By Leslie Z. Walker

On June 26, 2008, the California Air Resources Board (“ARB”) released a draft of the scoping plan required under Assembly Bill 32 (Chapter 488, Statutes 2006), the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (“AB 32”). AB 32 requires greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. (Health & Saf. Code, § 38550.) In order to accomplish this, ARB had to determine, by January 1, 2008, what the statewide greenhouse gas emission level was in 1990. (Id.) By January 1, 2009, ARB must prepare and adopt a scoping plan which achieves required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. (Health & Saf. Code, § 38561.) A draft of this scoping plan was released on June 26, 2006.

According to the ARB, in 1990, California emitted 427 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2E) of GHG. In order to reduce emissions to this level by 2020, the state will have to lower emissions by 169 MMTCO2E, a 30 percent reduction from the business as usual emissions levels projected for 2020. On a per capita basis, this represents a reduction from 14 to 10 tons per year per person.

Since the passage of AB 32, local governments have been inundated with climate change challenges, but have received little State guidance on how to address them. For the most part, these challenges have surfaced as a result of interpretations of the California Environmental Quality Act. (See past Abbott & Kindermann, LLP articles including OPR on CEQA and Climate Change: Local Agencies Continue to Bear the Heat, Attorney General’s Conference on Climate Change: Many Methods, No Answers, and Attorney General Criticizes San Diego’s Smart Growth Strategy for Failure to Fully Address Global Warming Impacts.) The draft scoping plan however served local governments with a manageable portion of the GHG reduction pie. Of the 169 MMTCO2E reduction proposed statewide, local government action is only responsible for reducing emissions by 2 MMTCO2E, or about 1.2 percent of the overall reductions.

The draft scoping plan suggests that local governments can achieve the targeted level of reduction by adopting two strategies. First, the draft suggests ways that local government can conduct business to reduce its emissions. For example, the plan states that local governments can influence the energy used by their buildings, the waste and recycling in their buildings, reduce water consumed in municipal operations, increase carbon efficiency of vehicles in their fleets, and influence the siting and design of new residential and commercial developments. Second, the draft suggests that local government can engage in good planning to connect transportation and land use. The draft suggests that regional transportation planners should use planning models such as the “Blueprint,” to select future growth scenarios that lead to more sustainable communities.

The draft, as a broad, preliminary, working document, does not indicate how the 2 MMTCO2E will be allocated regionally. Will each county be responsible for an equal portion of the reduction or will the reduction requirements depend on population or geography? How will transportation planning be connected to land use authority in order to make planning enforceable?

While cities and counties are relieved to see that the draft handed them a manageable assignment, they continue to hold their breath until the draft is finalized, 2 MMTCO2E is adopted as the reduction allocated to local government, and the obligation is logically balanced between all cities and counties.

Leslie Walker is an associate with Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, environmental and planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.