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Verner looking for sustainable support

Mayor asks City Council to ‘adopt’ energy plan

If at first you don’t succeed, try a new city council.

Little more than a year after the Spokane City Council gave only tepid support for recommendations aimed at cutting carbon emissions, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner is asking for a new vote to “adopt” the report.

In May 2009, there were only enough votes on the council to “accept” a report drafted by Verner’s 13-member Sustainability Task Force.

The report recommends several steps the city should take to cut its dependence on oil and reduce the city’s negative effect on climate change. Ideas include promoting energy-efficient construction and transportation. It also sets a goal for the city to acquire 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

In an interview early this month, Verner said the main reason she’s asking for further review is new state guidelines in awarding grant money. Starting this year, Washington law requires state agencies to consider whether applicants have “adopted policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” when awarding grants or loans in competitive processes.

“To be competitive for federal and state grant money, we need an explicit greenhouse gas reduction target,” Verner said.

Earlier this month, the city was informed by the Washington Public Works Board that its application for a $5.7 million low-interest loan for a sewer construction project will be rejected unless a greenhouse gas reduction plan is in effect by June 30.

City Councilman Steve Corker said last year’s elections, which resulted in two new council members, gives the sustainability plan a better chance at winning approval.

“There’s a different political environment – one that could be more supportive,” said Corker, who said he would have supported adopting the report last year had there been enough votes.

Dennis Dellwo, who served on the Sustainability Task Force, said he’s happy that the council is reconsidering the group’s work.

“It’s an excellent report that put together a great number of options that the city can follow to more effectively use the resources we have,” said Dellwo, a former state representative.

Councilman Bob Apple, who joined Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin in opposing last year’s vote to “accept” the report, said he’s concerned that adopting it could force the city to create harsh restrictions like telling “people you can’t drive your cars.”

But Councilman Jon Snyder called Apple’s prediction “wild speculation” since the report focuses on ways to encourage more sustainable energy use as opposed to creating restrictions.

Apple also said he doesn’t believe there is enough evidence to indicate that global warming is happening or is the result of human activity.

“That is a nonconclusive debate,” Apple said.

But John Wallace, a University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor, said the vast majority of climate experts believe that human activity is a significant contributor to climate change.

“Among literally dozens of faculty members here at the University of Washington (studying climate), it’s fair to say I don’t know a single one of them who is a skeptic,” he said.

Wallace, who joined UW’s faculty in 1966, added there may be more pressing reasons besides global warming to address energy policy. He pointed to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted from a BP oil drilling operation, and the need for the United States to become more energy independent.