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Smart Growth: Good for the Environment and for Business - The connection between land-use and emissions
Smart Growth: Good for the Environment and for Business
The Land Use-Climate Change Connection
In 2006, Americans drove 3 trillion miles, and will drive 7 trillion miles per year by 2035. Vehicle miles travelled (VMT) is increasing faster than the population, as people on average are driving more. We all know this leads to increased congestion, longer commute times, hampered goods and customer mobility, and limits to economic growth.
There’s also a clear harm to the environment: people are driving so much that if we can’t cut down on VMT, we’ll cancel out the substantial environmental benefits we expect from better cars and cleaner gas.
But how do you get people to drive less? Traffic does not seem to deter people; the price of gas has not noticeably changed driving habits; and trying to make people feel bad about driving, or their choice of car, to get them to drive less doesn’t work, either. One thing we do know is that the design of our cities, communities and regions has a major impact on why, and how much, we drive.
Many traditional American suburbs give us no choice but to drive to get our needs met: even if we want to walk, we find nothing within walking distance and little or no public transportation. The challenge of housing affordability has also forced millions of us to drive until we find affordable housing, resulting in longer commutes. Given the development we’ve encouraged over the past 40 years, we should not be surprised that it is so hard to get people to drive less.
If instead we design communities with a mix of uses (so people can walk to do their errands), a pleasant, walkable environment (so walking is convenient and attractive), and with slightly higher densities (so there are people to support local businesses and public transportation), we can expect that people will own fewer cars, make fewer car trips and drive fewer miles.
This is what "smart growth "is all about.
Smart Growth and Climate Change
California officials are currently evaluating how to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from land-use planning. A recent report by the California Energy Commission commented that VMT is expected to continue to increase by nearly 3 percent per year for the foreseeable future.
California’s Climate Action Team calls out "improved land use" as a specific area for as much as 14 percent of the State’s total greenhouse gas reduction required under AB 32.
A recent report from the Urban Land Institute, Smart Growth America and others, entitled Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, concludes that more compact, smart growth-style development can lead to a 20-40 percent reduction in vehicle miles travelled. This is clearly better for the environment, combats congestion and will lead to communities that are more livable and attractive. The Growing Cooler report is essential reading for anyone interested in this topic, and offers a detailed, straightforward analysis of the climate change-land use connection.
Smart Growth and Economic Development
With increased congestion and the tremendous economic costs of traffic and delay, people are looking for new ways for America and its regions to remain competitive for investment and employees. Market studies are showing that smart growth, walkable neighborhoods and urban areas with vitality are becoming increasingly attractive. The economic benefits of smart growth are lesser known, but when paired with its environmental benefits, smart growth emerges as a comprehensive approach to two of America’s biggest challenges.
Some of the economic benefits of smart growth are outlined in the Brookings Institution’s Investing in a Better Future: A Review of the Fiscal and Competitive Advantages of Smarter Growth Development Patterns, and they include:
Other reports point to the desirability of communities with a strong sense of place and a higher quality of life, and the attractiveness of vibrant and diverse urban communities to members of the "creative class" that is driving new economic growth.
What we do know is that far-flung development of nearly identical homes with two-hour commutes is not an equation for sustained economic development. Smart growth strategies help us bring people closer to their jobs and house them in pleasant, walkable neighborhoods.
How to Get to Smart Growth
In the United States, control over land-use policy resides largely with cities, counties and other local jurisdictions. The State of California alone has more than 500 jurisdictions with land-use control and they jealously guard this power from any infringement by the State and Federal government. With such important decisions fragmented among so many different decision-makers, how can we possibly change land use for the sake of the economy and environment?
Option 1: Compliance
Option 2: Better Regional Planning
What Can E2 Members Do to Help?
In California, efforts are underway to improve land-use and transportation modeling and planning through Senate Bill 375 (Steinberg (D-Sacramento)), sponsored by NRDC and the California League of Conservation Voters.
With so many local jurisdictions in California in control of land use planning, and with fewer and fewer Californians living, working, shopping and recreating in the same community, a regional framework like SACOG’s is best-suited to ensuring that our land-use policies support California’s GHG reduction goals. SB 375 creates such a framework. More specifically, the bill:
By giving regions the primary role in planning, SB 375 preserves local control over land use without putting unfair burdens on individual jurisdictions. By rewarding local governments who implement regional plans with transportation dollars, the state creates its biggest incentive for smarter growth. By streamlining review of individual projects that work with the regional plan, SB 375 rewards those builders who play their part in meeting the state’s GHG reduction goals. SB 375 is a comprehensive approach to incentivizing land-use planning that maximizes environmental benefits. By adopting SB 375, California would continue the lead it has established on climate and the environment.
In September 2007, E2 sent a letter supporting SB 375 with 207 signatures to the State Assembly. The bill passed out of the Senate and is currently waiting approval from the Assembly Committee on Appropriations. It must be approved by the full Legislature by August. E2 will continue working closely with NRDC land-use efficiency staff Amanda Eaken and Justin Horner to build a broad coalition of support for SB 375, and we plan to feature the bill as a priority ask on our annual trip to Sacramento on March 26.
If you are interested in contributing to E2’s efforts in California to support SB 375, please contact April Mo, E2 Program Associate, at email@example.com or (415) 875-6100, for more information.
NYC Efforts on Green Design and E-Waste Pay Off
The New York City Council approved two important bills in the past several weeks that will greatly improve the City’s environment, and E2 is happy to have played an active role in their passage.
On January 30, the City Council passed legislation to tackle the combined stormwater overflow problem in the City’s overburdened sewer system. The bill, Intro 630, advances the implementation of green design elements into the City’s existing streets, parks, and other public spaces, and into existing and new development projects. At a November City Council hearing, E2’s Michael Gresty testified on the bill’s potential to encourage green designs in the private development community and promote the growth of green jobs by expanding the local market associated with design, construction and maintenance of these sustainable elements. NRDC Senior Attorney Larry Levine worked closely with Councilmember James Gennaro, the bill’s chief sponsor and Chair of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, in drafting the bill and negotiating the details with the mayor’s office. Mayor Bloomberg is expected to sign the bill, which dovetails with the City’s PlaNYC priorities. A draft plan is scheduled for October, with a final plan expected by December.
On February 13, after three years of advocacy by NRDC and coalition groups, including E2, the New York City Council overwhelmingly passed Intro 104, the country’s toughest electronics recycling law. Intro 104 was drafted by NRDC senior attorney Mark Izeman and will require manufacturers to set up a system to collect, recycle and reuse their discarded electronics, submit recycling plans to the City beginning this year, and start collecting products in 2009. This bill not only takes the burden away from consumers and the City, it also, more importantly, gives manufacturers the incentive to design less toxic and easier-to-recycle products. This is the first municipal bill of its kind, and will provide great momentum for enacting a statewide recycling law in Albany. Nine states – including New Jersey and Connecticut – have enacted similar laws on the same producer responsibility model.The Council’s overwhelming support was a big environmental step forward. E2 Chapter Leader Wendy Neu spearheaded the E2 effort over the past couple of years by participating in numerous Council hearings, press conferences and lobbying events to garner support. E2 members got actively involved via action alerts and calls to Council members, and attendance at advocacy meetings at City Hall. Much thanks go to NRDC Senior Attorney Kate Sinding, who led the coalition effort after Mark Izeman’s departure, as well as the rest of the NRDC Urban Program team. The next hurdle will be to gain the Mayor’s support, as he is threatening a veto, and we’ll alert E2 members when further effort will be needed.
New England Advocacy Update
After nearly a year of hard work, Massachusetts is poised to pass a landmark energy bill. Both houses of the legislature have passed bills that embody groundbreaking policies to help propel the clean energy economy. They prioritize the implementation of efficiency as a primary resource, set new targets for renewables, provide assistance for Green Communities and support low income residents.
Despite these impressive opportunities, the resolution of important differences between the bills will have a profound impact on the bill’s effectiveness. E2 New England weighed in with a letter outlining our recommendations on four key areas of differences in the bills.
Federal Energy, Global Warming Legislation Update
On February 14, E2 hosted a national TeleSalon featuring NRDC’s Karen Wayland, Federal Legislative Director, and Michael Goo, Climate Legislative Director. Karen started off the call by giving general-level updates on the variety of issues and bills NRDC is working on Capitol Hill – including efforts to pass tax incentives for renewable energy, secure more funding for federal clean energy programs, advance OCEANS-21 and protect the Magnuson-Stevens re-authorization from attacks by fishing groups, prevent erosion and loopholes in the Clean Water Act, push a bill to provide funding for the restoration of the San Joaquin River in California, and advance through the Senate a bill that would ban exports of excess mercury to countries that lack standards on mercury contamination. Karen indicated that this year’s particular challenges would come in the form of distraction from the presidential election campaigns, as well as the usual tendency of the appropriations process – which any tax incentives will need to clear – to become polarizing.Michael provided an in-depth review of the provisions and status of climate legislation on the Hill, in particular the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 2191 – see NRDC fact sheet), which is the bill with the most momentum in Congress at the moment. NRDC is involved in a research undertaking to estimate the market value of the bill’s proposed cap-and-trade system, is pushing for trade receipts to be directed to the programs and institutions that can best further the effort to curb global warming, and will work to fend off harmful amendments that might come up for attachment onto the bill, such as nuclear subsidies. Michael pointed out that the House is moving much more slowly on climate legislation; however, Representative John Dingell (D-Michigan), who chairs the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, has signaled a commitment to move climate legislation this year and his staff has already produced a number of “white papers” investigating various elements of potential climate policy. Michael wrapped up the presentations by briefly talking about his experience at the U.N. Climate Change Conference last December in Bali, Indonesia.
NRDC, E2 Meet With Chilean, U.S. Ambassadors
On February 15, NRDC organized a meeting in the San Francisco office with a delegation of United States and Chilean Foreign Service representatives, including Chilean Ambassador to the U.S., Mariano Fernandez, and the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Paul Simmons. NRDC staff, E2 members and staff from International Rivers participated in this meeting that sought to build on NRDC’s International Program’s effort over the last 18 months to promote cooperation between Chile and California on energy policy. The delegations expressed the growing interest of the Chilean and U.S. governments to expand Chile-U.S. cooperation across a range of topics, including energy and agriculture.
Both the US and Chilean Ambassadors discussed the challenge of Chile’s electricity supply shortages arising from drought and the gas cutoff from Argentina. NRDC and International Rivers are interested in promoting improved democratic institutional decision-making capacity that would insure that social and environmental impacts of any energy supply project would be considered. The issue of mega hydro-development in Chile was also raised. The Ambassador from Chile was concerned about several issues regarding NRDC’s Patagonia campaign (also, see summary of February 2007 E2 events on Patagonia), most importantly the lack of short-term solutions for Chile’s energy problem. NRDC spoke about how energy efficiency can lower demand while being profitable for utilities. The ambassadors pointed out that efficiency measures are met with resistance in Chile because they’re a regulation-based solution, and in Chile the word “regulation” has negative connotations. However, Ambassador Fernandez indicated an interest in discussing how to put something like this into practice with their new Energy Ministry.Chile is very interested in exploring and attracting foreign investors in renewables and there was acknowledgement that NRDC and E2 could help facilitate the development of such relationships. NRDC plans to follow up with the California Governor’s office about interest in official cooperation through contacts at the Energy Commission.
Kate Poole Wins Lawyer of the Year Award
On February 15, California Lawyer magazine announced NRDC’s Kate Poole as recipient of the 2008 California Lawyer of the Year award in the environment category. Kate is joined in this honor by Trent Orr of Earthjustice. Kate and Trent have been co-counsel in successful litigation challenging the operations of the Federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project for violating the Endangered Species Act – for failing, specifically, to protect the delta smelt. The Bay-Delta ecosystem is experiencing an unprecedented collapse, in large part due to record levels of water diversions by these two water projects – among the largest in the world. Last August, a Federal District Court ruled in this case, ordering significant reductions in water diversions from the Delta, with broad environmental benefits. This landmark victory is reshaping the vigorous debate about the future of the Bay-Delta ecosystem and California’s water policies. Kate led this effort with her tremendous talent, efficiency and good humor, and she richly deserves this recognition. We congratulate Kate and the Western Water Project!
Unilateral Steps to Reduce Threat of Nuclear Weapons
On February 13, NRDC – along with the Federation of American Scientists, the Union of Concerned Scientists and independent experts released “Toward True Security,” a report that outlines 10 unilateral steps the next president should take to transform U.S. nuclear policy, which would strengthen national security and put the world on a path to eventually banning nuclear weapons. The report argues that the United States should not wait for bilateral or multilateral agreements; it should take unilateral steps to begin the process. These steps, the report maintains, would make the United States safer, whether or not the eventual goal of a worldwide ban is ever achieved. The report echoes the sentiments of former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former Senate Armed Services Chairman Sam Nunn. Christopher Paine, who is Director of NRDC’s Nuclear Program, co-authored the report.
Groups Eye Port of Long Beach
Frustrated with empty promises to clean up port operations while toxic pollution steadily increases and massive expansion projects proceed, NRDC and the Coalition for a Safe Environment (CFASE) announced plans to file a lawsuit under federal law against the Port of Long Beach. In a letter delivered February 6 to the port, the two environmental groups give port officials 90 days to take enforceable steps to clean up the diesel pollution generated by its operations, or face the lawsuit. The lawsuit would be brought under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), a federal law that allows a federal court to order a polluter to stop causing harm to the public and to the environment if an imminent and substantial endangerment can be shown. In September 2007, the Port of Long Beach released its emissions inventory for 2005, which found that its operations emitted over 1,000 tons per year of diesel particulate matter. Most of these emissions were from oceangoing vessels and heavy-duty diesel trucks.
More than 400,000 residents within 45 square miles of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have a cancer risk of over 200 cases in a million, a risk 200 times higher than the federal government considers acceptable; and official data confirm that goods movement in California is responsible for 2,400 premature deaths every year. According to the California Air Resources Board, the current health impact associated with port-related goods movement and other port activities in California is close to $19 billion a year (in 2005 dollars). However, official data also show that each $1 invested in cleaning/preventing pollution returns between $3 and $8 in avoided costs for healthcare and lost workdays.NRDC’s work on this case is being handled by attorneys Melissa Lin Perrella and David Pettit, who is also Director of NRDC’s Southern California Air Program.
Navy Loses Two Sonar Cases this Month
On February 6, a federal court in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction limiting the area in which the U.S. Navy may train with a low-frequency sonar system – LFA – that blasts vast areas of the oceans with dangerous levels of underwater noise. LFA sonar relies on extremely loud, low-frequency sound to detect submarines at great distances. According to the Navy’s own studies, the LFA system generates noise intense enough to significantly disrupt whale behavior more than 300 miles away. The Court required the Navy to reduce the system’s potential harm to marine mammals by negotiating limits on its use with conservation groups who had sued over its deployment. The preliminary injunction will also place certain additional areas off limits to routine operations. In addition, it may provide a coastal exclusion zone wider than 12 nautical miles in areas of particularly important habitat. See further details of this case. On February 4, another federal court enjoined the Navy’s use of mid-frequency active sonar (a different sonar system) in exercises off southern California.
Banks Issue Emission Principles for Power Plant Loans
On February 4, investment bankers at Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley adopted a new set of principles designed to change the way they assess the financial risks associated with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of capital borrowed by electric utilities by including global warming emissions as a concrete element of their lending calculus. The move could sharply accelerate major strategic changes already emerging in the electricity industry, according to NRDC, which advised on the principles. Electric utilities are responsible for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide pollution. In recent months, backers have scrapped plans for new conventional coal plants in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oklahoma Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.In addition to NRDC, the principles were developed in consultation with American Electric Power, CMS Energy, DTE Energy, NRG Energy, PSEG, Sempra and Southern Company, as well as the group Environmental Defense. Click to read NRDC’s Statement on Carbon Principles. Congratulations to Dale Bryk, Senior Attorney, John Steelman, Climate Center Program Manager, and George Peridas, Climate Center Science Fellow, who co-led this effort on behalf of NRDC.
NRDC Southern California Movie Premiere
Calendar of Events
Thursday, May 8, 2014 (7:00 PM - 9:00 PM EDT) SpecialEvent
NRDC NY Council's Farm to Table Dinner at La Plaza Cultural Community Garden (New York City)
Join NRDC NY Council for the 4th Annual Farm to Table dinner scheduled for May 8th at the La Plaza Cultural community garden at 9th Street and Avenue C in NYC. We are looking forward to a great night and hope to see you there! For tickets, please click here: www.nrdc.org/nycouncilfarmtotable2014.