MPOs push back on Air Resources Board; San Diego SCS inches forward

At yesterday’s ARB meeting on the San Diego SCS, there was a lot of talk and very little action.  The biggest surprise was the full-court press of MPO directors that lined up to show support for San Diego’s plan. It almost makes you think they were worried.

ARB staff raised several of our major concerns with the plan – most notably, the “backsliding” of GHG reductions after 2020. These comments were echoed in testimony from advocates, and several Board members – especially Professor Dan Sperling and Dee Dee D’Adamo – made pointed comments about these and other shortcomings in the plan.

SANDAG pushed back with support from state and local Chambers of Commerce, the BIA, and a surprising demonstration of solidarity from other MPO Directors including Steve Heminger, Mike McKeever, Hasan Ihkrata and Vince Harris.  Their message?  ARB should take a “strict constructionist” role in reviewing the SCSes and limit their review to technical – not policy — issues.  In other words, back off.

Chair Mary Nichols and the MPO directors made the case that other state agencies, such as the Strategic Growth Council, are better suited to weigh in on the policy content of the SCSes. They referred to recent comment letters from the State Attorney General and OPR as evidence for an emerging “activist” role among state agencies on SB 375. We like that idea, but in this context it also served as convenient way out for ARB, who avoided making any tough calls on the San Diego plan.

In the end, the ARB board didn’t take any action and let the final decision on the San Diego SCS rest with ARB’s Executive Officer James Goldstene.  Given staff’s recommended approval, this amounts to a tacit approval. The Board also recommended that future SCSes come before the board earlier in the process, when there is still time to “gently nudge” them in the right direction.  SCSes for Southern California and Sacramento are just around the corner – hopefully ARB sharpens its elbows soon.

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