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This blog combines articles from ADEC ESG Solutions, as well as FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS), an ADEC Innovation.

The Triple Bottom Line of the Central Valley Food Production Industry

Posted by Mary Bean on Nov 27, 2013 8:05:00 AM

vvv-0216-img_LOW.jpgThe California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently published an updated Scoping Plan for Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32 or The California Global Warming Solutions Act), which reports on the State’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since passage of the law in 2006. The Scoping Plan also presents an updated set of strategies to ensure that the state can meet the goal of 33% reduction in emissions by 2020, and sets the stage for meeting the more ambitious 80% reduction target by 2050. Clearly there is a lot of work to do to meet the ambitious emissions reduction targets set by the state. Transportation emissions are by far the largest source of GHGs, representing 38 percent of statewide emissions. Reducing vehicle miles traveled—by commuters, by businesses, and by industry—will be critical to achieving the AB 32 targets.

I recently attended the American Planning Association state conference in Visalia, where many of the sessions focused on issues of importance to California’s Central Valley communities: agriculture, unemployment, and air quality. The Central Valley is one of the world’s biggest agricultural producers. Fresno, Tulare, and Kern are among the counties in the Central Valley that produce the most crops annually. Collectively, these three counties are the US’ main producers of cotton, grapes, oranges, tomatoes, and almonds, to name a few. However, produce grown in the Central Valley is often transported out of state for processing, generating unnecessary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Moreover, for all of the agricultural activity, unemployment rates remain high in the Valley: as of July 2013, Kern has an 11.6% unemployment rate; Fresno 12.5%; and Tulare 13.8%. These rates are all far ahead of the state-wide average of 8.9% and even farther ahead of the national average of 7.2% (US Bureau of Labor Statistic).dsc08120-3696-LOW.jpg

With transportation emissions and related air quality impacts being targeted for greater regulation, and unemployment holding back Central Valley economies, it appears that the time is ripening for some legislative intervention that could address these critical issues within the context of reduction targets established by AB 32. A CEQA streamlining provision for agricultural production facilities would promote and encourage the development of an industry with substantial benefits and co-benefits, namely reductions in transportation emissions, along with generation of employment opportunities for local residents, and improvement in air quality.

Although the State has recently promoted ways to streamline the CEQA process, the focus of the streamlining effort has been on transit-oriented infill projects and not on Central Valley industries like agriculture production. Assembly Bill 900 (AB 900) or the Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 2011, provides streamlined review for certain types of projects that promote employment and economic improvement. The list of projects eligible for streamlining under AB 900 includes residential, retail, commercial, sports, cultural, entertainment, or recreational use projects. Renewable or clean energy manufacturing projects can also avail themselves of the CEQA streamlining provisions of AB 900. However, no such streamlining is available for projects related to agricultural production.

blog-136-graphics.jpgSB 743 provides opportunities for streamlining for projects located in transit priority areas. The bill encourages the development of new methodologies for evaluating transportation impacts; ones that do not rely solely upon automobile delay as the metric, but rather take into consideration statewide goals for congestion management, infill development, and reductions in GHG. With Central Valley’s growing population and the increasing demand for fresh produce and sustainable practices, we should consider ways to both harness the local employment base while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. CEQA streamlining that addresses both of these critical issues while also promoting a more sustainable agricultural industry would be a win-win-win scenario.  



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