Shute Mihaly & Weinberger's Comments on behalf of CFROG regarding Certification of the 2040 General Plan Final Environmental Impact Report and Adoption of the 2040 General Plan
Working for the health of the planet is CFROG's core mission and the effects of climate change have impacted Ventura County profoundly — from the wildfires which have raged out of control to coastal infrastructure now threatened by sea-level rise.
According to a recent study of data by the Washington Post, with an average temperature increase of 2.6 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times, Ventura ranks as the fastest-warming county in the Lower 48 states.
That's why it is critical that Ventura County gets its climate policies right in the General Plan Update, now newly released. Please read the Conservation and Open Space Element as well as Appendix B: Climate Change to stay up to date.
You can find CROG's official comment letter here, drafted with the help of the prestigious environmental law firm, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP.
Talking points on General Plan Update:
• It is absolutely clear and indisputable that climate change is here, it is real and its effects are already being felt throughout our county. This General Plan Update is our biggest chance to set policy that will really be actionable against climate change.
• While its goals are laudable, the draft update fails to provide enough emissions reduction to meet, or even make a sizable dent, toward the state-mandated climate goals.
• We need to do better. The Climate Action Plan (CAP) is seriously incomplete and lacks the technical and scientific input needed for a meaningful CAP. We are calling for a sense of urgency and an “all-hands-on-deck” effort to get it right. The county should contract immediately with a team like those employed by the city and county of Los Angeles in order to produce a robust plan capable of meeting the greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reduction goals. At the same time, we are working to strengthen individual policies in the General Plan that reduce emissions that harm people and the planet.
• The Los Angeles Sustainability Plan, aimed at meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, has clear and bold goals: “By eliminating fossil fuel production in the county, including drilling, production and refining, the county will protect its residents from harmful local pollution that inequitably burdens low-income communities and communities of color.” And this comes from the second largest oil-producing county in California. We need a similar goal for Ventura County.
• Another goal from the LA Plan: “Collaborate with DOGGR and unincorporated communities and affected cities to develop a sunset strategy for all oil and gas operations that prioritizes disadvantaged communities.” Ventura County needs to do the same.
• Climate change is caused by fossil fuel production and consumption. The CAP addresses the consumption side by encouraging electric fuel vehicles and clean power for homes and businesses. It does not address the production side at all. Ventura County is the third largest oil and gas producing county in California. As such, we must do our part to reduce oil production through thoughtful, rigorous policy to phase out production.
• This CAP will set the policies that will drive land use decisions and projects that affecting GHG emissions for the next 20 years. The planet depends on each county, municipality and country to do this right.
Talking points specific to the new Draft Environmental Impact Report:
Buffer Requirements – The proposed buffers for locating oil and gas facilities a safe distance from schools and homes are inadequate. Studies show adverse health impacts from oil and gas facilities at distances of at least half a mile.
Action Needed: Buffers should be increased from the currently proposed 1,500 feet to 2,500 feet.
Trucking vs. Pipeline – Currently, oil and produced water from local oil wells are mostly transported by truck. Trucking creates safety hazards on county roads, exposes residents to toxic diesel pollution, and causes substantial amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Draft General Plan Policy COS-7.7 attempts to address this problem by requiring newly permitted oil wells to use pipelines instead of trucks to transport oil and produced water.
However, the DEIR attempts to undermine Policy COS-7.7, concluding that the added costs of constructing pipeline connections make this policy infeasible and may lead to a loss of petroleum resources. The DEIR proposes to allow trucking if pipelines are deemed infeasible. This would create a loophole allowing oil companies to simply claim that the cost of a pipeline connection is too high.
Action Needed: Maintain Policy COS-7.7 as recommended by the Board of Supervisors, so that all newly permitted discretionary oil wells are required to convey oil and produced water via pipelines instead of trucking.
Flaring – Draft General Plan Policy COS-7.8 requires gases from all new discretionary oil and gas wells to be collected and used, or removed for sale or proper disposal, instead of being flared or vented to the atmosphere. The policy would allow flaring only in cases of emergency or for testing purposes. This is important because venting and flaring release both toxic gases and powerful climate pollutants like methane to the atmosphere.
The DEIR tries to undermine this policy, too. It concludes that the added costs of treating the gas on site or constructing pipeline connections would make this requirement infeasible and may lead to a loss of petroleum resources. The DEIR instead would allow flaring if conveyance by pipeline is deemed infeasible, creating another loophole that could allow oil producers to simply claim that the cost is too high and continue with business as usual.
Action Needed: Maintain Policy COS-7.8 as recommended by the Board of Supervisors, so that all newly permitted discretionary oil wells are required to collect gases and use or remove them for sale or proper disposal instead of flaring or venting. Flaring should be allowed only in cases of emergency or for testing purposes.
Climate Action Plan – The draft General Plan and the DEIR conclude that the county’s greenhouse gas emissions would have significant impacts. However, the Climate Action Plan proposed as part of the General Plan is inadequate and will not reduce emissions in a meaningful way. Most proposed Climate Action Plan policies are vague and aspirational, relying on noncommittal assurances that the county will “encourage” and “support” change rather than clearly require measurable reductions in climate pollution.
Climate Action Plan policies must result in measurable, enforceable reductions sufficient to meet California’s climate goals. This is important because the General Plan and related Climate Action Plan can be used to streamline approval of future development projects. The county may not carefully analyze the climate consequences of future projects — including discretionary oil and gas development — if those projects claim they’re consistent with the Climate Action Plan. If the Climate Action Plan consists mostly of vague, voluntary, or otherwise unenforceable policies, future projects could easily be found consistent and could evade proper environmental review.
Action Needed: Revise the Climate Action Plan and corresponding policies in the General Plan to achieve measurable, enforceable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse Gas “Super-Emitters” – A recent NASA study documents that several Ventura County facilities, including oil and gas operations, are “super-emitters” of powerful climate pollutants. Stationary source emissions, including those from oil and gas operations, make up approximately 26 percent of all emissions in California. The General Plan must include strong policies to detect and curb emissions from these “super-emitters.”
Action Needed: The county should adopt the strongest possible measures to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are curbed to protect air quality and to ensure a safe, sustainable future for all county residents.
For Ojai residents:
The 2040 General Plan must include a strong defense of the five-pound air emissions limit for the Ojai Valley. All projects subject to CEQA review must include an evaluation of the totality of air emissions in order to understand and mitigate the impacts to local air quality.