When it comes to air pollution there’s good news and bad news. Good news: There’s not much industrial pollution in SLO County. Bad news: Cars are causing most of the pollution and it will be hard to get people to stop driving.
According to early greenhouse gas studies in SLO County, about 67 percent of the local pollution is due to transportation and about 15 percent comes from commercial and industrial sources. That’s tough for planners because it’s easier to regulate industry than drivers, explained James Caruso, a senior planner for the county.
“We’re a rural county and a lot of people come here for that rural lifestyle,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the rural lifestyle is one of the aspects of living here that does drive up those miles traveled.”
SLO County emitted about 1.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air in 2006, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Report of a countywide conservation and open space element. Under state law all cities and counties in California must develop a baseline emissions estimate and then plan ways to reduce the level of greenhouse gas pumped into the air. The county’s emission results do not include incorporated cities, which are in the process of their own studies.
Several recently passed laws (AB 32 and SB 375) created the goal of reducing statewide emissions to the same levels as 1990.
But in SLO County, where most of the pollution comes from highways, the issue gets tricky. Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said reducing vehicle emissions is a three-pronged approach: regulate the cars, regulate the fuel, and give people cleaner transportation options. That last prong, he added, is the “thorniest of the problems,” and it’s the one left to local officials rather than the state and feds.
Reducing emissions is new territory for policy makers—the air board is continually writing new regulations and devising new strategies on how to reduce emissions. For now, a lot of questions from local authorities are left unanswered.
“I’m sure better answers will come up in the next several years, knock on wood,” Caruso said.