The new majority of the Spokane City Council flexed its muscles twice on Monday in the first 4-3 votes of the year.
Both votes rejected nonbinding efforts to back a state Senate bill designating energy produced at the city’s Waste-to-Energy Plant as renewable.
But council members who cast no votes say they generally support the legislation and were reacting to what they say was a rushed vote with no public notice.
The city has been pushing state officials for years to designate the energy produced at the incinerator as renewable. Energy labeled renewable can garner higher prices, and energy produced at the Waste-to-Energy Plant used to have the renewable classification. The proposal has been in the city’s official lobbying agenda the last few years, including the one that was unanimously approved by the council late last year.
The new 4-3 majority – council members Ben Stuckart, Candace Mumm, Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref – rejected a plea from Councilman Steve Salvatori to rush a vote on a nonbinding resolution supporting the Senate bill. The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, will get a hearing in Olympia on Thursday.
Because the City Council nonbinding resolution wasn’t introduced until today, it didn’t appear on the council’s agenda and needed five votes to be considered.
Those who opposed the nonbinding resolution argued that notice should have been given to the public before a vote. Stuckart, who said he backs the continued operation of the Waste-to-Energy Plant, said part of Salvatori’s proposal wasn’t even seen by the council until Monday’s afternoon meeting.
Salvatori said he was willing to amend the resolution to be in more general terms if the council was uncomfortable with specifics. His back-up plan – to send a letter backing the legislation – also was rejected in a 4-3 vote.
Salvatori said he was shocked that the council rejected the letter since there was no hint that any member opposed the renewable status when they backed the city’s legislative agenda. Since the Senate hearing is Thursday, Salvatori said he fears it’s too late for the council to issue official support for Baumgartner’s bill.
But Waldref said she has been working with local environmental groups in hopes of winning their support for Baumgartner’s legislation. She said she’s more concerned about the legislation’s prospects in the state House where environmental groups hold more sway. Backing from those groups may ultimately be more important than a letter from the council. Still, she said that she believes the council eventually will officially endorse the legislation.
Waldref said she doesn't remember the council ever taking a vote on a resolution that was not on the agenda.
"I don't think it's good to start that precedent now," she said.
Stuckart said the council may consider a letter in support of Baumgartner’s bill at a meeting on Thursday. But that council meeting starts after the Senate hearing on the legislation in Olympia.