City should not fall behind in progress toward curbing greenhouse gas emissions 

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Although San Francisco has made strides since 2005 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it fell short of its 2012 goal by a margin that is disappointing, but not fatal, in the quest to make The City more environmentally friendly.

Under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco laid out goals for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The aim was a 20 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2012 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

In many ways, the goals were ambitious. After all, San Francisco's program came before Assembly Bill 32, passed in 2006, which mandated a 20 percent statewide decrease in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. The City's goals also preceded Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 executive order mandating an 80 percent reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.

San Francisco's goal to reduce its carbon emissions also was groundbreaking at a time when the Republican administration in Washington, D.C., was still pushing an oil- and coal-focused agenda that, despite paying lip service to concerns about climate change, did little to set the nation on a path toward clean energy to help offset harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite San Francisco's early leap into the fight against emissions, it fell significantly shy of its 2012 reductions goal, having only reduced emissions in The City by 12 percent instead of 20 percent. Two items seem to have held up the goal: A planned installation of new backup generators at San Francisco General Hospital and continued emissions from Muni vehicles.

The issue at General Hospital is the change from a natural gas-powered steam boiler that must run continually to a diesel-powered generator that can switch on only when needed. That change is apparently in the works.

The situation at Muni is more complicated. The transit agency has one of the oldest fleets in the nation. That means that more vehicles still in operation use older, more polluting technology, especially among the buses. The agency has made strides in decreasing its greenhouse gas footprint, reducing it by 30 percent since 2004, mainly by using biofuels. But further improvements for Muni, such as moving more of the fleet to hybrid electric models, face the usual problem: funding. The transit agency is chronically underfunded, especially for its capital projects, and improvements for ridership are sure to generally trump those for environmental issues.

The lack of capital, such as that delaying the improvements at Muni, truly is an issue to be reckoned with if The City means to carry on the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. San Francisco's reduction of more than 26,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year since 2005 is a solid start, but future projects for clean energy will require capital. While many investments deliver an immediate return, the move to cleaner energy is more abstract: fewer greenhouse gas emissions. This is not something that can be seen, but it is important nonetheless.

San Francisco should redouble its effort to be a leader in reducing emissions. The true investment is making a better world for future generations.

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