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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘A moral obligation’: Spokane City Council adopts climate plan

Jacob Johns with Extinction Rebellion carries his daughter Lily on his shoulder as students gather during a student-led climate protest on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, at Riverfront Park in Spokane, Wash. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

Temperatures are warmer, more summer days are choked with smoke, and rainfall is increasingly rare in the hottest months.

The city of Spokane has a new action plan to address climate change and its impacts following a vote by the City Council on Monday.

The plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 95% by 2050, and it lays out a number of strategies for doing so.

It is a roadmap and does not, in itself, implement any changes. To come to fruition, the City Council will still need to act.

Still, the plan’s supporters lauded the path on which the Sustainability Action Plan sets the city.

“We all have a moral obligation to leave our world better for the next generation, for our children and our grandchildren,” said Councilwoman Karen Stratton.

The Sustainability Action Plan is the product of a yearslong effort guided by the City Council.

The council created the Sustainability Action Subcommittee in 2018, and its numerous members met over a period of months to produce the draft plan first introduced earlier this year. From there, the plan was vetted in several public meetings and a public survey, which received more than 800 responses.

The draft plan introduced earlier this year became the subject of some controversy, particularly regarding its call to eliminate natural gas connections from new commercial construction by 2023 and new residential construction by 2028.

The natural gas connection ban was eliminated from the final version of the plan.

Some ideas proffered in the approved plan include requiring new construction to offer electric hookups for appliances, reducing the required parcel size for residential developments in order to increase housing density, and prioritizing water conservation in city parks.

The Sustainability Action Plan drew significant interest and testimony from the public.

Dr. Brian Henning, director of the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society and the Environment, urged the council to not only approve the plan, but implement its components as quickly as possible.

“How many ecosystems must be lost, how many people need to die before we treat this as the urgent crisis that it is?” Henning asked.

Making the investments called for in the plan is cheaper than not making them, argued David Camp, a Spokane resident who helped draft the plan.

“Nothing in the plan is radical,” Camp assured the council.

Isaiah Payne, government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders, credited the council for removing the proposed natural gas restrictions from the initial draft, but questioned the entire process that led up to Monday’s vote. He argued the city did not follow the drafting process laid out in the legislation adopted by City Council in 2018 that created the Sustainability Action Subcommittee, which included a specific number of voting members.

“Why didn’t it follow the enumerated process that this body passed?” Payne said.

During the council’s briefing session on Monday, Councilman Michael Cathcart proposed three amendments to the plan, all of which were shot down by 6-to-1 votes.

The first amendment attempted to ensure that the city would not cut off access to energy sources like natural gas. Cathcart described it as a “simple reassurance for the community,” but council members said it was unnecessary because the plan does not call for natural gas restrictions.

Cathcart also unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that aimed to ensure nothing in the Sustainability Action Plan would be pursued if it conflicted with the city’s Housing Action Plan. Cathcart warned that aspects of the plan could impact housing affordability, but other members disagreed.

“When I look at the Sustainability Action Plan, it is filled with provisions that would increase housing and reduce the overall cost of home ownership over the lifetime of building and owning a home,” said Council President Breean Beggs.

Cathcart also tried to require a financial analysis be done prior to implementation of the Sustainability Action Plan, which he argued is embedded in the same city law that created the Sustainability Action Subcommittee.

“It’s really important for us to have all of that data upfront so we know whether we want to pursue these policies, or these policies, based on the cost and effectiveness,” said Cathcart.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear asked how a price could be put on the more than 20 people who died in Spokane County during the recent summer heatwave, or the homes lost to a wildfire in Malden.

“I can’t imagine that you can put an accurate price on that, and it disturbs me that this is just being funneled in a traditional financial analysis and not taking into consideration that hardship, especially for lower-income communities, of what climate change is doing,” Kinnear said.

Cathcart was the only council member to vote against the Sustainability Action Plan.