"Our plan in Maine is very sensitive to the carbon-footprint issue," says Kathy Budinick, spokeswoman for Seattle-based Plum Creek. "If our plan is approved, more than 400,000 acres of land will be permanently conserved in perpetuity for sustainable forestry, representing the second-largest conservation easement in US history. It's really quite a phenomenal carbon outcome."
At issue is not just the size of a development but the amount of driving it encourages. By being so far from major cities and accessible only by car, the Plum Creek project would produce, conservatively speaking, an additional 9,500 tons of emissions annually, according to the Environment Northeast study. That's the equivalent of putting an extra 1,850 vehicles on the road.
"It's our belief that we can't meet the nation's transportation goals for climate change just by improving automobile technology," says Alan Caron, president of GrowSmart Maine, an antisprawl group that lobbies for compact urban planning and public transportation systems and helped sponsor the Plum Creek study. "You have to pay attention to where things are located."
States eye impact of developments
Other states are beginning to scrutinize the climate impact of real estate developments.
At least 35 states have climate-action plans or are in the process of developing them, says Reid Ewing, executive director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland. Of those, 17 states have set emissions targets for greenhouse gases.