A report showing greenhouse gas emissions went up, not down, from 2007 to 2016 led the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to question how the numbers were determined.
But it also was the impetus for them to increase county government’s efforts to cut back and actually up the ante, increasing the reduction target from 40 percent to 50 percent over 1997 levels — the state’s baseline year — by 2020.
The board voted 4-1, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting, to accept staff’s recommended measures to reduce emissions but added the higher reduction target and directed the staff to return with an initial report on the efforts in two to three months.
Jennifer Cregar, co-chief of the Sustainability Division of the Community Services Department, told supervisors the county experienced greenhouse gas emission reductions in solid waste and water and wastewater sources since 2007, the baseline year used by the county.
But the emissions from transportation, building energy, off-road and agriculture sources all saw increases for an overall rise of 14 percent.
“That is, unfortunately, the wrong direction and does stand out from what we’re seeing in other (jurisdictions),” Cregar said.
“There is a nice bright spot in the waste recovery section,” she said. “We’re diverting more from the landfill.”
The 10-percent drop from solid waste sources was attributed to less tonnage going to landfills, while the 28-percent reduction from water and wastewater pumping sources was attributed to double-counting in 2007.
The 12-percent increase from transportation sources — the largest producer of greenhouse gas in the county — was the result of more miles being driven, although that was partially offset by cleaner vehicles, according to the report.
Emissions from building energy were up 13 percent due to increased nonresidential use of natural gas, while emissions from off-road sources rose 36 percent because of increased construction activity.
The report attributed the 32-percent rise in emissions from agricultural sources to an increased use of fertilizer, although it said that was partially offset by fewer livestock.
“So, overall, emissions are up 14 percent when they should be down 15 percent from 2007,” Cregar said.
Adam asked how the figures for emissions were determined, and Cregar replied they are estimates calculated by looking at the amount of activity in each source category and multiplying that by a standard factor for that activity.
That led some supervisors to believe there were errors in the way the numbers were entered into the calculations
“It just boggles the mind that we in Santa Barbara County are seeing an increase in miles traveled when other counties aren’t,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
“I’d like to see a list of other counties and how they are doing,” he said. “I can’t think of any place more environmentally (conscious) than Santa Barbara County.”
Board Chairman and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said housing isn’t built near where the jobs are in Santa Barbara County.
“Another explanation is that we’re posers,” Williams said, explaining that county residents talk a lot about environmental stewardship but don’t follow through.
“I want to point out, these agriculture numbers, how they couldn’t possibly be,” Adam said.
He said farmers wouldn’t apply fertilizer that cost more than the value of the crop, so farmers have a greater incentive now to reduce their use.
But Cregar said the figures were supplied by those in the agricultural community.
“The bottom line is we’re not where we should be to meet our 2020 greenhouse gas emission targets without taking further action,” she said.
Cregar outlined some of the steps the county can take to reduce emissions in transportation, including providing housing closer to jobs, increasing funds for active transportation and shared mobility projects and making the county vehicle fleet all electric.
“I sure would like to know what that would cost,” Adam said. “I’m all for it if it will save money.”
Cregar said fully building out the solar generating potential in Cuyama Valley rural area could account for about 14 percent of the total greenhouse gas reduction the county needs.
She said the county should seek areas for renewable energy projects, develop a regional energy network, encourage new homes to be fully electric with no natural gas service and finish the county campus master plans.
When the Tajiguas Resource Recovery Project goes online, that will account for about 62 percent of the total reduction needed, Cregar said.
Managing water use at public parks and creating demonstration gardens would cut emissions from water and wastewater sources, while carbon farming and replacing farming equipment with higher-efficiency units would help in that category.
But Adam rejected high-efficiency farm equipment.
“I’m telling you, I’ve got these Tier 4 tractors out there that don’t work,” he said, saying he couldn’t support the recommendations. “We’ve gotten beyond the technology.”
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said the county needs to make a statement by going to an all-electric fleet, combined with solar power for county facilities to charge the batteries.
“Global warming is the most diabolical issue that’s ever faced humanity,” said 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann. “If we don’t address it now, it’s only going to get worse. Our job up here is to try to anticipate problems in the future and address them now.”