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Sat., June 26, 2010

Editorial: Status of sustainability plan needn’t change now

Thirteen smart, concerned people composed the mayor’s task force on sustainability, and they produced an action plan that contains many reasonable but largely ambiguous conclusions. The plan is intended as a blueprint for actions and policies that will help the city of Spokane curb its contributions to climate change and energy dependency.

Mayor Mary Verner, who created the task force, wants the City Council to adopt its plan.

Some in this community will balk at the idea, but for the wrong reasons. They will sound alarms about global intrigue and faulty science. Those are fringe anxieties that don’t belong in a serious debate about the task force’s recommendations. Climate change and energy dependency are real challenges that demand preparation and response on the part of any intelligent society.

But none of this means the City Council needs to affirm the task force’s work product any more forcefully now than it did in May 2009 when the operative word was “accept.”

The political reality is that the 2009 election altered the makeup of the council, and the arrival of Amber Waldref and Jon Snyder has produced a greener outlook. Verner is likely to get her way.

Advocates of the plan have insisted that adoption of it, as opposed to acceptance, won’t make the task force’s four principles, eight core strategies and 51 recommendations binding on the city. What, then, is behind the urgency for such a seemingly subtle change?

More to the point, what is it that the City Council, having merely accepted the action plan, can’t accomplish without a stronger statement? What prevents the mayor – the strong mayor – from taking executive action on recommendations she thinks deserve it?

As near as we can tell, nothing.

Even before the action plan was released, the city received favorable attention for a variety of environmentally conscious actions involving lighting and its vehicle fleet. This year it established a charging station for electric cars at City Hall.

The City Council and the mayor can and should mine the action plan’s 51 recommendations, one by one, on their individual merits. Some nuggets will warrant action, others may not offer enough benefit to offset the costs. Either way, a methodical approach promises more meaningful outcomes than the vagueness and uncertainty of a package deal.

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