Napa County’s still-evolving strategy to slash greenhouse gas emissions remains a hot topic that will burn through more time and dollars before being completed.
When finished, the climate action plan will try to make virtually everyone in the unincorporated county a greenhouse gas cutter, from farmers to commuters to residents. They could be by doing everything from recycling more to using more renewable energy.
But first, Napa County must come up with a plan that will pass scientific muster, survive possible court challenges and meet sometimes-conflicting local expectations.
The county Board of Supervisors on Jan. 23 approved spending another $276,000 on the climate action plan effort, bringing the total contract with consultant Ascent Environmental, Inc. to $430,000. The latest schedule calls for adopting a plan late this year.
Napa County released a climate action plan last year and seemed near to completing a two-year effort, with the Planning Commission holding a hearing on July 5. But county officials canceled a follow-up hearing scheduled for Sept. 20.
Instead, public comments and recent court cases convinced the county it had more work do. County Planning Manager Vincent Smith told supervisors the county could be sued if it doesn’t complete an environmental impact report, and that other cities and counties are taking this precaution.
“The handwriting is very clearly on the wall that if we don’t have that, we’re going to be in trouble,” Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht agreed.
A July 2017 letter from Center for Biological Diversity challenged the county’s position that the environmental impact report for the 2008 county general plan can serve as the environmental document for the climate action plan. That same letter mentioned the possibility of seeking legal remedies.
It’s the scientific consensus that human activities are likely causing global climate change, the 2017 version of the county climate action plan said. Changes are needed by mid-century to prevent the most catastrophic effects, it said.
The proposed plan added up current greenhouse gas emissions in the unincorporated county only, given the plan doesn’t apply to local cities. It called for cutting emissions 2 percent below 2014 levels by 2020, 40 percent by 2030 and 77 percent by 2050.
At the plan’s core were 48 steps to achieve the target cuts. Some criticized proposals for going too far, others criticized them for not going far enough.
For example, agricultural groups disliked a proposal requiring farms to convert their stationary diesel or gas-powered irrigation pumps to electric pumps powered by renewable energy. They said pumping frequencies didn’t warrant the cost of bringing PG&E lines to the many properties.
“For many vineyards, power lines don’t run anywhere near existing or operationally possible pump locations,” Napa Valley Vintners wrote to the county.
In response, a revised climate action plan changed the electric pump idea to a voluntary step for existing vineyards, if not necessarily for new ones. Still, the plan assumed all gas and diesel pumps would be converted to electric by 2020.
The Center for Biological Diversity used the voluntary pump conversion policy as an example of weak language instead of a firm commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.
Napa County launched its first attempt to create a climate action plan in 2011. The Planning Commission endorsed a version in 2012, but the Board of Supervisors wanted a greater emphasis on cutting transportation and building-related emissions and didn’t adopt it.
The climate action plan effort then went into limbo, emerging with the latest effort that began in 2015.