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San Diego County Climate Plan Rejected, Again

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San Diego County has lost another legal battle in a long-running effort to find a Climate Action Plan that will stand up to legal scrutiny.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego County officials have lost another round in their battle to establish a climate action plan that manages growth in greenhouse gas, emissions, KPBS environment, reporter Eric Anderson joins me now with details. Welcome Eric. Thank you, Mark. Now it seems like deja VU all over again. How many times is this issue gone to court?

Speaker 2: 00:18 Well, it's been to court a number of times. This is actually the third plan that the County has come up with. Uh, the first two, uh, were rejected by lower courts and then appeal courts. Uh, this was the third iteration. Uh, there was a talk from the County when they put it together that they put it together to make sure that it had the legal muster, uh, that it could stand up to legal challenges because they expected it to get challenged, uh, but it lost in the lower court. And now, uh, the plan itself has been rejected by the appellate court that was asked to review that lower court ruling.

Speaker 1: 00:51 And tell us about this County plan. Give us the high points of it.

Speaker 2: 00:56 Well, basically what the County is required to do by the state of California is to come up with a plan that will reduce the county's greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time allow for some growth. Right? So that seems like a pretty logical thing to do. Um, difficult. Yes. Uh, but there are some basic principles at play that, that are kind of like no brainers, if you will, there are things you can do, uh, reduce the amount of highway miles by having developments or new new housing near jobs or existing development. So there are things that can be done. Um, the County, as I said, has done this now three different times. This is the third plan that they have put forward. And each of them have so far been rejected in the courts once they've been challenged.

Speaker 1: 01:45 And what is it specifically about this County plan that judges keep finding fault with?

Speaker 2: 01:51 Well, when I was looking over the, uh, the legal decision, uh, the thing that, that kind of jumped out at me was the way that the SA that San Diego County wanted to mitigate for greenhouse gas emissions. So for example, if they build a development, uh, someplace, uh, in the unincorporated areas, and that represents a certain amount of miles traveled, and what they wanted to say was, look, we can mitigate, uh, the greenhouse gas emissions that are going to be created by this particular development by buying carbon credits on the worldwide market. So essentially, uh, the developers would pay a fee that money would ostensibly go to, uh, some fund, perhaps a rainforest fund in South America and fund improvements in the rainforest. There, something that would match, uh, the carbon created by the new project, uh, and then balance the scale and what the judge said was, look, this is just not verifiable.

Speaker 2: 02:54 There's no way we can check out whether, uh, these carbon credits you're with, um, can be done. They suggested that the County and role in, uh, one of the California air resources, board approved, uh, carbon, uh, carbon balancing markets. Uh, but that's not what the County administrators did in this case. I did have a chance to talk to Nicole Cafritz at the, uh, climate action campaign here in San Diego. She's worked on climate action plans, uh, for a number of municipalities, including the city of San Diego's, which stands up to legal muster. And she says, look, she wants the County to work with her.

Speaker 3: 03:36 They keep putting forward and unverifiable unenforceable international offset scheme in lieu, again, of doing what we need to do, which is to build housing in the urban areas

Speaker 2: 03:49 and climate activists in the County are saying maybe instead of worrying about carbon offsets for these far flung developments that are not near anything, um, maybe you just move that development into the incorporated areas. And then if you do need to do mitigation, do mitigation in the County so that the people who are paying the price would also get the benefit.

Speaker 1: 04:12 So you would think the County would have kind of a blueprint since San Diego has a plan and other places have plans and they've passed muster with the courts. Uh, uh, why is it? They can't get this straight?

Speaker 2: 04:23 It's a very good question. Uh, I don't think I, I can have an answer for you, but, um, there has been an, the notice this in all three of the plans they put forward, um, uh, they've wanted to allow for development in unincorporated areas. And that falls outside of the county's general plan guidelines. It's not consistent with the general plan, uh, but it's something that, uh, the supervisors and County officials have clung to, uh, here to for. And, uh, that may be the thing that keeps dragging these plans down.

Speaker 1: 04:56 And we've got some new faces, uh, on the County board of supervisors after some of the same folks for many years. Uh, isn't there a push to kind of finally revise this plan and talk about this sprawl as you, as you mentioned, that's a real hang up here and just move on.

Speaker 2: 05:12 Well, uh, two things, uh, the general plan. There's no real discussion right now to revising the general plan. The one that's in place now, uh, which asks for kind of the smart growth around existing utilities, uh, to kind of minimize the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. Um, and as a guideline for development in the County, um, that's routinely, um, gotten, uh, the County supervisors have routinely given exceptions to, to what critics call sprawl development. So large developments that are not adjacent to any of the services that the general plan calls for. Um, and so they have this kind of propensity to want to approve these projects that are difficult to mitigate for. And then the plan that they came up with in this last iteration of the plan, uh, using these international carbon offsets that were hard to verify, um, uh, was just, you know, roundly rejected at the legal level. I've been speaking with KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Thanks very much, Eric. My pleasure.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.