Table Of Contents

    Background

    The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) has long recommended that energy use and climate change should play a central role in decisions made regarding land use.  EESI's landmark paper, Energy and Smart Growth: It's about How and Where We Build, commissioned by the Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities in 2004, made great strides in raising awareness of how community development – buildings, modes of transportation, even landscape design – directly relates to greenhouse gas emissions. Subsequently, EESI built a partnership with the American Planning Association to develop educational tools to enable planners to better incorporate a climate change lens and energy sustainability into their daily work.  Through this partnership, EESI embarked on an analysis of how state climate action plans address land use issues and found that it is a new and evolving aspect of this process.  What follows is a summary of the findings, with web links to the plans being referenced, wherever possible.  It is our hope that this summary will encourage those working on plans, whether at the regional, state or local level, to focus on land use reform as a key element for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.

    Overview

    The past few years have seen significant progress in the development of state climate action plans. Because each state represents unique geographic and socioeconomic conditions, the actions taken by states to address climate change cover a broad range of strategies and are now in various stages of development and implementation. Historically, California has been a frontrunner in progressive environmental policy, and here again it continues to lead in addressing climate change. California is currently implementing several pieces of legislation related to energy and climate change, including those that focus on land use and transportation. As of July 2009, there are 37 states implementing a state climate action plan. These plans vary significantly, with some having advisory groups tasked with creating climate mitigation recommendations, while some already have passed legislation implementing specific land use practices. Among the 13 states with no formal climate action plan in progress, five have signed on to regional climate change agreements to lower greenhouse gas emissions by certain target times. In total, 42 of the 50 states have taken formal steps to address climate change through some means, whether by a statewide climate action plan or regional agreement. It must be noted that this report is focused on actions through July 2009; further measures taken by states after this time period were not included in this report.

    This analysis particularly looked at the type of land use policies and practices included, as well as their frequency among state plans. Specifically, the study examined state plans for their inclusion of transportation, green building, and land use or “smart growth” practices. Among these three areas, transportation practices were the most dominant feature of many state action plans, along with, to a lesser degree, green building policies. Some common transportation policies incorporated into these plans included the adoption of California’s vehicle emissions standard (the country’s most aggressive standard), creating more mass transit options, and providing incentives to lower commuter vehicle miles traveled. Green building policies often featured stronger building codes and appliance standards, as well as financial incentives for consumers to purchase energy efficient materials.  Specific smart growth practices appear to be the least likely component of state action plans. Those plans that included the most far-reaching and comprehensive measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were those most apt to incorporate smart growth practices.

    A table at the end of this report provides a graphic display of the more specific aspects of urban planning incorporated into public climate action plans. Key actions, such as reducing VMT (vehicle miles traveled) or including transit-oriented, infill or mixed-use development, are labeled individually under each state’s plan.  In addition, any greenhouse gas reduction targets adopted or regional climate action plans to which a state belongs are provided in the table.

     

    Download the full issue brief in PDF format (includes a section for every state)