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Op-Ed: A year later, still no true accounting for County’s greenhouse gas emissions


In July of 2017 ruling on a lawsuit filed by River Watch and attorney Jerry Bernhaut, a judge rejected Sonoma County Climate Action Plan (CAP) for reducing greenhouse gases. Here’s his update.

The primary basis for the lawsuit was that the accounting method used in the CAP grossly under counted greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from road, air and sea travel beyond county borders and nearby regional destinations generated in the course of the global export of wine and other local products, and travel to and from local tourist venues. This means millions of metric tons of GHG emissions, which would not have occurred but for the issuing of permits for hotels, event centers, vineyards and wineries, were simply not counted.

Since the judge issued her ruling, the Regional Climate Protection Authority and the County have completely disregarded her findings. They have repeatedly referred to the lawsuit as “unproductive” and have never responded in a substantive manner to the grounds for the judge’s ruling.

shutterstock_234239257-1-2-390x285The County has recently proposed a resolution, adopted by the Supervisors, which updates the County’s GHG Inventory and recommits the RCPA to policy goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The stated intent of the resolution is to “achieve the same policy impetus behind climate action as would have the Climate Action 2020 Plan, notwithstanding the setback from the lawsuit.”

But he RCPA once again refuses to include emissions from trans-boundary travel. This is a fiction which can only be maintained by excluding the thousands of tons of GHG emissions from 7.5 million tourists per year and billions of dollars in wine exports.

Each local community must take responsibility for its decisions that permit and enable activity that results in emissions that contribute to global warming. Each community must account for the environmental costs of its land use decisions. So far, Sonoma County elected officials have showed no inclination to take that responsibility, despite the decision of an experienced, highly respected superior court judge overturning the CAP.


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Agency won’t appeal successful legal challenge of Sonoma County climate action plan

Jerry Bernhaut, the lead attorney for River Watch, said his client did not want to block the entirety of the regional climate plan, which he said contained some “perfectly valid measures” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“There’s nothing stopping the cities and the unincorporated county from going ahead with measures that were described in the climate action plan,” Bernhaut said. “The legal force of the climate action plan is now null and void.”
But stronger, substantive progress would require a more dramatic reshaping of an economic system that includes international product distribution and a “tourist industry on steroids” where people travel from all over the world, Bernhaut said.

A settlement reached between Sonoma County’s regional climate agency and a Sebastopol environmental group with a history of suing local governments has left the countywide plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions legally toothless.
Under terms of the settlement with California River Watch, the county’s Regional Climate Protection Authority agreed this week not to challenge a court decision that struck down the environmental document underpinning its blueprint for fighting climate change.
A Sonoma County judge sided this summer with River Watch, which sued the agency and argued its climate plan did not properly account for emissions generated outside county borders, including from tourism and the wine industry.
Read more at: Agency won’t appeal successful legal challenge of Sonoma County climate action plan | The Press Democrat –

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Sonoma City Council tables climate action

That’s the way things were left Aug. 15 when the Sonoma City Council tabled discussion of its plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions in light of a lawsuit filed last week by environmentalists against the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority. The lawsuit was filed by a Sebastopol-based group called California River Watch which alleges that the County’s “Climate Action Plan” (CAP), a program partnered with the City of Sonoma to meet state mandated greenhouse gas levels, is woefully undercounting the amount of greenhouse gases produced by what the group describes as the County’s fuel-driven wine and tourism industry.
The eco brouhaha stems from countywide efforts launched back in 2008 to meet state-required targets of reducing greenhouse gas levels to 25 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020, with a longer-term goal of reaching 80 percent below that level by 2050. In 2013, the City of Sonoma joined what the county’s Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) now calls its Climate Action 2020 program, a collaborative effort among the County and all nine of its cities to take measurable steps to reach those GHG targets.
At its Monday meeting, the City Council was set to consider eight Sonoma-specific steps to add to the Climate Action Plan – most of them incentives to encourage Sonomans to lower their carbon footprints. Those measures include ways to encourage solar installations, water conservation methods and restrictions on idling cars. But in the River Watch lawsuit, which challenges the EIR findings in support of the climate action plan, attorneys Jack Silver and Jerry Bernhaut charge that many of those and other similar CAP measures would have shaky implementation rates, are unenforceable and fail to provide evidence that they would set the County on a path to meet its GHG goals.
Read more at: Sonoma City Council tables climate action