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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

David Camp and Emily Grant: On Spokane’s Sustainability Action Plan and how to heat new buildings

By David Camp and Emily Grant

On the City of Spokane website you can read and comment on a new Sustainability Action Plan developed over the past two years by dozens of citizen volunteers and area businesses.

This plan is required by the city’s 2018 Sustainability Ordinance, which aims to reduce emissions and to deal with climate damage’s steeply rising costs.

One of the plan’s most important measures requires that builders “eliminate gas hookups from all new commercial and multifamily residential buildings by 2023, and from all new construction by 2028.” This would put Spokane in good company with 45 other American cities whose laws require builders to begin installing more climate-friendly heating systems. These cities range from communities smaller than Spokane all the way to New York, Seattle, Denver and San Francisco.

Here is why this switch from gas in new construction is so vital:

1. Worldwide, buildings account for more greenhouse gas pollution than anything else does. In Spokane and across Washington, heating buildings is second only to transportation as a climate threat.

2. The gas industry is vastly more polluting than we once thought it to be, due to massive leaking and venting of methane, the main component of natural gas. This is throughout the whole system, but especially in production fields where the leaks are hardest to stop.

3. This methane is a strong greenhouse gas, which, over the 12 years it usually stays in the air, warms the climate 84 times faster than CO2.

4. The United Nations announced last week that in order to meet Paris Climate Agreement goals we must cut methane emissions 45% by 2030, and that this is possible at low cost, using existing technology.

5. The oil and gas industry accounts for more than half of the huge increase in atmospheric methane since 2008, when fracking took off. We know this because the chemical signature of fossil methane is different than that of natural methane from cattle and rotting vegetation, so it can be tracked.

6. Fossil gas also emits carcinogenic compounds such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde – not things you want in your home.

7. Healthy, climate-friendly alternatives are easy and affordable when built into new buildings. Newer electric heat pumps perform well even in below-zero winter temperatures, and they do double duty as air conditioners in summer.

Windows, doors and wall construction methods are better insulating now. Induction stoves are faster, safer and healthier than gas stoves.

8. Washington’s electricity is America’s cheapest and cleanest, so we should be the first to electrify.

9. Gas costs more than you think, with its price artificially lowered by subsidies that you pay through your gas bills and taxes. Avista alone pays a builder hundreds of dollars to install a gas furnace and water heater – money that comes from you as a ratepayer yet costs you in climate damage.

10. Gas cost is headed up now that Washington will price carbon emissions, and the U.S. Government probably will before long. All as billions in subsidies we taxpayers now give the oil and gas industry each year will inevitably decline, also raising the price of gas.

11. Washington law already targets 2031 for all new buildings in Washington to be carbon neutral, so Spokane would be a little ahead of the curve.

Finally, being ahead of the curve is a good place to be for a city whose brand hinges on the environment. We brag of being “Near Nature, Near Perfect.” We show off our newly clean, healthy river to visitors in strolls and bike rides along a world-class Centennial Trail. National media call us an outdoor lifestyle city, and many of us live here for that. Let’s walk the walk.

The climate mess is deadly serious, so we are glad to see Spokane taking it seriously. The city’s Sustainability Action Plan is a fine road map for navigating the challenges ahead. We urge you to read and support it.

David Camp is a Spokane-area business owner, a founding board member of climate activism nonprofit 350 Spokane, and a member of the Sustainability Action Subcommittee that crafted the city’s new Sustainability Action Plan.

Emily Grant is completing her master’s degree in public health while studying the long-term health effects of wildfires. She also serves as a board member of 350 Spokane.

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