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Petaluma leads on climate

Much to the chagrin of most Petalumans, President Donald Trump on June 1 announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. This abrupt national policy change was ordered despite overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that climate change is a very real threat to the planet and our way of life. Nearly every nation on earth was working on solving the problem until the United States pulled out of the accord which set non-binding targets for countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the President’s foolhardy order, Petaluma and Sonoma County, along with dozens of other cities and counties nationwide and the State of California, remain committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. State, city and county governments have a tremendous influence over climate policy due to their ability to regulate building and transportation, two key sectors that contribute emissions into the atmosphere.

Petaluma’s climate action plan, first initiated 15 years ago, includes many concrete steps that the city is taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Through its building code, Petaluma has required new buildings to have energy efficient lighting, appliances and solar panels. Its fleet of municipal vehicles continues to get cleaner as plug-in and zero-emission electric and hybrid units have replaced aging city vehicles. Diesel buses have been replaced with clean-burning diesel engines.

The city is focused on transit-oriented development, an urban planning approach that encourages people to use public transit or walk. The city also has a robust bike path network that encourages cycling. An innovative project in the works at the city’s Ellis Creek wastewater treatment plant will eventually allow the city to convert the by-products of wastewater treatment to compressed natural gas to fuel city buses and garbage trucks.

Working in concert with cities like Petaluma, the County of Sonoma, through its Climate Action 2020 plan, has set ambitious goals to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sonoma was one of the first counties in the state to take advantage of California’s “community choice aggregation” law that allows local governments to purchase electricity on behalf of their communities and negotiate competitive pricing for electricity, thereby providing a choice between the for-profit, investor-owned utilities like PG&E, and a public option offering higher percentages of renewable energy from sources like solar, wind and geothermal.

Today, about 90 percent of county homes are customers of Sonoma Clean Power, which offers assistance to homeowners interested in converting to renewable energy sources to offset their electrical usage by installing a generating system such as a rooftop solar system or a wind turbine. Customers also have the option of paying a little more each month, about $13 for the average home, for a 100 percent renewable electricity service sourced exclusively from local geothermal energy.

Transportation is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 65 percent of total emissions in 2014, according to the Center for Climate Protection. Nearly four out of five trips made in Sonoma County are by single occupant, fossil fuel-powered automobiles. Hybrid and electric vehicles offer one of the biggest opportunities to reduce emissions from transportation. For information on this and other ways to lower your carbon footprint, go to climateprotection.org.

Even though the federal government may have temporarily abandoned its commitment to combating climate change, the people of Petaluma and Sonoma County can still show the world how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and why doing so is of vital importance to the planet.