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Environment Report: County Celebrates Then Sinks Its Climate Plan

A view of the I-5 freeway near downtown San Diego during rush hour on March 5, 2020. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego County celebrated meeting 98 percent of its 2020 target [1] to cut greenhouse gas emissions in a kind of climate “mission accomplished” press release last week.

While we’re drawing analogies, if the county’s 2018 Climate Action Plan were the aircraft carrier from which President George W. Bush gave his infamous speech, the county is now preparing, despite the congratulatory press release, to sink its own ship under a court order.

Back in June, the Fourth District Court of Appeal told San Diego County to rewrite its Climate Action Plan because it wasn’t truly doing what it promised.

During the proceedings, the county argued that “all of the work that went into the Climate Action Plan is something that should be preserved.”

The court disagreed.

The problem was not that the county had offered 26 different strategies to meet targets to lower emissions, things like installing electric vehicle charging stations or reducing energy use at county facilities. The problem was that a portion of the plan allowed developers to build sprawling residential projects – thereby forcing new residents to drive more and burn more fossil fuels – and to counter those emissions by purchasing carbon offsets.

Carbon offsets act like investments a person or corporation can make in a green project, like tree-planting, which in theory offset the kinds of emissions that constructing a building or road might generate. But it’s hard to prove whether these offset programs do the green work they promise because developers can purchase offsets on an international marketplace, which have little oversight or accountability.

When the court ruled the county can’t count emissions reductions from carbon offsets toward its overall goal, it compromised the foundation of the plan’s math.

Though the county may have met its 2020 goal (which environmental advocates say wasn’t that hard since it needed to cut only 2 percent from its 2014 emissions) it must now recalculate its baseline, meaning it must figure out how much the county would be emitting without carbon offsets.

“We definitely met our 2020 target, but this (Climate Action Plan) is now defunct,” said Kelly Bray, the county’s sustainability project manager.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors will vote on a resolution [2] to “rescind” the old plan on Wednesday.

“Once we rescind, we’ll be starting over. We’ll have a new greenhouse gas emissions pie,” Bray said.

The county is just starting to look for a consultant to rework all those calculations, Bray confirmed.

By 2020, the county needed to cut 64,230 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions that have the same planet-warming power as carbon dioxide. That means the county can cut other kinds of gases, like methane from landfills, but it’s all measured against carbon dioxide, the most prolific greenhouse gas.

To think about it another way: That’s like pulling 13,876 cars off the road for a year. But to get real, long-term emissions reductions, the county has to pull 416,295 cars off the road by 2030.

Bray said the county has cut more than that.

“The sooner you start implementing measures, the greater reductions you get out of them over time,” Bray said.

Climate Action Campaign, a San Diego advocacy group, called the county’s climate report card “meaningless” because it has to rewrite the plan anyway.

“Whatever success metrics they claim to achieve are null,” said Matthew Vasilakis, the campaign’s co-director of policy. “The biggest thing is for the county (to) stop approving sprawl developments and using offsets as the mitigation.”

Bray said the reductions we’ve achieved are real and quantifiable.

San Diego’s ‘Pipe Dream’ Enters Politics

A candidate running for a seat on Imperial Valley’s irrigation district crafted a political ad against the San Diego County Water Authority’s proposal to build a multibillion-dollar pipe to the Colorado River [3], parallel to one that already exists.

It seems J.B. Hamby, a candidate for Imperial Irrigation District’s board of directors, is becoming the leading voice of opposition to the pipeline [4].

“It’s billions without benefit all for wealthy San Diego’s sprawl,” Hamby says in the online ad. “Don’t let San Diego suck our valley dry.”

Imperial County holds a century-old right [5] to one-fifth of all the water along the Colorado River, fueling a $2 billion agricultural industry that produces much of America’s winter vegetables.

California Is Lame for Not Having Fat Bear Competition

OK, this isn’t Southern California news – it’s not even California news at all. But Alaska has an online tournament [6] where voters select, bracket-style, the fattest bear living in Katmai National Park – and it’s amazing. For a state bearing a bear on its banner, California should be ashamed it hasn’t thought of this first.

Fat Bear Week celebrates Ursidae body image in the best way, as these omnivorous mammals are gorging before hibernation. In Katmai National Park, sockeye salmon is king of the menu and also home to one of the largest and healthiest runs remaining on the planet.

The competition begins Sept. 30 and runs through Oct. 6.

Fat is beautiful.

In Other News

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the year of the target for which the county celebrated meeting by 98 percent.