August 22, 2007

State drops its lawsuit

County to work out global warming plan

Matt Wrye, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

The state Attorney General's Office isn't suing San Bernardino County over global warming issues after all.

Members of the county Board of Supervisors announced on Tuesday the end of litigation by Attorney General Edmund "Jerry" Brown, who filed suit against the county in April, alleging that its general plan didn't include direction on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At a news conference, Brown said an agreement has been worked out, which four county supervisors approved during their morning meeting.

The county will work with the state in decreasing emissions through conforming county land-use decisions and operational policies to a reduction target goal - all at an estimated price tag of $500,000.

"This is a landmark agreement," Brown said. "This (emissions) problem is so large that no one county can solve it by itself. This plan is extremely innovative."

However, Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt voted against working out an agreement with the attorney general. The attorney general's lawsuit is "contrary to California's separation of powers, where laws are adopted by the legislature," he said in a statement.

Moreover, the county isn't entirely responsible for greenhouse emissions stemming from development and transportation growth, seeing as how it has authority over a mere 15 percent of the land within its borders, Mitzelfelt said.

Faced with questions about how the forces of economic development can be reconciled with a plan to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, Supervisor Gary Ovitt conceded that the agreement will be challenging to carry out.

"There are more problems than there are answers right now," Ovitt said. "There's a lot of things to do. (Land-use) planning only goes so far."

It will take "people at many levels" within local and state government, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations to accomplish the county's new goal, Ovitt said.

That agreement gives the county 30 months to add a policy to its general plan for reducing greenhouse emissions.

It also gives the same amount of time for adopting an inventory plan for compiling emissions data from 1990, current emissions data, sources of current emissions, projected emissions through 2020, a reduction goal and mitigation measures to meet that goal.

The agreement also calls for mitigation policies related to county-owned diesel vehicles.

As far as the attorney general's duties, that office will be responsible for assisting the county in recouping the estimated costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the agreement states. It will give advice on projects and assist the county with any legal challenges to its effort.

Ovitt and Supervisor Josie Gonzales said the agreement is a testament to the county's commitment in reducing greenhouse gasses, which are thought by some scientists to cause global warming.

The issue arose four months ago when the Attorney General's office said it was suing the county for not having a global warming element in its general plan. The plan is a general vision of where houses, businesses and open space will be over the next 25 years.

The lawsuit in April came after the state's global warming law, Assembly Bill 32, was signed in September. It was a time when the county was busy completing its general plan, a hefty undertaking.

According to the bill, the California Air Resources board of directors must develop state guidelines on global warming by 2011.

"What we're doing right now is taking an educated guess in what AB32 will result in," said David Wert, county spokesman.

There are no official state guidelines on how counties should approach the issue of global warming, but the agreement helps chart a new path within the issue, Wert said.

"It sounds like (the attorney general) sued San Bernardino County to put all of the other counties and cities on notice that local governments should address global warming," Wert said.

He agreed with Mitzelfelt's comment about the county having authority over only 15 percent of the land within its borders.

Given that fact, the county has a limited role in shaping greenhouse emissions, Mitzelfelt said.

The supervisor believes the county would've won the attorney general's lawsuit.

He said he's worried the agreement will give the false perception that the county has authority over a greater amount of land than it actually owns.