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Environmental groups sue County over carbon credits

With their sights painting bullseyes on the proposed monster developments Lilac Hills Ranch and Newland Sierra, several environmental organizations led by the Sierra Club Monday filed two lawsuits challenging San Diego County’s most recently adopted Climate Action Plan.

According to the Sierra Club the CAP “again fails to set forth concrete, enforceable measures that adequately reduce the climate change impacts of development in the county. The lawsuit alleges that the Climate Action Plan relies too heavily on carbon credit programs located outside of the county, stating that San Diego officials will not be able to survey and enforce the authenticity of these credits and therefore does not actually achieve confirmable emissions reductions.”

One case, filed by the Sierra Club, is another phase of a case brought back in 2012. The new case, which is joined by a number of environmental groups, involves a new cause of action that was not previously brought.

“The San Diego Board of Supervisors once again is failing the people they are charged to protect” said Sierra Club San Diego Conservation Chair George Courser. “Rather than calling for unenforceable actions that can easily be cast aside and ignored, the Board must adopt a legally adequate Climate Action Plan that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and protects the clean air and water and health of San Diegans.”

Both the Newland Sierra and Lilac Hills Ranch projects rely heavily on carbon credits purchased outside of the county to achieve what they claim is “carbon neutrality.”

San Diego’s climate plan calls for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 77 percent below 2014 levels by 2050 but the Sierra Club and its allies object to the fact that it relies on offsetting emissions through carbon credits to get there. “Under this proposal, developers are allowed to maintain business as usual all while spending money to take credit for global carbon reductions that may be illusory and will not provide the air quality benefit to San Diegans that local offsets would provide,” according to the Sierra.

“In 2011, the County promised to prepare a Climate Action Plan that reduces greenhouse gas emissions in the County, but it has reneged on its promise,” said Josh Chatten-Brown of Chatten-Brown & Carstens, the law firm that is representing the plaintiffs.

“Moreover, the County essentially allows unbridled development in far-flung areas provided that developers purchase carbon offsets from anywhere in the world. Such offsets may be completely illusory and would not benefit the residents of San Diego as offsets attained through local projects would. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups filed this lawsuit to ensure the County fulfills its original promise.”

The Sierra Club was joined by Center for Biological Diversity, Cleveland National Forest Foundation, Climate Action Campaign, Endangered Habitats League, Environmental Center of San Diego, and Preserve Wild Santee in the lawsuit filed by Chatten-Brown and Carstens.

The and the Sierra Club have been fighting in the courtroom for years over carbon credits. The Board of Supervisors was ordered by the court to redraft its Climate Action Plan. Under this plan developers are able to purchase carbon credits to offset air pollution and theoretically have “zero net impact” on air quality.

Under the County’s plan developers can buy carbon credits from carbon registries that are located anywhere, although they are required to do as much mitigation onsite as possible. The two largest developments currently being processed, Lilac Hills Ranch and Newland Sierra, both rely on solar panels and electric charging stations to help mitigate the majority of carbon impacts created by car trips.

The Sierra Club is fighting this, arguing that all of the carbon credits should be located inside of San Diego County and benefit local residents.

Jon Rilling, project manager for Lilac Hills Ranch, told The Times-Advocate: The only thing this will do is prevent much needed housing to be built in San Diego, where working families need it the most. This type of litigation has zero environmental benefit and will actually cause more sprawl by forcing working families to move to places like Riverside. It’s a fact that 60,000 Riverside County residents commute to jobs in San Diego County every day and this litigation will cause more greenhouse gas emissions because more families will now be commuting over 2 hours to their jobs in San Diego.”

Rilling added, “Lilac Hills Ranch on the other hand is committed to carbon neutrality. The community would offset the majority of greenhouse gas emissions within the project by providing solar on every home and every commercial building, electric car chargers in every garage and even outside the community, planting 35,000 trees to remove carbon from the air and using less water use at full build-out than the site uses now (a fact that has been verified by the Municipal Water District). However, to be conservative, the project doesn’t take credit for a lot of these features and so the project guarantees zero-net emissions by a combination of features, including carbon credits.”

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