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Earth Day Puts Spotlight On San Diego's Environment

April 22, 2013 12:09 p.m.


Scott Anders, Director of USD's Energy Policy Initiative Center

Lani Lutar, Executive Director of Equinox Center

Related Story: Earth Day Puts Spotlight On San Diego's Environment


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: From super storms to persistent drought and sea level rise many scientists say the world is noticing the effects of climate change. It's a situation I might've said the founders of Earth Day 43 years ago. Many of them hope that the event would inspire a global movement that could avert environmental disasters. But there's also much to celebrate on this Earth Day 2013. People in San Diego are moving forward with plans and programs to conserve, improve and reduce our impact on the environment. I'd like to welcome my guests, Scott Anders is director of the University of San Diego's energy policy initiative center. Scott, welcome to the program.

SCOTT ANDERS: Thank you so much for having me, Maureen

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lani Lutar is here. She's been a guest many times on the show from the San Diego County taxpayers Association. She's the executive director of the equinox center and Lani welcome to the program.

LANI LUTAR: Thank you it's wonderful to be joining you on Earth Day.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes on earth did that's my first question to both let me start with you Lani San Diego is home to one of the biggest events for her stay here in the country how important you think the environment is to the average San Diego?

LANI LUTAR: Based on yesterday's turnout I would say that it's extremely important to San Diegans and what a wonderful event it was for everyone. I was able to make it out to Balboa Park. It was truly a family-friendly event. I took my two-year-old son and he had a blast. There were so many resources for people to learn how they could make an impact whether it's at your home or in your business to make sure that we are taking care of the community that we live in and what's so unique to San Diego is that we have businesses, a clean tech sector here that is thriving on not only how we can do things better, maximize technology to improve our environment but it's also creating jobs and putting money back into our local economy so we are very lucky here in San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Scott we have a wonderful turnout at the event here yesterday what about the other 364 days of the year? Out the important you think the environment is to San Diego?

SCOTT ANDERS: I think it's vital. San Diego is we have a very high quality of life.people come to San Diego for the weather, the beaches, the mountains. I think that good air quality, clean drinking water, all these things are the cornerstones of our regional quality of life which is high which is why people come to San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's get right into it then a few months ago the equinox centercame out with its 2013 dashboard report of the quality of life San Diego, covered a lot of ground. It covered air quality, climate change, entering energy, water, when it comes to air quality help is San Diego doing?

LANI LUTAR: What a researcher is the number of healthy air quality days decreased from 19 to 13 relative to the report that we did. It does lag a few years it's 2010 to 2011, and what we found is we are doing better than counties of Sacramento LA and San Bernardino but we are not at the top so there is still opportunity for improvement. San Francisco only had one unhealthy air quality day compared to us again which was as high as 13 and why is this important? When we are experiencing asthma and you have unhealthy situation, that is lower productivity for the workforce. And there's a cost to that. In California we spend $28 billion annually due to lost worker productivity as a result of these health issues that come from air quality that could be better.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: if I read the dashboard report correctly, Lani, the major factor of a continuing problem that we have here with air quality is vehicle emissions, Scott, and what that jive with the information you have at the policy center?

SCOTT ANDERS: We get an accounting of all the greenhouse emissions and let me make a distinction between Greece and greenhouse gas emissions which are, dioxide and other heat trapping gases, they are somewhat different when you talk about air quality does are different emissions but they come out of the same type if you will. What we found was about 45%. Carbon dioxide and heat trapping gases in San Diego County come from cars and trucks. We drive a lot of smiles here in San Diego in fact if you look at the number of miles driven in one year in San Diego is about 30,000,000,000 miles with a B. Just to put that in perspective that is about 60,000 round trips to the moon or 150 roundtrips to the sun. So our cars and trucks, not giant semis but our cars and trucks are the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions and by proxy also other air quality emissions as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We do have an awful big presence when it comes to electric vehicles don't we, as well, Scott?

SCOTT ANDERS: Yes San Diego County is one of the leading regions in the county so we have a burgeoning population of electric vehicles. It's just the beginning. Electric vehicles have not been around too long at least on a consumer basis so those numbers are growing and as the numbers grow the effects of driving actually reduce.

LANI LUTAR: And Maureen I can actually share some information that there is a new public-private partnership between mossy Toyota and the taxi operators along with the San Diego regional Airport Authority. Now more than 30% of the taxi fleet has switched to hybrids saving taxpayer operators over $12,000 a year in fuel and providing a 64% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the typical taxi model and the airport authority is actually converted to committed to converting all taxes and shuttles to alternative fuels by 2017. So there's a lot of great examples of steps we are taking in the right direction here in San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: that's on the positive side as well, let me ask one more question when it comes to air quality I was surprised to find that actually our buildings are one of the major sources of emissions.

SCOTT ANDERS: Let me explain again what we're looking at in the policy initiative center in the inventory of greenhouse gases I say greenhouse gases, what I mean is carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases you will hear GH Jesus well in conversations what we were looking at is carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases and cars and trucks again number one and electricity was about 25% and natural gas another eight or 9% and most of the energy used, most of the electricity and national gas used is associated with buildings. It's not as if there's a pipe coming out of the building and there are emissions coming out most of it is the electricity associated with the energy use of a building so for example, this KPBS studio you have lights, air-conditioning. So the electricity used in the building has emission somewhere out in the real world.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So most of that comes from these monitorable sources of energy. Let me ask you, Lani, about the renewable sources of energy is the county doing enough to find renewable sources, what did that dashboard report find out?

LANI LUTAR: In 2011 SDG&E did reach its goals of increasing global energy sources to 20% of total sales. We are talking about renewable energy, wind, geothermal, landfill gas. So we are certainly making progress, but again I think the theme you will hear from both Scott and I today is why we have made significant progress in the past 30 years there is still so much more that can be done and I want to share for your listeners that there are so many resources out there and one of them in terms of a website they can go to for more information from some of the partners at both epic and equipment center work with is the California Center for sustainable energy and their website is energy and what I love about what they have on the website is you can find not just ways to do better for the environment and Earth but also find ways to save money. People are almost always looking for ways to save, bottom line how they can say for their household there are all kinds of freebies available. When the website this morning and learned there's a clean vehicle rebate Project rebates of up to $25 per car for zero emission vehicles. So, again throughout the conversation and what I learned personally when I was at the Earth Day fair was all of the resources we have at our fingertips. San Diego is just a hub for that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Before a lot when it comes to San Diego, Scott, and how we are one of the advanced cities in the comes to the number of solar rooftops there are. He recently completed a series of reports looking at the permitting process for rooftop solar. Is the permitting process to complex?

SCOTT ANDERS: Let me just say that the solar side of things we have a fast growing fleet of solar power plants out there. They are typically located on homeowners roofs and businesses roofs over some parking lots. We have more than 17,000 systems out there. It's becoming a growing part of San Diego's electricity supply. The price of going solar, if you will, is coming down. The equipment costs have been coming down over the last 10 years or so. As those equipment costs come down, the non-equipment costs, the so-called soft costs and permitting and business costs required to go from the call to the contractor to actually having a system on your roof, so there's been a lot of attention placed on looking at these so-called soft costs. So our center was working with the California Center for sustainable energy again on their so-called Southern California rooftop challenge program and that's funded by the Department of Energy. And we looked at the permitting process and we looked at a sample of Southern California cities. We found that maybe I will flip your question and point to the best practices that we found in the region, so the city of San Diego, the city of Chula Vista have several best practices, best management practices when it comes to information access. How easy is it for a customer or resident to find information about going solar on the city's website? The application itself how hard or easy is it to find the application? How long does it take once you've applied for that to be process and there's an inspection process. So we looked at these and the city of Chula Vista and city of San Diego actually both a pretty good performance and employed some of the best management practices.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, I guess this is a pretty much loaded question but considering how much of the emissions comes from nonrenewable sources of energy, would you say, let me start with you, Scott, the continued closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant is a plus or minus for the environment?

SCOTT ANDERS: I had a funny feeling you're going to ask that so I thought about that driving in this morning and nuclear power plays an interesting role in our power mix today. It is not considered a renewable source under the law in California. So it does not count toward the 20 or 30% of renewables we are trying to get to, that Lani mentioned, but it is carbon free. So if you take San Onofre out of the mix it has to be replaced by something and is likely to be replaced by natural gas, which is a cleaner burning fossil fuels there may be some renewables in there, but is probably not being replaced with zero omissions like nuclear. So I would say on balance that with San Onofre out of the mix, emissions are probably going up, emissions of greenhouse gases and other criteria pollutants.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is interesting. Lani, what did the Equinox report say about our water quality?

LANI LUTAR: Unfortunately in the area of water quality, our news is not positive. Again, the data is lacking a few years because of when it is made available by public agencies. But when we looked at 2010 to 2011, the number of speech closers and advisories actually went up. Despite that, 97% of San Diego beaches earned A or B marks during dry weather from heal the Bay, although if you look at the wet weather only 76% received a or B as compared to cities like Los Angeles but far worse than San Francisco. I would say in the area of water quality is that we also have an issue with data integrity and even monitoring this especially in light of recent governmental budget cutbacks. So we have again a number of environmental groups that are doing phenomenal work in this area, one of them being San Diego coast keeper

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: To try to monitor it themselves?

LANI LUTAR: Exactly so SD coast if people are listening if they want to try to help out with this they try to ask volunteers help them through extensive training to do water quality monitoring so the coast keeper is able to fill the gap created by situations like right now when you have limited resources and the public sector they try to fill the gap they will not be able to do it all on their own but the help of volunteers can be very important and contribute to making sure we have accurate data so that we know exactly how we are doing. And of course I think many of the listeners have been following there was a story last week in the editorials and Union Tribune about the storm water regional storm water quality control Board and decisions they will be making in the near future and that is going to again impact our water quality so we have a lot of agencies looking at this but why is this important? It's not just about being able to feel confident that you are swimming and surfing in clean waters at the beaches. Our beaches as Scott spoke to at the beginning of the program, it is a source of our regional tourism economy. So we have lots of reasons we want to make sure that our water is clean and continue to make sure that it not only is going to be clean, but even cleaner than it is today. We know from the data that we could be doing better, so that we can continue to have San Diego be a prosperous place for tourists to want to come visit because it's very competitive as we've talked about in the recent debate at City Hall over what happens when you don't have marketing dollars to courage people to come to San Diego

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I am almost out of time sort of inconceivably here but I wanted to make sure that I asked this question of Scott just last Friday a judge ruled that San Diego County's climate action plan does not meet state requirements. He says the plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gases has no enforcement regulations and deadlines. Do ou agree that the climate action plan needs work?

SCOTT ANDERS: I did see the ruling and everybody in San Diego County is looking at that particularly the cities doing climate plans we've been involved in supporting the city of San Diego and their climate planning efforts so we've been looking at that carefully I have reviewed the County of San Diego plan. I think at this point it is so early in the process this is the one of the earliest rulings we have heard this case is likely to be appealed like the judge said in his own ruling. The County plan does include targets. I think one of the questions we're going to be asking as the case goes forward is what is enforceable, what does that mean and how do you prove something is enforceable in a plan so it will be interesting to see how this goes forward but what I can say is that all of us in the region who are working with climate planning and particularly the cities in the process of developing claimant plans which is at least half of the cities are cities that have already adopted plans. Cities are looking to develop plans and so we are watching this very carefully to see how this plays out.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there has been speaking with Scott Anders director of USD's energy policy and efficient if the center and Lani Lutar, San Diego director of the equinox center thank you both very much.

LANI LUTAR: Thank you for having us.