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Can California Hit Its Emission Reduction Goals? Only If Californians Drive A Lot Less, Study Says.

Traffic on a San Diego freeway is shown in this file photo, Nov. 22, 2011.
Associated Press
Traffic on a San Diego freeway is shown in this file photo, Nov. 22, 2011.
Can California Hit Its Emission Reduction Goals? Only If Californians Drive A Lot Less, Study Says.
Can California Hit Its Emission Reduction Goals? Only If Californians Drive A Lot Less, Study Says. GUEST: Chanell Fletcher, director, ClimatePlan

When the disturbing conclusions of the Fourth National Climate Assessment were released last week we all might have taken some small consolation that we live in California after all our state has the most ambitious climate action plan in the nation. But a report released this week by the California Air Resources Board finds regions of California including San Diego County are not on target to meet greenhouse gas emission goals. Joining me is Shanelle Fletcher. She's director of Climate Plan California a nonprofit group that advocates for sustainable land use and transportation policies. Chanel welcome to the program. Thank you so much for having me. So how far off target did the Air Resources Board find regionally missions. They found and I mean this is something that I think we as advocates who've been working on the ground on these plans for a long time have known they found that to be quite frank we're not even close in terms of reaching the targets for 2020 or 2035. And is transportation the crucial part of why we're are. We're not close. That's exactly it. And I think that's one of the things that we wanted to really reinforce when I think we kind of heard the great news that we reached our 2020 climate goals four years early. We were very excited that we were also I think very cautious and wanted to let people know transportation emissions are rising. And so it's going to be even more challenging to meet those 2030 goals. I think this report underscores the fact that we're still seeing it increase in a lot of that is due to the fact that we haven't done enough to reduce how much we drive. Can you break it down for us. Why is transportation such a crucial part of whether we're able to meet the climate goals. Sure. You know a lot of it comes from the fact that we've built out a system and a lot of us as you know 60 years building out an impressive highway system that allows us to drive a great deal without driving. What we're seeing is we're seeing more climate pollution coming out of these cars because their fossil fuel cars. I think one of the solutions that people talked a lot about for example is electric vehicles. We support that but we realize that that's not going to be the main thing. And so I think as long as we continue to keep driving keep building roads and keep building highways we're going to keep seeing these increases in climate pollution which will also cause I think the global warming that we're seeing right now and our vehicles the single biggest polluter in California Morville sources are definitely the single biggest polluter and that includes cars light duty trucks. And it also includes free. So it's definitely the mobile sources that we're seeing now here in San Diego. Our regional government organizations Sandbag has been criticized for developing regional transportation plans that critics say prioritize freeways over public transit. I'm wondering is that a major problem statewide. That is definitely a trend that we have seen and we have pushed again since that I think a lot of these plans have prioritized roads and highways. I think what we have seen this though is we have seen a shift in some plans and I want to there's definitely readers that want to call out and say they're investing more funding in public transit. I would say that the tension is is that in terms of actually what's getting funded first we're still seeing the roads and highways getting funded first over transit and walking and bicycle and infrastructure and apparently use of public transport is actually decreasing in San Diego is that happening in other places as well. There is a report that came out from them looking out on Los Angeles County where you're seeing the same thing where you're seeing transit ridership decrease. And one of the points that we've kind of always said about this is that when you have invested you know again in a highway system for 60 years and you're still prioritizing the roads. We can't you know it's hard to compete with that. And so what we really need to do is start to shift where funding is going to better line up with our climate goals. And we know what's going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It's going to be transit walking and bicycling. What are the challenges at the local level. Better stopping planning agencies like sandbag from investing in transit and affordable housing you know sort of near job centers right. And I think one of the biggest challenges and I'm sure that you know I think I said I would also agree is that there's scene that doesn't control land use and so at the local level we're still seeing a lot of that kind of sprawl development being built into local plans. And so part of what we would really push for and want to see is greater consistency requirements from the state so that regions like sandbag can actually say to the local jurisdictions we need you to actually be consistent with what we're planning for us that we're not necessarily approving developments you know out far out we're actually pretty close to job centers and transit. Well that reminds me because back in 2008 when California's SB 375 law that set emission goals was approved people noted that there was no enforcement measure to make sure regions got on board with the climate goals. In hindsight do you think that was a mistake. Yes I think I only hesitated because I think we realized that it was a challenge to keep that law through and so we're very grateful and supportive. That was definitely one of the big kind of missing pieces that we really need to see. You know cities counties and regions working together. And the fact that there wasn't that accountability or that enforcement to do so has made it very challenging to really implement as 75 as we wanted to. Now the report outlines best practices of agencies that seem to have overcome some of the challenges that we've been talking about. Can you tell me about some of those yeah. I think what I would say with some of these best practices that I would say that some of these bigger challenges that we've been discussing around transportation funding and I think the lack of enforcement. I think those are things that I don't think that those best practices address but I do think that regions have found a lot of innovative innovative ways. As the report outlines two ways to increase community engagement to get more people involved in this process. And that's something that we've celebrated and we've wanted to see it. So it's been exciting for example in San Diego to see how many local advocates and community organizations like environmental health coalition or any action campaign are working on these plans. Do we still have a chance of making the goals. We believe that we do. I think we have to kind of we'll probably three big recommendations that we would say. I think one of the big things is that we really need to start looking at where the money is going and making sure that all of our transportation dollars are geared towards meeting our transport to our climate goals. And the other big one is that we need to start having the cities counties and regions work together so that we're building housing closer to have jobs and transit. And the last one is that we need that accountability and that kind of enforcement piece to make sure those first to happen. I've been speaking with Shanelle Fletcher director of Climate Plan California Shanelle. Thank you. Thank you so much

Californians need to drive a lot less — that's the consensus from a new California Air Resources Board study.

Even though the state said it met its goal early of reducing emissions to 1990 levels, the report suggests that communities won't meet future goals. The reason? Even though regions are supposed to come up with plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report said “the real-world results are falling significantly short” of targets — that that some places “are moving in the wrong direction.”

Chanell Fletcher is the director of ClimatePlan, a group that contributed to the study. She said the CARB study is “just a huge wake up call.”

“We need everyone — cities, counties, regions, the state — to work together and get really serious about how our communities are built,” Fletcher said.

The report’s authors note that people need to stop driving alone and living far away from where they work. There also needs to be strong investment in alternative modes of transportation, according to the authors, which will cost millions, if not billions, of dollars statewide.

Fletcher broke it down: If every Californian drove 1.6 miles less each day, the state would hit its 2020 and 2035 targets.

This will take cooperation from all levels of government. But Nicole Dolney, chief of the transportation planning branch of CARB, said the report shows there's disconnect between state and local goals, especially when it comes transportation.

Dolney said this is a chance to reverse course in order to meet the state's goal of dropping emissions by 40 percent by 2030, and Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal for the state reaching zero carbon emissions by 2045.

CARB, for example, doesn’t want suburban residents to have to drive to work.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all,” Dolney said. “But we want reliable modes of transportation that get people to where they want to go in a way that’s just as convenient as driving. Right now, that’s not always the case.”

Dolney and her colleague Carey Knecht, who works in the air quality and science division of CARB, say Sacramento is already following some best practices. For example, the implementation of Jump bikes and designated bicycling lanes.

“They’ve been putting their money where their mouth is by awarding mini-grants … to encourage biking, walking, van-pooling and other ways that test-out new strategies for changing travel behavior,” Knecht said.