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State and Local Climate and Energy Program

Land Use

Land use planning plays a critical role in state and local activities to both mitigate greenhouse gases (GHGs) and adapt to a changing climate. Many of the key strategies for coping with climate change are linked to land use planning:

  • Protecting woodlands and other valuable carbon sinks
  • Cutting the growth of vehicle–related GHG emissions
  • Enabling communities to adapt to sea level rise, more frequent extreme weather conditions, and other climate-related hazards

“Smart growth” is a term that covers a range of development and conservation strategies that help protect the natural environment and make communities more attractive, economically stronger, and more socially diverse. States recognize that land use planning is an essential part of any smart growth strategy, and that it is especially important when striving to mitigate GHG emissions and adapt to climate change.

State Policy Options

Although land use planning is an integral responsibility of local governments, state–level policies and support for local efforts to promote smart growth strategies are critically important. State-level policies can promote smart growth across many state sectors and departments. Strategies can include:

  • Agriculture — farmland protection, agricultural conservation easements, agricultural districts
  • Economic Developmentredevelopment readiness certification programs, district improvement financing districts, state main street programs, brownfield financing, “smart sites” programs
  • Education — reduced acreage standards for K–12 schools, revised school construction funding formulas, safe routes to school programs, walk to school days, land use and development curriculum for K–12 students, university smart growth centers
  • Energyutility infrastructure pricing to support infill development, energy efficiency, combined heat and power, tax incentives for alternatives to cars
  • Health — community walking and bicycling audits, local health impact assessments
  • Housing — state housing rehabilitation code, redevelopment of vacant properties, incentives to live near work or transit, community development corporations, low–income housing tax credits to reinforce location efficiency
  • Natural Resources & Environment — land conservation, state parks, criteria for water and wastewater infrastructure, credit for land use changes under state implementation plan, watershed planning
  • Planning — model smart growth codes for communities, planning grants to local governments, circuit rider program for communities, technical assistance academy, regional collaboration
  • Transportationcomplete streets policies, connected street networks, access management programs, reduction in vehicle miles traveled, transit–oriented development, traffic congestion

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Tools and Resources

Brownfield Development

Getting Started with Brownfields — Key Issues and Opportunities: What Communities Need to Know (PDF) (11 pp, 127K) Exit EPA disclaimer, published by the Northeast-Midwest Institute, provides important background and additional resources for developing brownfield sites.

Evaluating Smart Growth

The Lincoln Institute's Evaluating Smart Growth: State and Local Policy Outcomes Exit EPA disclaimer provides insight into state activity on land use planning and smart growth. The report focuses on four states with well-established statewide smart growth programs (Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, and Oregon) and four states (Colorado, Indiana, Texas, and Virginia) that offer a range of other land management approaches.

GHG Reductions through Land Management

EPA's Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices (PDF) (98 pp, 1.6M) offers a perspective on opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through materials management (e.g., recycling and waste prevention) and land management (e.g., brownfield redevelopment, land restoration, and smart growth).

Governors' Guide to Growth and Development

Policies that Work: A Governors' Guide to Growth and Development Exit EPA disclaimer, published by Governors' Institute on Community Design is designed to provide governors and their staff and cabinet secretaries with hundreds of ideas about policies, administrative actions, and spending decisions that have actually produced smarter growth in other states. The report is organized by state departments.

Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities

In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rhode Island Sea Grant, and the International City/County Management Association, EPA has released Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities, a guide builds that offers 10 specific development guidelines for coastal and waterfront communities.

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