’s worst effects, our leaders must be honest with us about the long-term consequences of their choices. California’s extended drought is teaching us that the stakes are very high.”


The decision signals that agencies must evaluate their long-term projects for consistency with the climate pollution reductions that climate scientists and California policymakers agree are necessary by mid-century to avoid the worst effects of climate disruption. The decision further requires agencies to take real, concrete steps to address climate impacts — not just “kick the can down the road,” as the superior court put it.


SANDAG also failed to disclose available information about existing air pollution problems, failed to detail how the transportation plan’s increase in pollution from cars and trucks could harm public health in neighboring communities, and failed to take meaningful steps to reduce that pollution.


In addition, the court faulted SANDAG for failing to consider any alternative to its plan that focused on reducing the number of miles that residents drive. Even though SANDAG’s own “climate action strategy” acknowledges the need for such reductions in driving,


SANDAG only analyzed alternative scenarios that addressed short-term congestion relief rather than long-term reductions in driving. Finally, the court found SANDAG used incomplete and inaccurate data to assess the plan’s effects on agricultural land.


“Other regional planning agencies throughout California have properly analyzed the environmental and public health impacts associated with their long-range transportation and land use plans; SANDAG didn’t even try to complete an accurate analysis,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California. “We salute the court for holding SANDAG to account on these important issues.”


SANDAG never disputed that its 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy would increase climate-disrupting greenhouse gas emissions from development and transportation through mid-century, at precisely the time that the best science — reflected in a landmark executive order signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — shows dramatic reductions are necessary to avoid dangerous climate disruption.


SANDAG’s 2050 Plan would have put the region’s greenhouse gas emissions at a level about 700 percent higher than the state-mandated target for emissions reductions in 2050.


“Our leaders in San Diego are sadly ineffectual when it comes to making the changes that will ensure a brighter future for San Diegans,” said Jana Clark of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation. “Taking steps to reduce regional air pollution is essential for local residents today and for generations to come. I hope that SANDAG has gotten the wake-up call it needs to finally change its old-school approach to transportation planning.”


The SANDAG plan’s heavy reliance on automobile transportation will lead to overall and per capita increases in greenhouse gas emissions that directly conflict with both state policy and climate science.