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Spokane City Council to consider climate change law following departure from Paris accords

FILE – Spokane City Hall. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE – Spokane City Hall. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane City Council is expected to once again tackle a national issue next Monday, affirming the city’s commitment to limit greenhouse gas emissions to combat global climate change.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accords, a multinational deal to curb emissions and grant aid to developing countries, necessitated cities stepping up to address the issue of global climate change.

“The major climatologists in the United States believe that cities are the place change is going to happen,” Stuckart said.

Mayor David Condon said Monday he had not reviewed the entirety of the council’s legislative proposal, which will be up for a vote next Monday. The ordinance calls for the city “to acknowledge and recognize the overwhelming scientific evidence of human-caused global warming and climate change” in planning for its future, and codifying greenhouse gas emission levels set years ago.

Condon pointed to the city’s push to achieve energy neutrality, announcing earlier this year that city government consumed about the same amount of energy as was produced by renewable sources in Spokane, multimillion-dollar investments in cleaning the Spokane River and converting the city’s fleet of garbage trucks to compressed natural gas as evidence City Hall was moving in the right direction on ecological goals.

“I think what’s critical is where the city has been, and where we’re going, in the areas of sustainability,” the mayor said.

An original version of the ordinance directly addressed the Paris climate agreement and the city’s commitment to meet the emission goals contained within, but City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, an initial sponsor of the ordinance, successfully removed that language from the proposal in a vote at City Hall on Monday afternoon. Only City Councilman Mike Fagan voted against considering the climate change ordinance next Monday.

Kinnear said she agreed with Condon that the city had taken the lead on green initiatives and should reaffirm its commitment to doing so in the future by passing the ordinance.

“I think we’re going beyond what the Paris climate accord is,” Kinnear said. “What we’ve already done as a city is amazing.”

Kinnear said she, Stuckart and City Councilman Breean Beggs would meet with Avista Corp. on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the new law, and called it “a work in progress.”

When Stuckart asked Kinnear why she removed the “Paris” language, she responded: “Because I added things in that were more pertinent.”

“Well, I may add that back in,” Stuckart then said.

The council ordinance also reaffirms the city’s commitment to a 2009 energy sustainability plan signed by then-Mayor Mary Verner and 2010 guidelines on emissions reductions, calling for reductions of greenhouse gasses of 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The ordinance would not be the first time a city policy acknowledged humans’ contribution to global climate change, a finding that has been affirmed by a vast majority of the scientific community but remains a thorny political issue, especially following Trump’s decision to oust the United States from the Paris agreement arguing it would cost American jobs. Cabinet officials in the Trump administration have said carbon dioxide levels are not the primary cause of global climate warming, disputing the findings of the United Nations, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An inventory of Spokane’s greenhouse gas emissions produced in 1990 and 2005 reads, “Scientific consensus has concluded that human-induced climate change is a reality and represents one of the most pressing environmental problems we face.” The council ordinance would codify that position affecting future environmental policies of the city.

Mayor Dennis Hession in 2006 signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which was intended as a local extension of the guidelines established by the Kyoto Protocol. Like the Paris Climate Accords, the levels established in the Kyoto agreement were not binding.

Stuckart said more than 300 mayors nationwide have agreed to the guidelines established in the Paris agreement, referring to a network of 347 mayors in cities across the United States dubbing themselves the Climate Mayors. Stuckart said he first approached Condon about joining them.

“I asked him to and he didn’t,” Stuckart said.

Condon said it was not his administration’s policy to involve itself in national and international agreements, and that additional environmental sustainability efforts would have to be analyzed to determine if the benefits exceeded the costs, and the city would be doing that moving forward.

“First and foremost, we run a city, we are not in the business of international agreements,” Condon said. “Secondly, I’m more concerned about what we’re doing, rather than the international agreements. I would pressure any of them – have we read the agreement? Have we done a full analysis of what it is?”

Kinnear said Spokane had gone further in its green efforts than many of the cities who had signed on to support the Paris accords, and questioned whether passing a local ordinance would be an effective way to sway federal officials to pressure the White House to adopt an emissions strategy.

“I’m not sure that’s going to make a difference, rather than distract us – this is just me, it’s not the council – rather than distract us from our ultimate goal, which is to be a sustainable, resilient city,” Kinnear said.

Kinnear said she would take Condon up on his offer, in a letter sent to the council discussing an early version of the bill last month, to contact the region’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to discuss the departure from the Paris deal.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance at its regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, July 17 at City Hall.