California Moves on Bill to Curb Sprawl and Emissions

August 30, 2008

Published: August 28, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — California, known for its far-ranging suburbs and jam-packed traffic, is close to adopting a law intended to slow the increase in emissions of heat-trapping gases by encouraging housing close to job sites, rail lines and bus stops to shorten the time people spend in their cars.

The measure, which the State Assembly passed on Monday and awaits final approval by the Senate, would be the nation’s most comprehensive effort to reduce sprawl. It would loosely tie tens of billions of dollars in state and federal transportation subsidies to cities’ and counties’ compliance with efforts to slow the inexorable increase in driving. The goal is to encourage housing near current development and to reduce commutes to work.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has not said whether he will sign the bill.

The number of miles driven in California has increased at a rate 50 percent faster than the rate of population growth for the past two decades. Passenger vehicles, which produce about 30 percent of the state’s heat-trapping gases, are the single greatest source of such emissions.

The fragile coalition behind the measure includes some longtime antagonists, in particular homebuilders and leading environmental groups in California. Both called the measure historic.

“What California is doing for the first time,” said Ed Manning, a lobbyist who represents the state’s 25 largest homebuilding companies, “is planning for housing needs, transportation needs and climate-change needs all at the same time.”

Thomas Adams, the board president of California’s League of Conservation Voters, said the changes were “all going to support a development pattern that will help the state meet its climate goals.”

The bill yokes three regulatory and permit processes. One focuses on regional planning: how land use should be split among industry, agriculture, homes, open space and commercial centers. Another governs where roads and bridges are built. A third sets out housing needs and responsibilities — for instance, how much affordable housing a community must allow.

Under the pending measure, the three regulatory and permit processes must be synchronized to meet new goals, set by the state’s Air Resources Board, to reduce heat-trapping gases.

Seventeen regional planning groups from across the state will submit their land-use, transportation and housing plans to the board. If the board rules that a plan will fall short of its emissions targets, then an alternative blueprint for meeting the goals must be developed.

Once state approval is granted, or an alternative plan submitted, billions of dollars in state and federal transportation subsidies can be awarded. The law would allow the money to be distributed even if an alternative plan fails to pass muster.

State Senator Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said in an interview that he expected the Senate to approve the bill soon.

Mr. Steinberg, who will be the Senate majority leader in the legislative session beginning next year, said Wednesday that he met with Governor Schwarzenegger this week and received “positive signals, no guarantees.”

Environmentalists have long blamed profit-driven land-use planning around the country for creating the expansive, sometimes redundant network of roads that have carved up farmland near urban areas.

They have also praised regional planners in Portland, Ore., for that city’s clustered growth and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly communities.

The tools Portland planners have used are called urban growth boundaries, efforts to control sprawl by encouraging higher density development within an area and largely prohibiting it outside.

These boundaries have gained little traction in California, where developers have seen them as too restrictive and local governments have been jealous of their own planning powers.

Sacramento and San Diego have recently tried to build coalitions to support clustered development.

Most environmental groups strongly support the pending bill. Among them is the Natural Resources Defense Council, a major force in the development two years ago of the landmark state law to limit heat-trapping emissions from all sectors of the economy.

But some groups have expressed reservations, objecting to the relaxation of some existing environmental constraints on developers.

Jan Chatten-Brown, an environmental lawyer in Santa Monica, wrote in an e-mail message that the bill “gives up an important tool” by relaxing some requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act and making it harder for citizen groups to sue developers.

Communities that take part in the process will be able to revise their housing plans every eight years instead of five; developers working with a state-approved plan will have to do less extensive environmental reviews of their projects.

Ms. Chatten-Brown also said the legislation overlapped with some of the provisions of the 2006 law committing the state, by 2020, to a 30 percent reduction in the projected level of emissions of heat-trapping gases.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters estimate that $15 billion to $20 billion in annual federal, state and local transportation grants support highways, bridges, bike paths and light-rail systems.

Because there is no assurance that regions would lose transportation dollars if their plans fail to win state approval, a few environmental groups stayed in a neutral corner.

But Mr. Adams, with the League of Conservation Voters, said that “a land-use bill of this magnitude had not been successful since the 1976 passage of the California Coastal Act.”

The New York Times

Climate talks continue in Ghana

August 28, 2008

Beach in Accra, Ghana

Editorial by Liz Kalaugher, editor of environmentalresearchweb

August 27, 2008

Following meetings earlier in the year in Bangkok, Thailand, and Bonn, Germany, the next round of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) climate negotiations has switched continents yet again. More than 1600 delegates from 160 countries started week-long talks in Accra, Ghana on 21 August.

“The clock is ticking,” said John Agyekum Kufuor, president of Ghana, as he opened the meeting. “We need to be pragmatic and move beyond rhetoric to make progress as we move towards Copenhagen. ”

Ghana is already experiencing some of the impacts of climate change. Rainfall in the country has decreased by 20% over the last 30 years, and up to 1000 km2 of land may be lost in the Volta Delta due to sea-level rise and inundation if greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise at the current pace.

“There is a real need to strengthen the capacity of countries, particularly in Africa, to cope with such climate shocks, ” added Kufuour. “I would therefore like to call for an international deal, or ‘compact’, in which developing countries commit to plan for climate-resilient development. In return the international community should commit to provide adequate, predictable, long-term funding and support in terms of technology transfer and capacity building. ”

So, what’s on the agenda at the meeting? Firstly, there are talks on further commitments for developed nations that have signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, the first phase of which expires in 2012. These aim to “clarify the tools and rules available”, as well as to identify options to enhance their effectiveness. According to the UNFCC, such tools include emissions trading and project-based mechanisms; land use, land-use change and forestry; greenhouse gases sectors and source categories; and possible approaches targeting sectoral emissions.

“Parties meeting under the Kyoto Protocol must swiftly reach agreement on the rules and tools that will be available to developed countries to meet future emission reduction targets [beyond 2012],” said UNFCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer. “This is essential because the toolbox will in turn determine the level of ambition of developed countries when setting their new targets. ”

The plan is to conclude these negotations in Accra, enabling the setting of emission reduction ranges in December.

Meanwhile, two workshops in Ghana are examining sectoral approaches, and deforestation and forest degradation. Sectoral approaches involve reducing emissions in key sectors of the economy, such as electricity generation and the energy-intensive industries of cement, iron and steel production. The policies are being championed by Japan, but have met some resistance from developing countries who fear that they may be a means of introducing trade barriers against less efficiently manufactured products.

The second workshop is looking at policy measures and positive incentives to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. Countries are at different stages of deforestation, which accounts for about 20% of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide. For example, Brazil and Indonesia currently have high rates of deforestation, nations in the Congo basin have low rates but there’s a strong risk that rates will rise, and Costa Rica has taken measures to dramatically lower its historically high rates.

“Because forest products are traded globally and some of the drivers of deforestation are the result of international pressures, countries agreed that there needs to be properly designed incentives for all countries to ensure that reductions in one country don’t lead to increases elsewhere [i.e. ‘leakage’],” said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at Natural Resources Defense Council in his excellent blog from Accra. “This is a movement from the previous situation where you had countries in each stage essentially elbowing to make their stage of deforestation the main focus of incentives.”

In addition, delegates will jointly discuss – for the first time in this batch of negotiations – the finance and technology needed to limit emissions and adapt to climate change. “Parties will look not only at what is needed in terms of funding, but also at how funding should be generated in the context of a new international deal, and precisely what technologies are required,” said de Boer. “The debate will also give an indication of the infrastructure needed to implement a shared vision in the areas of finance, technology and capacity bulding.”

Next the negotiations will head back to Europe, with Poland’s Poznań the location for the UN Climate Change Conference in early December. One year later the framework for long-term cooperative action on climate change is due to be finalized in Copenhagen, Denmark. Let’s hope that the change in US leadership that will have taken place by then eases the way to some definite commitments to large-scale cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions from both developed and developing nations.

• The IPCC will celebrate its 20th anniversary just before its 29th plenary meeting in Geneva next week.
About the author

Liz Kalaugher is editor of environmentalresearchweb

U.S. Cities Orchestrate a Streetcar Revival

August 22, 2008

Posted: August 15th, 2008
Bob Driehaus
The New York Times Media Group

OHIO – From his months-old French bistro, Jean-Robert de Cavel sees
restored Italianate row houses against a backdrop of rundown tenements
in this city’s long-struggling Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

He also sees a turnaround for the district, thanks to plans to revive
a transit system that was dismantled in the 1950s: the humble
streetcar line.

”Human beings can be silly because we move away from things too
quickly in this country,” de Cavel said. A ”streetcar is definitely
going to create a reason for young people to come downtown.”

Cincinnati officials are assembling financing for a $132 million
system that would connect the city’s riverfront stadiums, downtown
business district and Uptown neighborhoods, which include six
hospitals and the University of Cincinnati, in a loop of six to eight
miles, or 10 to 13 kilometers. Depending on the final financing
package, fares may be free, 50 cents or $1.

The city plans to pay for the system with existing tax revenue and $30
million in private investment. The plan requires the approval of Mayor
Mark Mallory, a proponent, and the City Council.

At least 40 other U.S. cities are exploring streetcar plans to spur
economic development, ease traffic congestion and draw young
professionals and empty-nest baby boomers back from the suburbs,
according to the Community Streetcar Coalition, which includes city
officials, transit authorities and engineers who advocate streetcar

More than a dozen have existing lines, including New Orleans, which is
restoring a system devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Denver, Houston,
Salt Lake City and Charlotte, North Carolina, have introduced
streetcars this decade.

”They serve to coalesce a neighborhood,” said Jim Graebner, chairman
of the American Public Transportation Association’s streetcar and
vintage trolley committee. ”That’s very evident in places like San
Francisco, which never got rid of its streetcar system.”

Modern streetcars, like those Cincinnati plans to use, cost about $3
million each, run on an overhead electrical wire and carry up to 130
passengers per car on rails that are flush with the pavement.

Having doors on both sides also enables streetcars to pick up
passengers on either side, making for shorter stops than buses.

Streetcar advocates point to Portland, Oregon, which in 2001 built the
first major modern streetcar system in the United States and has since
added new lines interlaced with a growing light rail system.

Since Portland announced plans for the system, more than 10,000
residential units have been built, and $3.5 billion has been invested
in property within two blocks of the line, according to Portland
Streetcar Inc., which operates the system.

Critics, including Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato
Institute, a libertarian research organization in Washington, and a
specialist in urban growth and transportation issues, counter that
growth along streetcar lines is dependent on public subsidy and of
little use.

”It looks like it’s going to take you somewhere, but it’s only
designed to support downtown residents,” he said. ”If officials fall
for the hype and don’t ask the hard questions, voters should vote them

Cincinnati’s streetcar enthusiasts counter that they serve to shrink
residents’ everyday world of work, shopping and entertainment by
bringing services and businesses to one area.

”One happy consequence will be that streetcar customers who live in
the area will be less mobile by choice,” said John Schneider, a
Cincinnati real estate developer and downtown resident who championed
an unsuccessful 2002 county sales tax proposal that would have
financed a regional light rail system.

Since then, gas prices have risen sharply, and advocates have started
emphasizing streetcars’ ability to revitalize urban neighborhoods.

”In years gone by, people would move to cities to get a job,” said
the Cincinnati city manager, Milton Dohoney. ”Today, young, educated
workers move to cities with a sense of place. And if businesses see us
laying rail down on a street, they’ll know that’s a permanent route
that will have people passing by seven days a week.”

After looking into streetcar systems in Seattle; Tacoma, Washington;
and Charlotte, Dohoney became convinced that they spur growth.

”Cincinnati has to compete with other cities for investment,” he
said. ”We have to compete for talent and for place of national

A hundred miles northeast, Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio,
has come to the same conclusion and is pushing to build a $103 million
streetcar network along the city’s High Street connecting Ohio State
University with the downtown business district. The loop would be paid
for through a 4 percent surcharge on concert tickets, sporting events
and downtown parking and a $12.5 million contribution from Ohio State.

”It is directly tied to economic development, and when times are
tough in Ohio, we need an additional tool to create jobs,” Coleman

While critics question whether scarce city money would be better spent
elsewhere, Coleman argues that streetcars are important to the city’s

”We have to plan for the future,” he said. ”I believe in 10 years,
we would ask, ‘Why didn’t we do this?’ It will be 10 times more
expensive, and the cost of gas will be unaffordable.”

Worldchanging reports on renewables

August 6, 2008

Mapping the World’s Renewable Energy Potential

by Sarah Kuck

As renewable energy technologies become more competitive, investing in them is becoming a more viable venture. Yet, uncertainties about cost and ROI are still keeping some investors at bay.

Wind blows, rain falls and the sun shines, but differently at different times and locations, making wind, hydroelectric and solar power dependent upon weather and climate systems. A new Northwest-based energy efficiency company, 3TIER, is using their science skills and computer smarts to remove some of that guesswork.

Over 90 percent of the renewable energies used for electricity generation are weather-driven; in other words, they are completely dependent on the weather/climate system for their fuel. So while these sources of renewable energy have the capability to liberate us from our dependence on fossil fuels, they introduce another complicating dependency: the weather. This dependency affects all aspects of weather-driven renewable energy projects: from proper placement to ongoing operation and integration.

This map of the United States shows the amount of available solar power, ranging from from 4 (blue) to 5.5 (red) kWh/m/day.

The 3TIER team uses their technology-assisted powers of analysis to calculate the weather and climate and its impacts on renewable energy. The group customizes their forecasts with data from each client’s site to help them save money and optimize power. They take multiple readings from the site, for an extended period of time, and combine the reading with weather and climate knowledge for that region to tell wind farmers, for example, an estimate of how much energy they’ll be generating, and at what time.

The group recently finished helping oilman turned renewable energy propent T. Boone Pickens illustrate his national plan to help propel the U.S. energy economy with wind. Using wind maps from 3TIER, the Pickens Plan explains how the U.S. can use wind power to meet more than 20 percent of its electricity demand within 10 years. (View a video about the plan here).

3TIER is currently working on a project called REmapping the World, which combines their prediction technology and analysis with Google maps to assess solar and wind energy potential from locations around the world. So far, they have mapped North America, but they plan to map the renewable energy potential of the entire world by 2010.


Take a FirstLook at the project’s “Find Wind Fast” function. Here clients from renewable energy project operators to developers, financiers to marketers, can select the height of a proposed turbine and its location to get an estimated read on how much wind power is in that area. For more exact details, clients can order custom reports that provide information like monthly windspeed and power capacity, hourly windspeed and power distribution and more.


But you don’t need to be one of their clients to play around with the maps, and it is pretty fun to look at the potential from afar as well as to click around and see how much specific potential lies where.

Potential just happens to be the perfect word to describe this project, this company and the renewable energy movement. Being able to more accurately estimate how much we can depend on renewable energy systems will only aid in their much needed proliferation, and hopefully, forecasting where the wind will blow will only become more valuable with time.

Image credits: The 3TIER Group