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California’s local governments have heavy lift to deal with climate change

California’s local governments are thinking about staffing up for climate change related challenges. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson finds staffing could be a key to unlocking federal funding.

California’s local governments are thinking about staffing up for climate change-related challenges and how that will help them cope.

A new report from the nonpartisan group Next 10 — Getting to Implementation — tried to gauge how ready the state’s local governments are when it comes to dealing with a warming planet.

“Really, so much of climate action happens at the local level, at a city, town and county level,” said Next 10 founder Noel Perry.


Local municipalities will deal with climate impacts, which could be storms, drought, heatwaves or disasters like wildfires, according to the report.

The governments also need to prepare themselves to apply for the billions of dollars in federal funding that is expected to be available soon.

“There’s going to be significant funds coming into California from the Inflation Reduction Act and the infrastructure law that President Biden instituted,” Perry said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing competition for the agency's Climate Pollution Reduction Grants. Up to $4.6 billion is available under the competitive grant program.

The EPA is also releasing $7 billion to get rooftop solar to low-income communities around the country.


And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is making more than $2 billion available to increase climate resiliency nationwide as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law.

And the report found money remains an issue for local governments.

“The number of jurisdictions that responded that funding was the number one resource that could help support Climate Action from a plan to implementation was a surprise to us, given the historic funding we’ve seen come from the federal government and state government,” said Hanna Payne, of the U.C. Berkeley Center for Law Energy and the Environment.

The state’s local governments are at varying stages of readiness.

About one-third of the state’s local governments responded to a survey seeking to gauge the extent of climate planning.

Only about half of the governments responding to the survey said they are investing money and time into Climate Action Plans (CAP).

CAPs are blueprints for how a community plans to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and help the state reach mandated climate goals.

In San Diego County, 17 local governments have or are developing climate action plans. Poway is the only local incorporated area without one.

“Climate Action Plans are very expensive to prepare,” said Louise Bedsworth, a U.C. Berkeley researcher at the Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment.

The survey finds local governments are aware of the challenges they face as the planet warms. Nearly half of respondents say tapping into state and federal funding is “not easy.”

“I think that not every jurisdiction has the resources or perhaps the political will to do so,” Bedsworth said. “But even where we didn’t see, where jurisdictions didn’t have a Climate Action Plan we saw them integrating climate into their general plan or into their hazard mitigation plan.”

Government staffing continues to be a major roadblock for positive climate action. Only 6% of the survey respondents reported having more than five employees working on climate change issues.

One-third of those who responded had no staff working on greenhouse gas emission reductions.

That could severely restrict California’s ability to meet its aggressive climate goals.

“I would say California is just doing OK,” Perry said. “It’s really unclear if we’re going to hit our 2030 goals. We look at this. We know what we need to do between now and 2030. And the reduction in emissions is quite a bit more than what we’ve been doing.”

And the report finds many jurisdictions need more resources to deal with climate related disasters.