Unprecedented candor on climate change

In an uncharacteristic move, the California Air Resources Board’s 2018 Progress Report California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act admits the state is going backwards in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. Some key excerpts:

With emissions from the transportation sector continuing to rise despite increases in fuel efficiency and decreases in the carbon content of fuel, California will not achieve the necessary greenhouse gas emissions reductions to meet mandates for 2030 and beyond without significant changes to how communities and transportation systems are planned, funded, and built.


The overall ratio of dollars planned to be spent on roads versus on infrastructure for other modes in the largest regions of California has shown remarkably little shift. The changes that have been made so far are clearly not of the magnitude necessary to have yet had a significant impact on these challenges.


As this report’s findings suggest, the state’s current structure of policies and lack of incentives will continue to produce and exacerbate the insufficient results outlined in this report unless shared responsibility, changes in authority or mandates and incentives, and strong, deliberate, collaborative action is taken by state, regional, and local policymakers to foster a policy environment that enhances the way we live, work, and travel.

The story was covered well in the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee.


TRANSDEF has consistently objected to the Air Board’s lax handling of the transportation sector, starting back at the setting of SB 375 Regional GHG emissions reduction targets in 2010. TRANSDEF asserted back then that ARB was refusing to initiate substantive change. It could have exercised its statutory authority and forced transportation agencies to shift their dollars away from highway expansions, for example. TRANSDEF submitted its comments on the 2018 Progress Report, summarizing our comments and criticisms over the past decade that predicted unchecked VMT growth.


Joining this spirit of unusual candor was the Los Angeles Times Editorial, California talks a good game on land-use and climate change, but it’s still a land of SUVs and sprawl. The Editorial calls out the uncomfortable disconnect between the State’s intentions and what it’s actually doing:

On paper, California may have committed to building more walkable, bike-able, transit-friendly communities. In practice, cities, counties and the state are failing to follow through.


One problem is that there is no real requirement for cities and counties to follow their region’s plans, and there are no penalties when they don’t.


Despite the goal of getting people out of their cars, there has been little move to spend a greater proportion of dollars on other modes of transportation. No wonder that transit ridership and carpool rates have fallen across the state, and that three out of four commuters drive alone to work.

The message of all these pieces is “If we’re serious about meeting our climate goals, we can’t keep doing Business as Usual.” The Times put it well:
If California is going to meet its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction commitments, lawmakers and local leaders have to live up to the commitments in those plans.
It’s interesting to speculate whether it’s only a coincidence that this change in candor is occurring during the waning days of Governor Jerry Brown’s administration.

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