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Napa Valley vineyard

A Napa County vineyard scene. 

Napa County’s three-year quest to create a climate action plan asking rural residents, farmers and business owners to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions could finally wrap up in spring 2019.

County officials recently announced that timeline. For now, they are trying to convince skeptics that proposed carbon-cutting steps will meet the county’s target of being 40 percent below 2014 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday held a hearing to collect comments on the draft plan that would affect only the unincorporated county outside of city limits. Cities are making their own plans.

“We’re in a state of urgency around the climate right now,” Commissioner Joelle Gallagher said during the hearing.

No one at the hearing challenged the need for a climate action plan. But Jack Gray of the Napa County Taxpayers Association in a letter to the county sounded a note of caution over its possible economic effects.

“It seems logical that a new climate action plan should include some cost/benefit analysis before extensive new costly, regressive mandates are proposed for the residents and businesses of Napa County,” Gray wrote.

Unincorporated Napa County is dominated by farms and wineries, with homes and major roads carrying traffic. Those are among the sectors targeted for carbon-cutting steps.

One major proposal is to support – not require—converting all diesel or gas irrigation pumps on farms to electric, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 1,696 metric tons by 2020.

“I don’t think that’s realistic by 2020,” Chris Benz of Napa Climate Now! told commissioners.

Another proposal is to support the use of electric or alternatively-fueled farm equipment. That is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1,617 metric tons by 2020 and 8,540 metric tons by 2030.

“I’m concerned that those are especially important measures – you have called them out as such – and that is not a requirement,” Gallagher told the consultants who helped craft the draft plan.

Attorney Jerry Bernhaut attended the hearing representing California River Watch. California River Watch last year successfully sued to have a court block the environmental document for the Sonoma County climate action plan.

Bernhaut sees flaws with the Napa County plan. He wants the county to include greenhouse gas emissions generated by the global distribution of Napa County wine and by the tourists from beyond the Bay Area traveling to Napa County wine country.

“The activities that generate these emissions – the vineyards, wineries, hotels, event centers—are all operating under permits issued by county agencies,” he told commissioners.

In a letter, Bernhaut noted the plan seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by vehicles by increasing affordable housing, especially workforce housing. The plan talks of promoting and encouraging housing closer to jobs.

“Here is nothing but generic, aspirational language,” Bernhaut wrote.

Asked after the meeting if California River Watch would challenge a Napa County climate change approach it viewed as flawed in court, Bernhaut responded, “Absolutely.”

Michelle Novi of Napa Valley Vintners highlighted the voluntary Napa Green program championed by the group. Wineries and vineyards can become certified by doing such things as reducing their carbon footprints.

She thanked the county for including Napa Green in the draft climate action plan. She also asked the county for support in increasing participation in Napa Green. Napa Valley Vintners represents 550 members.

Molly Moran Williams spoke on behalf of Napa Valley Grapegrowers and its 725 members. She said the group would soon be submitting comprehensive comments on the draft plan.

“Grape growers are fully supportive of development of a viable, feasible and most importantly effective climate action plan,” she said.

Consultant Erik de Kok of Ascent Environmental, who is working on the plan, said carbon-cutting recommendations will have such co-benefits as improving the community’s sustainability and public health.

“There are a lot of reasons we should be doing these things, not just for the sake of greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

People can comment on the latest version of the draft climate action plan through Aug. 22. Go to to find the plan.

The county intends to release a draft climate action plan environmental impact report for public comment in November. The final plan and report could go to the Planning Commission and then the Board of Supervisors for passage in spring 2019.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.