The San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control board took a cautious approach when it adopted a one-year, pilot program to deal with a confusing new state regulation aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.
Yet the issue has led to a polarizing dust-up.
The policy narrowly passed by a 6-5 vote of the air board which includes all five county supervisors and a representative from each city and in the aftermath, opponents have vented their anger at the APCD staff.
While we agree that the APCD should have been more inclusive in drafting the policy it should have included the building industry early on in the process this appears to be a case of misplaced aggression.
Again, this requirement did not originate with the local APCD, but rather, with the state of California.
The state is requiring that the environmental review for all proposed developments no matter how small include an analysis of greenhouse-gas emissions and, if necessary, measures to reduce them. At its most extreme, that means a simple addition to a single-family home could necessitate a complicated review. Thats ridiculous.
As an alternative, agencies can set thresholds that exempt small projects from the requirements. (Officials say they cant issue blanket exemptions to all projects because those wouldnt stand up in court.)
Rather than creating a patchwork of regulations, local agencies the seven cities and the county looked to the APCD for guidance in a uniform, countywide standard.
The APCD obliged, and last month, the air board adopted a standard that applies the new state requirement only to large projects 70 or more homes is the threshold for residential developments. Heres another way to look at it: Of the 1,142 projects in the 10-year pipeline, only about 5 percent must take steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
Supporters say the result is a win-win: Small projects wont have to worry about analyses or mitigation measures. Applicants with larger projects will know what to expect and can plan accordingly. Also, because large projects already must take steps to reduce other types of air pollutants, they may not have to take many if any additional measures to comply with greenhouse-gas reduction requirements.
Opponents, on the other hand, say this is another unnecessary regulation that will wind up dearly costing developers and builders who already are struggling in the down economy. And, they point out that new construction is already following stringent state code for energy efficiency and that code is going to get even stricter in the near future.
Theyve also noted that the state requirement is superfluous, given that local cities are in the process of developing state-mandated climate action plans that will set policies for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. (San Luis Obispo County already has completed its plan.)
We agree that a comprehensive plan makes far more sense than singling out a handful of new developments for additional requirements.
If agencies want to get serious about reducing greenhouse gases, they should do more to promote retrofits of older homes. And how about encouraging more residential units in existing downtowns, so that more people can walk to shops or to work? Thats far more likely to reduce car trips than adding one or two more bike lanes in suburban subdivisions, in the hope that it might lure residents into leaving their cars at home.
Ideally, we believe it would have made far more sense for the state to allow agencies to concentrate on completing their climate action plans before imposing other requirements. But that ship has sailed.
The best approach now is to implement the greenhouse-gas reduction requirement for new construction in the least painful way possible.
Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.