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City falling behind on ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

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A taxi driver fills his cab with compressed natural gas (CNG) at a clean energy fuel station January 18, 2007 in San Francisco, California. - JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES
  • Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • A taxi driver fills his cab with compressed natural gas (CNG) at a clean energy fuel station January 18, 2007 in San Francisco, California.

In a blow to San Francisco's environmental aspirations, a new analysis shows that city departments have collectively failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by their 2012 target.

The failure to meet last year's goal of a 20 percent reduction from 2005 emissions levels calls into question The City's multiyear plan to cut 80 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Data from the Department of the Environment, which oversees the reduction effort, shows that city departments only reduced their 2005 emissions level by 12.2 percent.

"The City faced two major challenges in achieving our 2012 goal; however, we are optimistic that both can be resolved within the next 12 months," said Friday Apaliski, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment.

One of those challenges was the "longer-than-expected" process of replacing San Francisco General Hospital's backup power supply. The hospital is using natural gas-powered steam boilers that must run at all times.

"These boilers are in the process of being replaced with on-demand diesel generators that will only run when needed," Apaliski said. "The project is on track to be completed in the fall."

The other challenge, Apaliski said, is the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which the data show is The City's largest greenhouse gas emitter at 26 percent of total emissions. The agency is the largest single user of diesel and biodiesel fuel. In one year, for example, the agency consumed 4,939,126 gallons of this fuel type, resulting in 43,972 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Apaliski said the agency is planning to use a less polluting blend of biodiesel fuel and also phase out the old diesel-powered buses by replacing them with more fuel-efficient hybrid electric models.

Spokesman Paul Rose said the transit agency has put much effort into reducing greenhouse gases over the years. He noted that the agency "operates the largest municipal biodiesel fleet in the country" and that it has reduced its total greenhouse gas footprint by 30 percent since 2004.

City departments emitted about 187,776 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2012 but fell short of their goal by about 16,658 metric tons. That's the equivalent of the carbon pollution from driving 3,470 passenger cars for one year or consuming 38,740 barrels of oil, according to data from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It would take 427,128 young trees grown over one decade to absorb that amount of greenhouse gas, agency data indicates.

The City is reducing emissions from the baseline year of 2005, when there were 213,898 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The City's next reduction target is in 2017.

"San Francisco has led the way in eliminating the use of the dirtiest fossil fuels such as coal, and as a result we have a relatively cleaner electricity mix," Apaliski said. "However, in order to achieve our longer-term goals, The City will need to consider, among other actions, policies and programs that will help reduce our natural gas usage significantly."

Overall, emissions from natural gas comprised 58 percent of The City's 2012 emissions.

The City also will try to reduce its gasoline usage for city department vehicles, which has remained somewhat constant over the years, by getting departments to reduce the number of gas guzzlers.