CEQA Requires Assessment of GHG Impacts from Tourism

Sonoma County needs a more honest plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

Thank you Jerry for litigating this important issue. For years environmentally concerned citizens have been asking for a moratorium on all winery expansions, events, tasting rooms etc. until a county wide CUMULATIVE IMPACT report is done. We all know what it will show, enormous impacts to our air, water and soil as well as health issues for humans and the environment. Don’t skirt the issues supervisors, you can’t mitigate anything with out the FACTS.



Close to Home: Sonoma County needs a more honest plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

The basic issue in the lawsuit that overturned the approval of the Sonoma County Climate Action Plan was the failure to account for emissions from vehicle miles traveled in the global distribution of wine and other products and travel to tourist destinations in the county from around the world.

In a recent article (“Battling climate change at the local level,” Aug. 11), Supervisor David Rabbitt made the following claims:

1) The lawsuit argued for a growth moratorium for wine and tourism. A moratorium is not enforceable.

What we actually called for was consideration of a moratorium or significant limitation on new wineries/vineyard expansions and/or tourist destinations to provide an adequate assessment of feasible measures to reduce Sonoma County’s greenhouse gas emissions. State law allows a county or city to adopt an interim ordinance prohibiting any uses that may be in conflict with a plan or proposal the city or county intends to study. The statute allows an interim ordinance of 45 days with provisions for extensions to a total of about two years.

We were advocating for just such a measure to evaluate some controls on additional growth in high emissions land uses. We argued this was a legitimate request for relevant information under the California Environmental Quality Act. The court agreed. The simple reality is that an economy dominated by global tourism and production for global export generates enormous travel-related greenhouse gas emissions.

2) The lawsuit argues for a detailed analysis of “life cycle” emissions for wine and tourism. The technical tools to perform the analysis simply do not exist.

We argued for a partial “life cycle,” i.e. “end use” analysis. The claim that technical tools for either a full or partial-life cycle analysis do not exist is simply false. I am familiar with two studies discussing such tools. I know there are others. The Climate Action Plan environmental impact report expressly admits that there are methodologies to quantify the additional greenhouse gas emissions we identified but argues that the information is often difficult to come by. The court rejected that as an excuse not to at least discuss the feasibility of obtaining such information. 

3) The suit focuses only on new development when that is only 5 percent of the problem.

The 5 percent figure comes from the statement in the Climate Action Plan that by 2020 new development will account for about 5 percent of total Sonoma County greenhouse gas emissions. Statements in the plan about emissions levels are based on calculations that the court agreed relied on inadequate information.

Most important, the Climate Action Plan would have allowed applicants for future projects, well beyond 2020, to avoid the greenhouse gas cumulative effects analysis in their project EIR by “streamlining” from the plan’s EIR. They could simply adopt greenhouse gas reduction measures in the Climate Action Plan as mitigations for their project, relying on the inaccurate calculations in the plan. To say this is only 5 percent of the problem is exactly the kind of misrepresentation and obfuscation I struggled with throughout the litigation.

More energy-efficient buildings, present and future, are beneficial, but they will not, in all likelihood, move us closer to needed reduction levels if the function of the buildings is production for global distribution or tourist venues — not if the true range of emissions is counted. Electric vehicles and public transit are beneficial, but the transition is not happening fast enough to offset emissions from millions of miles traveled by air, sea and car beyond county borders.

From a New York Times article: One round-trip flight from New York to San Francisco or Europe creates a warming effect equal to two or three tons of carbon dioxide per person. Air travel is a major emissions source, and it is growing exponentially. We must take into account emissions from air travel generated by activities in the county. Our current economy includes special taxes to promote more air travel.

Our lawsuit has overturned the Climate Action Plan as a basis for enabling new development with inadequate greenhouse gas mitigations. It has not prevented the cities or the county from proceeding with greenhouse gas reduction measures in the plan.

Jerry Bernhaut, a resident of the Sonoma Valley for 40 years, is an attorney for California River Watch. He has served as a member of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and as a member of the Sonoma Valley Citizens’ Advisory Committee. He lives in Oakmont