Weaken a key environmental law to help California meet its climate change goals?

Weaken a key environmental law to help California meet its climate change goals? That’s what a state lawmaker proposes. Except from LA Times article is below.

If this come to be, then why not revise laws that make it harder or more time-consuming for forest managers to conduct fuels treatments and other activities that reduce fire hazards or fire intensity? According to data from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the roughly 700,000 acres burned by wildfires in Idaho last year resulted in the emission of 12,300,000 tons of carbon dioxide, about 120 percent of the 10,200,000 tons of CO2 emitted by on-road vehicles in Idaho during the same period. Reduce the number of acres burned and you reduce emissions.

LA Times:

Assemblyman Tim Grayson (D-Concord) has introduced legislation that aims to make it harder for lawsuits filed under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, to stop construction of roads and public transit.

CEQA requires developers and public agencies to disclose a project’s environmental effects and take steps to reduce or eliminate them. But Grayson says the law can grind to a halt transportation projects that are needed to reduce the amount of cars on the road.

His legislation, Assembly Bill 1905, would make it easier for road or transit projects included in a state-approved regional growth plan to begin construction before any CEQA litigation is resolved.

Since state climate regulators will have already signed off on those road and transit projects when approving a region’s growth plan, the projects shouldn’t face multiple threats of environmental litigation, Grayson argues.

“What I’m looking at is how do we cut down on traffic congestion where we’re just spilling greenhouse gases, creating clouds of greenhouse gases and impacting the environment negatively,” Grayson said.

But Grayson’s approach is already attracting concerns from high-profile environmental organizations. Environmental groups often credit CEQA, which took effect in 1970, with preserving California’s natural beauty, and argue it is complementary — not contrary — to the more recent climate change laws.

4 Comments

  1. Colorado tried to argue to EPA that we should use the Volkswagen $ for roads..

    “A Sept. 3 Gazette editorial suggested using the money to help widen highways, instead. It suggested Colorado pitch the EPA on road projects because of the substantial reduction in harmful emissions that results from reducing traffic congestion. The article cited credible studies that prove the environmental benefits of unclogging traffic.

    “Throughout the Denver Metro area, idling is responsible for an estimated 40,000 tons of harmful air pollution a year and 400,000 tons of CO2 emissions. This results in over 40 million gallons of fuel wasted while idling, costing area residences and businesses over $100 million dollars a year,” states a report by Engines Off! — a collaborative effort of federal, state and local governments working to improve air quality.

    Instead of projects to spread the wealth, and clean the air, the money will benefit a special interest.”
    (Electric car owners.)
    Here’s the editorial.
    http://gazette.com/editorial-how-to-waste-68.7-million/article/1619987

  2. Steve says “why not revise laws that make it harder or more time-consuming for forest managers to conduct fuels treatments and other activities that reduce fire hazards or fire intensity? According to data from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the roughly 700,000 acres burned by wildfires in Idaho last year resulted in the emission of 12,300,000 tons of carbon dioxide… ”

    Simply put – It just doesn’t work that way. Fuel reduction transfers carbon from the forest to the atmosphere, just like fire, especially when carbon-rich commercial sized trees are removed. And since no one can predict fire location, timing or severity, there’s no way to schedule treatments to be in just the right location, and just in time to save the carbon in the forest.

    Scientist have looked at this question very closely.

    Law & Harmon (2011) conducted a literature review and concluded …

    Thinning forests to reduce potential carbon losses due to wildfire is in direct conflict with carbon sequestration goals, and, if implemented, would result in a net emission of CO2 to the atmosphere because the amount of carbon removed to change fire behavior is often far larger than that saved by changing fire behavior, and more area has to be harvested than will ultimately burn over the period of effectiveness of the thinning treatment.

    Law, B. & M.E. Harmon 2011. Forest sector carbon management, measurement and verification, and discussion of policy related to mitigation and adaptation of forests to climate change. Carbon Management 2011 2(1). http://terraweb.forestry.oregonstate.edu/pubs/lawharmon2011.pdf

    Campbell and Agar (2013) conducted a sensitivity analysis and found robust results indicating that fuel reduction does not increase forest carbon storage.

    … we attempt to remove some of the confusion surrounding this subject by performing a sensitivity analysis wherein long-term, landscape-wide carbon stocks are simulated under a wide range of treatment efficacy, treatment lifespan, fire impacts, forest recovery rates, forest decay rates, and the longevity of wood products. Our results indicate a surprising insensitivity of long-term carbon stocks to both management and biological variables. After 80 years, … a 1600% change in either treatment application rate or efficacy in arresting fire spread resulted in only a 10% change in total system carbon. This insensitivity of long-term carbon stocks is due in part by the infrequency of treatment/wildfire interaction and in part by the controls imposed by maximum forest biomass. None of the fuel treatment simulation scenarios resulted in increased system carbon.

    Campbell, J, Agar, A (2013. Forest wildfire, fuel reduction treatments, and landscape carbon stocks: A sensitivity analysis. Journal of Environmental Management 121 (2013) 124-132 http://fes.forestry.oregonstate.edu/sites/fes.forestry.oregonstate.edu/files/PDFs/Campbell_2013_JEM.pdf.

    … C costs associated with fuel treatments have can exceed the magnitude of C reduction in wildfire emissions, because a large percentage of biomass stored in forests (i.e., stem wood, branches, coarse woody debris) remains unconsumed, even in high-severity fires (Campbell et al., 2007; Mitchell et al., 2009). … Wildfire occurrence in a given area is uncertain and may never interact with treated stands with reduced fire hazard, ostensibly negating expected C benefits from fuel treatments. Burn probabilities in treated stands in southern Oregon are less than 2%, so the probability that a treated stand encounters wildfire and creates C benefits is low (Ager et al., 2010).)

    Restaino, Joseph C.; Peterson, David L. 2013. Wildfire and fuel treatment effects on forest carbon dynamics in the western United States. Forest Ecology and Management 303:46-60. http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/journals/pnw_2013_restiano001.pdf

    • 2ndLaw, You write that “Fuel reduction transfers carbon from the forest to the atmosphere, just like fire, especially when carbon-rich commercial sized trees are removed.” But there is more to this than carbon. There are compelling reasons to actively manage forests: reducing the risk of fire to people, property, and resources is one. The lumber milled from those commercial sized trees stores CO2 for a long period. Substituting wood products for CO2-intensive concrete and steel can a plus. For a big-picture view, see “Managing Forests because Carbon Matters: Integrating Energy, Products, and Land Management Policy,” by Robert W. Malmsheimer et al, Journal of Forestry, October/November 2011. The full text is here:

      http://wp.me/a3AxwY-5OP

      The abstract:

      The United States needs many different types of forests: some managed for wood products plus other benefits, and some managed for nonconsumptive uses and benefits. The objective of reducing global greenhouse gases (GHG) requires increasing carbon storage in pools other than the atmosphere. Growing more forests and keeping forests as forests are only part of the solution, because focusing solely on the sequestration benefits of the forests misses the important (and substantial) carbon storage and substitution GHG benefits of harvested forest products, as well as other benefits of active forest management.

      Forests and global climate are closely linked in terms of carbon storage and releases, water fluxes from the soil and into the atmosphere, and solar energy capture. Understanding how carbon dynamics are affected by stand age, density, and management and will evolve with climate change is fundamental to exploiting the capacity for sustainably managed forests to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. For example, even though temperate forests continue to be carbon sinks, in western North America forest fires and tree mortality from insects are converting some forests into net carbon sources.

      Expanding forest biomass use for biofuels and energy generation will compete with traditional forest products, but it may also produce benefits through competition and market efficiency. Short-rotation woody crops, as well as landowners’ preferences—based on investment-return expectations and environmental considerations, both of which will be affected by energy and environmental policies—have the potential to increase biomass supply.

      Unlike metals, concrete, and plastic, forest products store atmospheric carbon and have low embodied energy (the amount of energy it takes to make products), so there is a substitution effect when wood is used in place of other building materials. Wood used for energy production also provides substitution benefits by reducing the flow of fossil fuel–based carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

      The value of carbon credits generated by forest carbon offset projects differs dramatically, depending on the sets of carbon pools allowed by the protocol and baseline employed. The costs associated with establishing and maintaining offset projects depend largely on the protocols’ specifics. Measurement challenges and relatively high transaction costs needed for forest carbon offsets warrant consideration of other policies that promote climate benefits from forests and forest products but do not require project-specific accounting.

      Policies can foster changes in forest management and product manufacture that reduce carbon emissions over time while maintaining forests for environmental and societal benefits. US policymakers should take to heart the finding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its Fourth Assessment Report when it concluded that “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre, or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.” A rational energy and environmental policy framework must be based on the premise that atmospheric greenhouse gas levels are increasing primarily because of the addition of geologic fossil fuel–based carbon into the carbon cycle. Forest carbon policy that builds on the scientific information summarized in this article can be a significant and important part of a comprehensive energy policy that provides for energy independence and carbon benefits while simultaneously providing clean water, wildlife habitat, recreation, and other uses and values.

    • 2ndOutLaw

      As outlined below, I come to the exact opposite conclusion of one of your quotes. I conclude that rather than willy nilly applying fire treatments, applying treatments based on highest risk of a sustained ignition (proximity to human traffic and stand density), we would significantly improve the probability that a treated stand survives wildfire and creates C benefits. Please see last paragraph.

      I am confused, re: “Burn probabilities in treated stands in southern Oregon are less than 2%, so the probability that a treated stand encounters wildfire and creates C benefits is low”
      –> Please see below for my questions as to how to interpret this Ager et al., 2010 statement quoted in your Restaino, Joseph C.; Peterson, David L. 2013 link:

      1) “Burn probabilities in treated stands in southern Oregon are less than 2%”
      –> What does “Burn probabilities” mean? The probability of having a fire initiate on the stand, burn up a stand or what?
      –> Is that 2% for all stands treated or untreated? Does that mean that all stands will be burned within 50 years? If so, then that is ludicrous but still a pretty strong statement for treatments.
      –> If not what is the probability for untreated stands?

      2) “so the probability that a treated stand encounters wildfire and creates C benefits is low”
      –> What does “probability that a treated stand encounters wildfire? mean?
      –> Does it “encounter wildfire” if wildfire comes up to the edge of the treated stand and stops?
      –> How about if a fire is initiated in the stand but goes out before leaving the treated area in or around the stand?
      –> Does “encounters wildfire” mean that it is burned at the same intensity as a nearby untreated stand of the same relative forest type other than the treatment?

      You didn’t provide a link to the research that produce this Ager et al., 2010 statement so parsing the statement as above only leads me to have considerable doubt about taking the conclusion “so the probability that a treated stand encounters wildfire and creates C benefits is low” at face value.

      I would contest the statement as follows:
      a) The probability of any stand encountering forest fire can not be represented by an average.
      b) We know that the probability of a lightning strike is a fairly random weather related event but the probability of it turning into a raging inferno is inversely proportional to stand density at the ignition point when all other factors are equal.
      c) We know that humans directly or indirectly cause 84% of US wildfires which resulted in “nearly half of the acreage lost to wildfire. This number excludes intentionally set controlled burns”
      –> So, rather than willy nilly applying fire treatments, applying treatments based on highest risk of a sustained ignition (proximity to human traffic and excessive/unhealthy stand density), we would significantly improve the probability to HIGH that a treated stand survives wildfire and creates C benefits.

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