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Snippets

After 100 years, San Francisco Muni has gotten slower [NY Times]

LBNL and UC Berkeley researchers measured emissions from drayage trucks in the Port of Oakland [EETD newsletter]

A report from UC Davis says water in California’s farm country is polluted by synthetic fertilizers [UC Davis]

A report from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy chronicles the life and death of urban highways [ITDP website]

Photo: A front yard full of chard in Berkeley, CA, by Anna LaRue

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Snippets

 GE Energy Financial Services and several other funders have invested $22 million in Project Frog, a San Francisco company that provides climate-sensitive design and fabrication of modular high-performance buildings (BuildingGreen.com). Beacon Power, a Massachusetts company that received a $43 million federal loan guarantee, has filed for bankruptcy. The failure of the company, which develops energy storage systems, is likely to add to criticism of the federal government’s green energy initiatives (New York Times Green Blog). According to the Harcourt Brown & Carey blog, Sagewell, Inc., based in Boston, has developed the first mass-scale building envelope heat-loss imaging and analysis system.  Sagewell can image hundreds of properties per day (actual images are taken in the evening when people are more likely to be home) and their analysis can be used to rank order the heat loss of homes (and commercial buildings) so promoters of energy efficiency can market to the best candidates and motivate property owners to adopt energy efficiency. One of the stranger bills to be considered by Congress passed by a voice vote on Monday evening. Officially named the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011, it essentially tells American airline carriers that it is illegal for them to participate in the European Union’s cap and trade system, which charges companies for producing emissions beyond their allotted limit (New York Times Green Blog).

California’s “Air Basins”

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The state of California is divided geographically into 15 different “air basins” in order to regulate air emissions on a regional, rather than a local basis. The divisions were decided upon based on both geographically like features (in some cases “air basins” are literally geographic basins surrounded by mountains) and by political boundaries, such as counties. While air quality can vary from basin to basin, emissions and pollution are obviously not confined to air basin boundaries.

The nine county Bay Area makes up its own designated air basin, the “San Francisco Bay” air basin. This basin is home to the second largest metro population in the state and is characterized by high vehicle miles traveled, several regional airports and industrial activity. Being a coastal region, wind and weather patterns can have a dramatic effect in transporting the pollution from the region into inland areas.

To find out more about the San Franciso Bay air basin and the 14 other air basins in California, visit the Air Resource Board’s interactive map here, get the latest air quality reports for your region from the annual California Almanac of Air Quality and Emissionsand check out a list of 50 things you can do to improve California’s air quality, here.

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Reactions to the Stalled U.S. Climate Bill

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This edition of Friday links is dedicated to headlines about the stalling of Senate passage of a comprehensive U.S. climate bill.

The Economist provides a thorough overview of the situation and its implications for legislation, industry and legal tussles for years to come, here.

An article in Reuters puts the issue into its global context, here.

From the U.K. Guardian, Eric Pooley asks Where next for the wrecked U.S. climate bill?

And finally, the Huffington Post has a page dedicated to the climate bill, related photos and breaking coverage.

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Bay Area Public Meeting to Set SB375 Targets

Photographer: Manfred Werner Tsui at de.wikipedia.org

Passed in 2008, SB 375 is the nation’s first law to link greenhouse gas emissions with urban sprawl.  The thrust of AB 375 is to require not only emissions reduction targets, but also to require land use planning strategies and interagency collaboration in the process. In practice, this requires each region in the state to adopt a Sustainable Communities Strategy, or SCS, that is in line with regional emissions targets set by regional Air Resource Boards.

As SB 375 moves foward in its implementation, the time has come this August for the ARBs to annouce their emissions targets.

The California Air Resources Board has been holding workshops throughout California this month to accept public comment on the draft regional targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from cars and light trucks.  The public comments will be taken into consideration before the Metro Planning Organizations (MPOs) announce their proposed targets in August. On Wednesday, July 21, the Bay Area gets to put in its two cents. The meeting information is as follows:

July 21, 2010     10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m

Caltrans Oakland Building, Auditorium, 111 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94612

For those unable to attend, the meeting will be webcast.

For more information on Senate Bill 375, see Urban Land Institute’s Summary and Key Findings report here, and the Governor’s Office factsheet here.

A list of all of the California ARB meetings in July can be found here.

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RECO

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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I am not (and have never been) a Bay Area homeowner, which is perhaps why I was not very familiar with the term “RECO” until recently.

There are many well-publicized programs aimed at making new buildings as “green” and energy efficient as possible. These efforts are viewed as integral to efforts to reduce future energy use and combat climate change. But in many places, we’re mostly stuck with the buildings that we’ve got. And we’ll likely be stuck with them for many years to come. So how do we influence and improve the energy and water performance of these buildings? One answer is a RECO.

Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance (RECO)

The purpose of a RECO is to improve the energy (and now water) efficiency of housing stock at the point of sale and major renovation.

In Berkeley, CA, the majority of the housing stock was built before the introduction of state building energy codes.  The buildings are often drafty, with no insulation and single-pane windows. Further, more than half of the city’s housing units are occupied by renters. In rental units landlords must approve and often conduct and pay for any major energy retrofits. However, the retrofits primarily benefit the renters, who pay the utility bills. Because of these split incentives, an obvious point of intervention to improve the energy efficiency of the existing building stock over time is at transfer of ownership or major renovation. The Berkeley RECO, which has been in place since the 1980s, applies to all residential homes and units, whether single-family homes, condos, multi-family properties, or live-work spaces, and requires that the home or unit comply with specific energy and water performance measures at the time of sale or major renovation.

The Berkeley RECO has ten prescriptive measures covering toilets, showerheads, faucets, water heaters, hot and cold water piping, exterior door weather-stripping, furnace ducts, fireplace chimneys, ceiling insulation, and lighting in common areas (for multi-family buildings).

It is tempting to say the measures are not enough, that much more drastic intervention (and more quickly) will be needed to achieve dramatic energy savings. This is probably true. But many approaches will be needed, and the gradual but consistent improvement of existing housing stock is a good place to start.

Since 1994, Berkeley has also had a Commercial Energy Conservation Ordinance (CECO).

Participants in Berkeley FIRST (Berkeley’s solar financing program) have to comply with RECO/CECO.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.