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Communities win federal climate change funds

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Tackling climate change just got a little bit easier, with some help from federal funding.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded grants to five local and tribal governments in California for projects that include reducing waste, improving energy efficiency and planting drought-resistant gardens. Nationwide, 50 communities will receive funds for localized efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, totaling $20 million in two years.

While there isn't a national target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the state's Global Warming Solutions Act (known as AB 32) mandates a reduction to 1990 levels by 2020, about 15 percent less than current emissions.*

In the Bay Area, Alameda County's Stop Waste program received $498,720 to reduce industrial packaging waste, swapping cardboard boxes and wooden pallets with more durable and reusable totes. The project began as a pilot program in 2007 and is expanding thanks to the federal dollars. But working with local businesses that use national suppliers can be a challenge, said Justin Lehrer, the project manager. 

"It involves making a change to transport packaging, so it's more than just putting recycling bins in place," he said. "It creates ripples throughout the (supply chain) system."

One example is Oakland-based Peerless Coffee & Tea. The company had to retrofit its truck fleet to accommodate the reusable totes that replaced boxes and pallets. And though there is often an up-front cost for reusables, Lehrer said their program works with companies to identify long-term savings. The program is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 16,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. 

For Humboldt County's Waste Management Authority, the program's goal is to turn commercial food waste into fuel through the use of an anaerobic food digester. Collecting organic waste from Humboldt State University, St. Joseph's Hospital, Costco and a number of breweries and cheese makers, the digester will break down the food waste, collect the by-product – methane gas – and use it to generate electricity. 

Beginning this year, the pilot project will help identify benefits for its customers, reduce overall waste and identify the most efficient route for the collection trucks using GIS mapping technology. Juliette Bohn, the project manager, said the program creates local jobs, produces renewable electricity and helps meet a number of statewide goals for climate change and renewable energy. 

"If we are going to reach our AB 32 goals, then we should get reductions in every way we can," Bohn said.

Sacramento County is using its $486,668 grant to expand a river-friendly landscaping program, part of a sustainable landscaping initiative. Encouraging homeowners and businesses to plant "rain gardens," the county provides a handy guide to selecting native and drought-resistant vegetation.

The native plants not only reduce storm water runoff, they attract bees and butterflies, and reduce the "heat island" effect that occurs in urban areas in the summer. Individuals can receive up to a $500 rebate to offset the costs of supplies and labor, said media representative Diane Margetts. The county estimates the project will reduce emissions by the equivalent of 10,350 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Other winners in California include the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians in Santa Barbara County, and the Small Cities Climate Action Partnership, which includes Albany, El Cerrito, Piedmont and San Pablo. The tribal program aims to educate the community about energy efficiency, which includes retrofitting and weatherizing homes. It will also include job training to teach solar panel installation. The Small Cities partnership also promotes energy efficiency, the EPA's website states. 

According to the agency, nearly 20 percent of the applications for the Climate Showcase Communities program in the two-year grant cycle came from California. All 50 programs are estimated to reduce emissions by the equivalent of 350,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, by 2014.

An EPA representative emphasized that those are estimates, and each program is required to monitor and report actual reductions. The "showcase" programs are intended to serve as replicable models for other communities.

"We're pleased to see the federal government supporting efforts at the local level and among tribal lands to promote climate change programs," Stanley Young, a representative for the state's Air Resources Board, said in an e-mail message. "This helps ensure that the effort to reach a clean energy future is a commitment at every level of government, and it's an example of the kind of cooperation that supports plans and projects that touch people's everyday lives and supports the specific, on-the-ground solutions."

The Air Resources Board is in charge of implementing AB 32's goals.


* This sentence was corrected from an earilier version that said the state's Global Warming Solutions Act (known as AB 32) mandates a reduction to 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.



Filed under: Environment, Daily Report


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