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Environmental Groups Call On County Leaders To Adopt New Climate Action Plan

A crane stands at a housing construction site in downtown San Diego in this undated photo.
KPBS
A crane stands at a housing construction site in downtown San Diego in this undated photo.
Environmental Groups Call On County Leaders To Adopt New Climate Action Plan
GUEST: Erik Anderson, environment reporter, KPBS Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

The Sierra Club spoke today about the next phase in its effort to get San Diego County to adopt a workable climate action plan. The County Board of Supervisors received a harsh rebuke in court earlier this week over its current plan to reduce greenhouse gases. The court ruled the plan does not meet guidelines set by the state and was particularly critical of the county's carbon emission offset program. That plan which would allow developers to buy carbon credits from around the world is central to new developments recently approved by the county. Joining me is K.P. vs environment reporter Eric Anderson. Eric welcome. My pleasure. You were at the press conference this morning so which groups were there and what was their message to county officials. Well the Sierra Club was there the Climate Action Campaign representative was there and their message was very clear it's almost as clear as the judge's ruling earlier in the week was look the county you've got to you've got to get on the stick here you've got to fix this problem you've got to address the issue. You've got to come up with a workable climate action plan that will stand up to legal muster and basically you have to protect the health of the citizens of San Diego County. Nicole caplets with climate action campaign says look it's on the county's shoulders to do what they can do to make sure that greenhouse gas emissions are mitigated here. We demand. That the county rewrite their plan to stay true to their general plan and maximize smart growth planning while also reducing car use. We deserve a region with clean air and clean water affordable housing near transit and effective public transit system that works for everybody. So that's pretty clear as to what it is they want the county to do. I think the big question is whether or not the county will do what these folks want. Well as I say Judge Timothy Taylor was particularly critical of this carbon offset program the county has argued that the use of carbon offsets from elsewhere in the world even could be allowed because greenhouse gas emissions go into the atmosphere around the globe. That argument though was rejected. Yeah he was particularly harsh on the county along these lines what he said basically was look the county their position is it's a global problem so we can take global solutions and the judge said look there's just no way to check up on this. If you buy carbon credits to support rainforest protection in Brazil how do you know that a year from now that that rainforest protection is even happening. You've spent the money you've bought the carbon credits but you don't have any way to prove that. And what's the benefit to San Diego County citizens the residents of this of the county of San Diego. What's the benefit to them. There's no real benefit to them which is what the county's own general plan calls for it says look when you do these developments that are outside of what we've already agreed are good areas you have to offset the impacts somewhere where San Diego County residents can get can see that benefit. Any idea how this ruling might impact the housing developments that are in the pipeline and were recently approved by the Board of Supervisors. Well if I was one of the developers of Newland Newland Sierra or Otai 250 or the Harmony Grove South project and there's another big one out there as well I'd be a little bit nervous because what basically the judge said was look I'm not going to arbitrarily take all these projects off the board because they violate that standard but I'm going to say using these carbon offsets is not something that I would support and I would not allow the county to go forward with more plans to do that. And he's encouraging the opponents of this idea to challenge those measures in court and use this argument in their challenge which the Sierra Club has challenged all those housing developments already and they do plan to deliver. The judge's ruling to the court where they're challenging these developments and it bolsters their chances to stop them where they are. Now this isn't the first time the county has gone to court over its climate action plan and actually lost isn't it. Yeah the county has kind of a checkered record on this right the very very first climate action plan they put together with sort of this clause i.e. a requirement voluntary kind of thing. We have these goals. We're going to try to reach that. It was rejected out of hand by the courts is not being enforceable. They were asked to go back and look at it and try to make it better. They made some changes. Those changes were challenged in a court in the courts again said look this is just not going to work for us so they went back and they rewrote the whole thing. They came up with this plan as a way of mitigating the greenhouse gas production that is done here in the county by element and the judge in this case now has said look this is not going to work either. This is not the thing so I think what the Sierra Club is asking and what the climate action plan folks are asking for the county to do is like look instead of spending all this time and energy developing these plans that get challenge and then end up losing in court. Why not spend that time and energy with us with our people and we'll work together to make sure that we get a climate action plan that actually does mitigate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions that does give a benefit to San Diego County residents. If additional developments are approved and put into place will as you say the ball is now back in the county's court and there are actually two new faces on the County Board of Supervisors next year. How might that change the dynamic when it comes to a climate action plan. Well I think that the folks who are pushing for a reasonable Climate Action Plan the Sierra Club the Climate Action Campaign are encouraged by the election of Nathan Fletcher. He's they've talked to him about his positions on climate change. They feel like he gets it. Whether or not they get enough support on the rest of the board we'll have to wait and see. One of the first actions of the board will take in January is deciding whether or not they're going to appeal this decision. That's something that they could do if they appeal it. You know resolution will be some time off in the distance and they'll basically put that off the folks who want a Climate Action Plan that works in San Diego County are suggesting that perhaps they use that energy to develop a plan that will meet legal muster. I've been speaking with KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Eric thanks. My pleasure.

A coalition of environmental groups called on San Diego County leaders Friday to draft and adopt a new climate action plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

This week, a San Diego County Superior Court judge found the county's climate action plan failed to comply with county and state goals to reduce emissions.

The judge also said that allowing developers to buy carbon credits from anywhere in the world to offset emissions produced by their projects is not acceptable and called the mitigation unenforceable and unverifiable.

"The county has to make a decision as to whether it's going to be business as usual, which has been fighting at every stage of the process in court. Or, if the county is going to take a new position or new approach and decide that instead of continuing through the courts to spend its effort and resources in preparing a climate action plan that will help protect the future of our children," said Josh Chatten-Brown, attorney for Sierra Club San Diego.

This is the third time the county's climate action plan has been challenged in court. If this ruling is upheld, it could become legal precedent and impact all other climate action plans in the state.

KPBS environment reporter Erik Anderson discusses Friday on Midday Edition how the ruling may impact several housing developments planned for the backcountry.