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Richmond’s Climate Action Plan

on November 2, 2009

People tend to think of greenhouse gas emissions as a global problem, but Richmond officials say that they have a direct impact on the city’s residents.

“There is often a connection between greenhouse gas emissions and other things harmful to people’s health,” said Jennifer Oorbeck, the city’s environmental manager.  Heavy particulates from diesel are a greenhouse gas, and may also cause serious public health problems like asthma, Oorbeck said.

Rising sea levels predicted by climate change scientists will also affect Richmond.  Sea level has risen consistently since 1961, and the sea continues to rise at an increasing clip, as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studies in 1993 and 2003 revealed.  According to the California Energy Commission’s California Climate Change Center, a project of the state energy commission, sea levels are expected to rise by 8 inches between 2000 and 2050.

Richmond officials have started work on the city’s climate action plan, a blueprint for reducing greenhouse gasses, but the city’s efforts to curb those emissions may be especially challenging.  That’s because the vast majority of Richmond’s greenhouse gasses come from industry, a difficult problem for a city to control, officials say.

Ninety percent of Richmond’s greenhouse gas emissions come from industry, and ninety percent of industrial emissions come from Chevron’s Richmond refinery, according to city reports.  These numbers are based on a 2005 analysis of emissions from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

“Chevron leads the pack, producing virtually 100 percent of industrial point source emissions” in Richmond, said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. “Transportation accounts for 8.9 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. This is the opposite of most cities.”

Transportation is usually the single largest source of city’s greenhouse gasses.  Most cities can make cuts by measures such as greening the city’s fleet of cars, or offering people incentives to take public transportation.

Emissions by type and city

Emissions by type and city

Transportation accounts for 36 percent of greenhouse gasses in Berkeley, for example, and 58 percent of emissions in Oakland, according to city reports.

Berkeley’s climate action plan, approved in July 2009, encourages people to use public transportation and bike lanes. Those changes could have a real impact on greenhouse gasses, because gasoline-run vehicles are the city’s largest single source of emissions.

In contrast, the question for Richmond’s climate action plan, due in 2010, is “how to best partner with local industries,” Oorbeck said.

Asked about plans to partner with the city to reduce greenhouse gases, Chevron spokesperson Brent Tippen stressed the company’s ongoing commitment to controlling emissions while meeting demand for energy.

“Greenhouse gas emissions from our California operations are proportional to Chevron’s size as the state’s largest energy company,” Tippen said. “Richmond Refinery operations are approximately 1 to 1.5% of state’s total inventory.”

Richmond is also looking to smart growth and transportation to tame greenhouse gas emissions, Oorbeck said.

A green building ordinance, requiring environmentally sensitive new construction or renovation, is now before the city council. New businesses with more than 10 employees may be required to provide a transportation benefit to their workers, such as transit passes or a pre-tax deduction for transit expenses.

Cities across the county are combating global warming with climate action plans. U.S. mayors took on climate change in earnest in 2006 as a response to the federal government’s failure to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that required member states to limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

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