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Update on the HumCo Climate Action Plan

Aerial view of Humboldt Bay.
Aerial view of Humboldt Bay. Photo by Robert Campbell / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

In September, we asked for your help. The Humboldt County Climate Action Plan, which has been under development for five years, was threatened to be weakened by some clever accounting. To briefly recap: Humboldt County has to reduce emissions to 40% of 1990 levels by 2030. Humboldt County proposed that the Climate Action Plan consider emissions from “point sources” like the gas-powered Humboldt Bay Generating Station in their inventory. While this seems like a good idea at first blush—the power plant does burn a lot of fossil fuels—local governments lack the ability to regulate these emissions. Accordingly, the state advises against Climate Action Plans including point source emissions because the whole point of such plans is to outline what local governments can do to reduce emissions.

So why the funny math? Because so many timber mills have shuttered since 1990, Humboldt County has actually reduced point-source emissions. By considering point sources, Humboldt would then be off the hook for other actual emission reductions (such as transportation). Tricky, right?

A black-and-white dairy cow.
A dairy cow. Public domain.

After a whirlwind of events, including a coordinated effort from EPIC and our allies, we are happy to relay that the County has reconsidered the potential inclusion of industrial point sources in the local Climate Action Plan baseline greenhouse gas inventory. Instead, Humboldt County is currently proposing to generally remove the consideration of agricultural emissions—effectively cow burps—from the inventory because, like point source emissions, local governments lack an ability to regulate these kinds of emissions. EPIC and allies agree with this decision, as the promise of the Climate Action Plan is an actual reduction in emissions, not accounting tricks.

Removing the consideration of agricultural emissions also has an ancillary political benefit because opposition to the Climate Action Plan has come primarily from the ranching and dairy industry who were afraid what emissions reductions might mean for their businesses. (There is also a healthy dose of conspiracy theory involved, such as climate action meaning that the government is going to ban hamburgers.)

EPIC and its partners remain engaged and concerned with a few different aspects of the Humboldt County Climate Action Plan:

  1. Timing: A new draft of the Climate Action Plan is due in March 2024. That draft will then need to go through California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. With the need to take climate action as soon as possible, we worry that reworking the plan without a concrete deadline for approval will once again drag out the approval and implementation process. The plan has already been in the making for over five years and requires speedy approval to meet our 2030 reduction targets.

  2. Funding and Capacity Building: We were excited to hear that the County plans to develop a climate resiliency position, but only one position is not enough. (Cal Poly Humboldt, by contrast, already has three employees in its Sustainability Office for a student population of 7,600. Humboldt County has a population of 136,000.) The County and local jurisdictions have failed to take any meaningful action on climate change. Delays in the Climate Action Plan have been a convenient excuse for inaction.

  3. Strengthening the Plan: We need to strengthen the existing Climate Action Plan. In any proposed revision, we will be looking closely to ensure that we are actually reducing emissions, not relying on accounting tricks. Failure to actually lower emissions would make future reduction targets—85% by 2045—more difficult.


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