Bay Area Planners Get Greenhouse “Guidelines”

The San Francisco Bay Area is among the first metropolitan areas in the nation to set up local developer guidelines for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Craig Miller

Photo: Craig Miller

The new rules, passed Wednesday by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, mean that developers planning anything that will produce GHG emissions above certain thresholds will face an environmental impact review. For “stationary” sources, projected emissions above 10,000 metric tons (tonnes) per year will now trigger an EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). For other, “non-stationary” projects, the trigger is set at 1,100 tons per year or 4.6 tonnes per person affected, such as residents or workers.

The GHG thresholds are coupled with similar triggers for local pollutants such as particulates and for some emissions that play a role in both local air quality and warming, such as nitrous oxides (NOX). Air District spokesman Aaron Richardson couldn’t confirm that the first-in-the-nation status applied to the GHG guidelines, but that it placed the Bay Area “among the first.”

District chief Jack Broadbent said, in a release, that they “provide a blueprint for local agencies to use in making smart development decisions that protect residents from harmful air emissions and greenhouse gases.” Broadbent said the rules will be “especially protective of communities that already have significant air quality concerns.”

Exactly how they’ll be applied is something that even Air District staffers had a tough time explaining. Abby Young, an environmental planner at the District, who worked on the guidelines, explained that 10,000 tonnes per year is a benchmark that might be associated with a major expansion of an oil refinery. She said 1,100 tonnes per year is more or less the level of GHG emissions associated with a typical 50-home suburban housing development, but that vehicle trips in and out of the neighborhood would also be counted toward the threshold. “It’s a very complex, multi-layered thing,” she said.

The complete guidelines are available as a PDF download from the Air District’s website.