By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – As noted previously the issue of carbon impact for DiSC is a little more tricky than opponents let on. What is true is that the DiSC project “would generate net new GHG emissions during operations. Because net emissions from the DISC project in the year 2035 would equal 37,992.07 MTCO2e/yr, the project would not meet the City’s target of net carbon neutrality by the year 2040.”
But there is of course a problem looking at global impact only from the Davis-level. A big part of the carbon impact of DiSC is the 4000 or so employees at buildout who need to get to work. Simply comparing the GHG impact of the fully built out site to the current agricultural uses of the field misses that fact that, absent this project, each of those 4000 or so people are still around, still working presumably and still likely need to commute to work.
The original project was calculated to generate around 309,000 VMT on a typical workday. The addendum to the EIR calculated “the reduced scale of the DiSC 2022 project would result in a 45 percent reduction in daily VMT when compared to the original DISC project.”
This creates an impact because, “The foregoing increases in daily VMT would have resulted in increased demand for gasoline, and to a lesser extent diesel, for traditionally fueled vehicles.”
The project attempts to deal with that through a TDM (transportation demand management) program and mitigation measures “to reduce external vehicle trips generated by the DISC project.”
But the EIR acknowledges “the effectiveness of the TDM strategies is not known and subsequent vehicle trip reduction effects could not be guaranteed.”
That’s all fair enough but it still misses an essential point—at no point have we actually evaluated what the real world impact of DiSC 2022 will be on the actual volume of CO2 gas in the global atmosphere. That is why I have pointed out before that measuring increases and reductions locally might not be the most helpful metric to understanding global impact.
Whatever the ultimate number DiSC generates is really a gross net added carbon impact. Because at no point has anyone attempted to offset how much GHG those 4000 employees would have produced, sans DiSC 2022.
The addendum does provide us with some tools to evaluate this a bit better.
First they note, “In general, however, the anticipated increases in VMT were not considered unique to the DISC project, as any project of such scale would result in increases in VMT.”
But perhaps the most important caveat is this one: “In addition, the VMT per service population for the project would have been slightly less than local per service population averages, as discussed in the SEIR.”
The EIR notes, “Implementation of a TDM Program and the promotion of active and public modes of transportation would ensure the energy demanded for the DiSC 2022-related vehicle trips is not wasteful or inefficient, despite the anticipated increase in VMT associated with the project.”
This chart illustrates this point. The projected VMT for the project is now 149,000 with the reduced size, and looking at it per person it becomes 36.24. That ends up being lower than the average person in Davis, lower than that of Davis and UC Davis combined and slightly lower than the entire SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) area.
It should be pointed out that the calculation of 149K is BEFORE the implementation of any TDMs, which means it doesn’t assume their implementation or that the TDM will reduce VMT. That’s a wise assumption, but also gets to the point that in fact it is not a crazy statement to make the claim that, despite the size of the project, the overall impact on global GHG is at worst about a wash.
With further reduction of VMT through an effective TDM, you could even reasonably argue that this project could result in a net reduction of global GHG emissions.
So, while it’s true it will make it a little harder for the city of Davis to reach its 2040 goals of carbon neutrality, the overall impact of this project on climate change figures to be negligible.