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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council votes Monday on revamped sustainability plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions

The leaves of trees along the Spokane River are beginning to turn for the season near Riverfront Park, as seen during golden hour on Oct. 6, 2020 in downtown Spokane, Wash. There are many vantage points for observing the autumnal changes in one of Spokane's best-known parks.  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)

The most controversial proposal of the city of Spokane’s draft sustainability action plan is gone.

The overarching goal of the plan – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% by 2050 – remains the same. The Spokane City Council is set to vote Monday on the proposal, which has evolved into a hot election-year topic of debate.

It includes a slate of proposals like offering local incentives for solar energy, expanding reduced and free fare programs for public transit and charging higher rates to the city’s largest water users.

And while the sustainability action plan contains numerous policy suggestions to help reduce the city’s carbon footprint, it does not actually implement any. Instead, the plan would lay the framework for the city to address climate change.

Some of its suggestions are general statements of priority, while others are specific policy changes.

Initially, one such proposal was to eliminate natural gas connections “gas hookups from all new commercial and multifamily residential buildings by 2023, and from all new construction by 2028.” It sparked a citizen’s initiative to prevent any such ban, with heavy financial backing from prominent conservatives, that was later stricken from the ballot by a judge.

It is a moot point anyway, as the concept was removed from the draft plan.

The sustainability action plan updates a version adopted in 2009 and has undergone a monthslong public review and input process since its introduction earlier this year.

The proposal is more than a year in the making, and began with the City Council’s formation of the volunteer Sustainability Action Subcommittee in 2018.

The effort was viewed as necessary as temperatures are rising, snowpack has decreased and wildfire risk is increasing, all of which create economic and health impacts to residents of Spokane and elsewhere.

The subcommittee introduced a draft proposal earlier this year that was revised following four public events, a survey with more than 800 response and more than 20 workshops.

What remains is a document that, if fully implemented, would create sweeping change.

It lays out a number of goals and dozens of policy proposals to help achieve them, including the following:

  • Reduce annual water pumping by 25% over the next 10 years.
  • Implement a per-ride tax on rideshare apps to fund transportation projects.
  • Amend the city’s zoning and land-use policies to allow for more types of housing in neighborhoods.
  • Require all new commercial buildings to have a roof strong enough to hold solar panels.