Dear EarthTalk: Three regions in California recently implemented transportation plans as part of a statewide strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Can you explain? – Bill Oakes, Reno, NV Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about global warming even as Washington politicians continue to debate whether or not to mandate emissions cutbacks. In lieu of federal action, some states and municipalities are taking action on their own to reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Not surprisingly, California leads the pack, having passed the 2008 Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Law (SB 375), which calls on each of 18 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to prepare a “sustainable communities strategy” to show how it plans to meet previously established greenhouse gas reduction targets through integrated land use, housing and transportation planning. Over the past year, three regions—San Diego, Sacramento and Southern California—formally adopted transportation plans specifically designed to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. “All three regions have found that most people want to live closer to jobs and retail, and yearn for ways to live without spending so much time driving,” reports the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has been tracking California’s progress on sustainability. “These regions are planning communities that reflect these preferences while also reducing harmful air pollution, creating jobs and saving people money.” NRDC adds that the sustainable community strategies “lay the foundation for smarter, more efficient growth and healthier communities, each of them offering lessons for other regions to follow.” Under the terms of SB 375, each of the MPOs crafted plans based on local priorities, needs and resources, while adhering to strict statewide emissions reduction goals. San Diego’s 2050 Regional Transportation Plan was the first of its kind in the country when implemented last year. It calls for investing $214 billion in various local, state and federal transportation initiatives around San Diego over the next four decades. “The largest proportion of the funds will go toward transit, which will receive 36 percent of the funds in the first 10 years, with 34 percent going to highway improvements (largely for the addition of high occupancy vehicle lanes to existing freeway corridors) and 21 percent to local roads and streets,” reports the San Diego Association of Governments, one of the agencies that helped design the plan. “The percentage dedicated to transit will grow each decade, up to 44 percent from 2021 to 2030, 47 percent in the third decade, and 57 percent in the last decade of the plan.” Most environmental leaders view SB 375 as a step in the right direction, though others worry that it doesn’t go far enough. “The plan will worsen health risks in communities that already suffer from disproportionate levels of pollution,” reports the California-based Environmental Health Coalition (EHC). EHC is concerned about the health of low-income communities of color and feels that the plan allocates too much funding toward highway expansion while deferring investment in public transit for too long. Meanwhile, 15 more plans will come to light soon across California, giving the rest of the nation that many more models for planning responsibly for a warmer, less environmentally secure future.