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Spokane City Council passes climate change ordinance

UPDATED: Tue., July 18, 2017, 2:29 p.m.

Dale Arnold, who works for the city of Spokane's waste water department, examines the new compressed natural gas refueling area and the new CNG garbage trucks on display at the opening of the Spokane Central Service Center Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Dale Arnold, who works for the city of Spokane's waste water department, examines the new compressed natural gas refueling area and the new CNG garbage trucks on display at the opening of the Spokane Central Service Center Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane City Council cemented its plan for combating climate change in city law while also affirming as fact that global warming is at least partially caused by human activity.

The council added the city’s 2010 sustainability action plan to city code Monday night in a 6-1 vote. Councilman Mike Fagan cast the lone vote against the measure. The ordinance solidifies Spokane’s commitment to sustainability and fighting climate change, said Council President Ben Stuckart.

While the ordinance initially included language from Stuckart mentioning the Paris Agreement, it was removed last week in a proposal by Councilwoman Lori Kinnear and remained out of the final version passed Monday. The climate agreement was signed by 178 countries, including the United States, but President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. last month.

Stuckart said the new ordinance does not commit the city to any of the provisions of the Paris Agreement, but he said the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement made codifying the city’s own sustainability plans “timely.”

The inclusion of climate change language in the city code follows more than a decade of environmental initiatives undertaken by Spokane, including then-Mayor Dennis Hession joining the 2006 U.S. Mayors Climate Protection agreement.

Public testimony at Monday’s council session was largely supportive of the ordinance. More than a dozen people spoke in favor of passing the climate change language, several of whom emphasized their appreciation that the city was looking to face the issue of climate change as the country on the global stage turns away.

Amanda Braley, a biologist and greenhouse manager at Gonzaga University, said that over her 30-year career she has watched atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide grow hand-in-hand with human population – a relationship she said was “glaring.”

A handful of attendees wore “350 Spokane” buttons, referring to a local chapter of global grassroots activism group.

One button-wearer, David Camp, said he believes the ordinance is a first step toward progress for the city, but that it has a long way to go.

Camp said he was “embarrassed” to live in what he said was the only Northwest city without a climate plan, and the only Northwest city – and one of the few in the Western U.S. – whose mayor has not joined others in supporting the Paris Agreement or the 2014 Compact of Mayors, a United Nations initiative for cities to coordinate against climate change.

Mayor David Condon has not committed Spokane to the Paris Agreement.

“This isn’t just about lagging Seattle and Portland. Even Boise and Bozeman have joined the Climate Mayors,” he said. “I believe this is the greatest moral imperative of our time.”

Not all who attended Monday’s session supported the decision. Seven residents stood up to speak about what they saw as the illegitimate science behind the global consensus that climate change is at least partially the result of human activity. Referencing data they claimed had been fabricated, groups of scientists who disagree with the current consensus, and memories of elementary school science classes, residents said they opposed the ordinance because it ignores the theory that climate changes are natural variations unrelated to man-made pollution. They said the vote could force city leaders to impose restrictions on energy usage.

George McGrath, clad in a red “Drain the Swamp” T-shirt and a Vancouver Energy hat, called the idea of man-made climate change “garbage,” and said that he thought the ordinance was “stupid.” Spokane should not focus on “telling the world how to live,” but on supporting companies that will make the U.S. energy independent.

“All of you on the City Council, and all of you participating in this meeting, if you got here by any type of fossil-fuel-driven vehicle, you’re already a hypocrite,” McGrath said. “You are not facing the reality that fuel is what drives this world.”

Several fringe theories also arose during the council session, including one – solar radiation management, or “chemtrails” – which was echoed by Fagan, who does not believe in man-made climate change. Chemtrails are allegedly the result of dangerous chemicals dumped into the atmosphere by the government to do things ranging from affecting the climate to mind-control. There is no proof chemtrails exist, and solar radiation management, a theorized method of engineering the climate, does not yet exist and lacks strong scientific support.

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists across the world concur that climate change over the past century is due in large part as a result of human activity.

Councilman Breean Beggs supported the ordinance, calling it a Spokane solution to a global problem.

“When we switched from diesel garbage trucks to compressed natural gas, it didn’t affect how well the garbage was picked up, but it was cheaper and it was cleaner,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on July 18, 2017 to correct information about the “350 Spokane” buttons worn by some people who attended the meeting.