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Emissions pact near in San Bernardino County

The Board of Supervisors meets today to vote on settling the state's greenhouse gas lawsuit, which was a factor in budget stalemate.

August 21, 2007|Margot Roosevelt | Times Staff Writer

San Bernardino County is expected today to approve a "unique and very powerful plan to combat global warming," state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said Monday.

The county Board of Supervisors will meet in closed session to vote on the settlement of a lawsuit that Brown filed in April to force the county to account for greenhouse gas emissions in its 10-year growth plan.

San Bernardino County, the largest county by acreage in the lower 48 states, has been growing at breakneck speed in a sprawl pattern that has drawn sharp criticism from environmental planners. More than 500,000 new residents are expected to move into the county by 2030, bringing its population to 2.5 million.

Although the outcome of the lawsuit is not final until today, Brown said he had met with the county board chairman, vice chairman and general counsel and that "they took it very seriously. There were proposals back and forth. What we have now is the product of genuine cooperation."

Brown's suit, which asserted that the county must account for its effect on global warming under California's 1970 Environmental Quality Act, spurred opposition from the building industry and the state Chamber of Commerce, as well as local officials.

It also contributed to a stalemate in the Legislature's negotiations over the state budget, with Republicans saying they would not approve a budget unless it contained a provision that barred global warming-related lawsuits under the Environmental Quality Act.

"There was a lot of fear-mongering in Sacramento," the attorney general said. "There was a lot of false information about projects being stopped."

Brown's suit, which garnered national attention, is part of a bold new effort to reduce global warming emissions by attacking sprawl. Several California counties, including Orange and Marin, have incorporated greenhouse gas measures in their planning.

And environmental groups have filed seven lawsuits in California, including one against San Bernardino County, to force officials to measure and mitigate carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to climate change. Beginning with Brown's predecessor, Bill Lockyer, the attorney general's office has been warning counties that they must evaluate effects on the climate.

Since April, Brown has also written to officials in Merced, Kern, San Joaquin and Yuba counties.

"Wherever we have intervened," he said, "there have been nothing but positive efforts to deal with global warming."

But attorney Jonathan Evans, of the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based advocacy group, said his organization had not settled its suit against San Bernardino County. The county must inventory its greenhouse gas emissions, set reduction goals and implement a definite plan, Evans said.

"There are simple things the county can do: require a certain percentage of homes to include solar panels or offer incentives, enact energy-efficient building standards, and foster greater housing density close to public transportation," he said. "If we can't build solar energy in the desert, where can we build it?"

County officials declined to comment on the proposed settlement.

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