Monday, March 31, 2008

new global warming regulations

Global warming adds to building costs
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Willows — Global warming: now causing problems in a theater near you.

Developers are paying almost $8,000 for extra analysis of their planned housing development south of Orland, in order to comply with a new statewide emphasis on preventing climate change.

And that’s only the start.

Mentioned at last Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting, the news was met with sarcasm by Tom McGowan, who asked when the state would be doing something about global cooling.

But state legislative action has left climate change skeptics out in the cold.

“Whether it’s real or not doesn’t matter,” said Dan Obermeyer, head of Planning and Public Works. “It’s the law.”

Assembly Bill 32, passed in September 2006, requires that emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane be cut 25 percent by 2020.

Actually achieving the goal will be largely a local responsibility, falling into the hands of agencies like Planning and Public Works.

The first preliminary statewide guidelines are coming in 2010.

But last April, the state Attorney General filed a lawsuit against San Bernardino County, accusing the county of failing to consider effects on climate change when designing a 25-year growth plan.

Now counties like Glenn are scrambling to take steps so that the AG’s office doesn’t “knock on our door,” as Mr. Obermeyer put it.

The office already sent the county a letter three months ago, concerned about the effects of a proposed dairy.

Short- and long-term effects of regulations could be diverse, and are extremely tentative as of now; major players are still in the dark.

Kevin Tokunaga, program manager of the county’s Air Pollution Control District, says he “can’t even anticipate what the state will do.”

These unknown plans, says Mr. Obermeyer perhaps unhelpfully, will have an unknown cost to county residents.

But Mr. Obermeyer does have some ideas for what’s coming. He notes that principles considered good planning ideas, like creating more compact communities, are also good for reducing greenhouse gases.

In Glenn County, that would mean centering development around Willows and Orland and away from smaller hamlets like Elk Creek.

Mr. Obermeyer mentions a past proposal floated to encourage development around Fruto.

Though the idea fell through for other reasons, climate change effects would be another argument against it, because residents would have to drive at least to Willows or Orland for work and errands.

The exception would be if encouraging development in a smaller town like Artois helped it cross a threshold where, for example, it could support a school.

Asked if he was going to set the less-miles-driven tone by moving from Lake County to Glenn County, Mr. Obermeyer noted that his wife’s business was in Lake, so one of them would have to commute.

Another idea, though Mr. Obermeyer says it’s just floating around in his head at the moment, would be that farmers could obtain and sell “carbon credits” for converting rice fields — which emit carbon dioxide — into orchards, which suck the gas up.

For his part, the only specifics Mr. Tokunaga could give was that old refrigerants like methyl bromide, that depleted the ozone layer, were “on the way out.”

One big factor in how all of this will affect Glenn County is how regulations are designed.

Regulations could be guidelines or rules; they could be market-based carbon credit systems, or they could be detailed specifications, like a current regulation that counties must retire certain diesel vehicles by certain dates, and phase all of them out by 2035.

In the past, says Mr. Obermeyer, the air regulation board has been inclined toward restrictive regulations. But this time, they’ve said publicly that they’ll be starting with guidelines.

Reactions to such regulations may vary depending on whether people think global warming is real and really a threat.

For his part, Mr. Obermeyer, who plans on being at his current job in 2010 when the air board regulations come out, is convinced it is.

In the worst case, he says, Glenn County will be coastal area.

(That’s extremely unlikely: worst-case scenarios do have almost all snow in the Sierra Nevadas melting, but only a 2-foot sea level increase by 2100, and all of Glenn County is more than 100 feet above sea level.)

The VALLEY MIRROR reporter mentions Superman plot where villain Lex Luthor plans to make megabucks by buying up dirt-cheap Western desert, then turning it into coastline by triggering an earthquake to make California fall into the ocean.

Mr. Obermeyer laughs, and he cites an assessment he read of significant environmental problems.

“Global warming is so significant, that there aren’t any other problems.”

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