Home Arts A Political Departure: Comment on the Sustainability Action Plan

A Political Departure: Comment on the Sustainability Action Plan

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While the Spovangelist is weary of polarized two-party politics, we are not apolitical and we certainly aren’t afraid to jump in on important civic dialogue when something groundbreaking is at stake.

The Spokane Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) is just such an effort. It is the first attempt by a U.S. City to undergo a comprehensive public planning process that addresses the challenges of peak oil and climate change simultaneously. That’s right folks, we are a trend-setting city in something other than hosting history’s smallest World’s Fair!

What follows is my appeal to the Spokane City Council to approve the recommendations of the Mayor’s Taskforce.

This letter is written in direct response to a ten point criticism circulated in a Spokane GOP party memo. Local Republican talking points are included verbatim in bold below.

Locking our city into a huge process of “sustainability mandates” from the State Dept. of Ecology is a mistake. See Cap and Trade legislation pending and the awful Senate Bill 5735, the Cap and Tax bill which passed Wednesday. We want to keep our local government flexible and local!

1.) In no way do the sustainability recommendations “lock in” local government. Strategies and guiding principles are by definition flexible (this is pointed out in the plan) and open to interpretation and change based on new information as it becomes available. The members of the Taskforce anticipated this criticism when they explained: “This Action Plan … is not a bundle of regulations and mandates. The Plan is a portfolio of principles, strategies, and recommendations.” Furthermore, guiding principle #3 says to “Lead with incentives and education before mandates.” Because of this it is *inappropriate* for the GOP to sing the ‘big bad government’ song in opposition to this plan.

It will cost taxpayers BIG TAX DOLLARS to retrofit governments office buildings to make them more energy efficient when the return on investment will be dubious. Corruption and cost over runs will, as usual, be rampant. Our region has the cheapest, most plentiful and least polluting energy in the world…hydropower! We sell to the entire western U.S. and east to Chicago, then up into Canada and down in to Mexico. BEST PLAN?? Expanding the dam system electrical output which would be easier and very beneficial to our region.

2.) The Sustainability Action Plan specifically includes guidance to adopt only those energy efficiency measures that have desirable and demonstrable cost-benefit outcomes. Asserting that “big tax dollars” will be marshaled to some inefficient end is *simple paranoia*. Plans to improve the economic vitality of our City now and into the future should NOT be abandoned due to wrongs in the past that make certain Republicans feel that all local government is “rampantly corrupt.”

The suggestion that hydropower be pursued as an alternative to the Sustainability Action Plan does not make sense and does not hold up. The plan puts in place a strategy to determine the best approach to advancing local clean energy alternatives. Clearly this will involve more than just hydropower. Furthermore, Strategy #5 to “Conserve water everywhere” was included in part to protect our capacity to tap into hydropower sustainably. Hydropower is no silver bullet, what is needed is the comprehensive framework provided by the plan.

It will cost us businesses in our region when they are forced to “retrofit” their own buildings to make them more energy efficient. (Savings will be small compared to costs of renovations.) Is bankrupting one half of all local businesses and the resultant job losses really worth it?

3.) I have scoured the Sustainability Action Plan looking for any hint calling to “force businesses to retrofit their buildings.” The fact of the matter is that NO SUCH SUGGESTION EXISTS. The opposite is portrayed in explaining how the City will be a model for the surrounding community, and how green collar jobs could be created through strategic partnerships. Private sector businesses can choose to adopt or reject green practices as they see fit. Claiming that half of all Spokane business will automatically go “bankrupt” is nothing less than *counterproductive misinformation*. Please keep in mind that much of the opposition you may have encountered is based on an incorrect understanding of what the plan actually entails.

Changing over to electric cars and buses could be very expensive. Is it worth it? Is it needed? Will this really make the environment in Spokane cleaner? Our city is already purchasing ten new electric buses to do a “trial run”. Do our city officials really need the State Dept. of Ecology to tell us when to do this and how to do it?

4.) Valid questions about the best approach for achieving a leaner City fleet will be answered by “Developing and implementing a plan to increase the City’s use of electric vehicles.” Given the detailed strategies for efficient and effective planing set forth by the SAP, as well as innovations in measuring financial performance and total cost-savings, you can be confident that changing over to electric cars and buses will be well justified before it actually occurs.

Do citizens really want all government to function primarily around environmental concerns? Do we want BIG GOVERNMENT watching us to make sure we comply?

5.) Again, playing the “big bad government” card is silly in regards to the Action Plan as already explained. Questions about citizen desire have clearly been answered:

“The Task Force received more than 800 unique contributions to its base of information in the form of Work Group recommendations, citizen comments, citizen and staff complaints about current City practices and policies, and general suggestions.”

“Each contribution was inventoried, addressed and prioritized during the nearly year-long planning process.”

“A well-communicated public outreach plan produced significant citizen input that guided the overall direction of the final recommendations. The process yielded one simple message, accepted by members of every constituency the Task Force encountered during its work: Strive for good stewardship and efficiency in all things.”

FOX Business news announced on Tuesday…..Spain, one of the :”green showcase” countries, has now put out a study of some of their innovations. Among other surprises, for every green job produced, the cost was 2 traditional, “fossil fuel” based jobs.

6.) Drawing a 1:2 trade-off between “green” jobs and “fossil fuel” jobs is *over-simplified* at best. Sometimes emerging green industries do not directly impact traditional markets, and many studies demonstrate that “Green Collar” jobs are of a higher quality and greater growth potential than so-called “non-green” jobs. The many research sources drawn upon by the Sustainability Taskforce are clearly more credible than an off-handed broadcast by FOX Business News.

The Mayor’s sustainability study was based on UN and their surrogate ICLEI studies that based their science on “global warming” scientific models that are now showing signs of being faulty. The earth may be cooling, not warming. The science is still in flux. We need to wait and not make dire changes to our government structures based on fads or junk science.

7.) As a trained scientist I find the unsupported claim that global warming is a “fad” or “junk” science *downright embarrassing*. The people and the City of Spokane simply can not afford to be on the wrong side of science and the wrong side of history with regards to this important issue. According to Princeton researchers, by the time I am 73 the global average temperature will have climbed by 9 degrees Fahrenheit – and that is assuming that the the current rate of carbon emissions stays constant (this conservative estimate does not include projections for the growing demands of the developing world). Even if you consider yourself a “hardened skeptic” when it comes to global warming, please watch this video that logically argues the only responsible decision is for a proactive response.

One big premise upon which this report was based is that we are running out of oil….and that our dependence on foreign oil is a huge problem. Is it? How much oil is possible to drill in the U.S. and offshore? In the next ten years, will technologies improve to make safe nuclear power more attractive and plentiful? Are wind and solar panel energy dependable and constant? Are they sufficient to give our people and industries in the U.S. enough energy to still be a super power, or will we become a broken, corrupt, poverty-stricken socialist country like Brazil and Indonesia, where these plan models were created by the UN agencies? (Our Mayor signed an international agreement to implement international standards in Spokane.)

8.) The impacts of peak oil are not a matter of “if” they are only a matter of “when”. Many experts concur that we will never produce as much oil in a month as we did in July of last year. Even in the most optimistic nuclear power scenarios (nevermind toxic outputs and security concerns), the pervasive use of fossil fuels in all aspects of material production and transportation can not be ignored. Legitimate questions about wind and solar energy will be given a framework for consideration under the Sustainability Action Plan.

Suggestions that going green somehow risks “a broken, corrupt, poverty-stricken socialist country like Brazil and Indonesia, where these plan models were created by UN agencies” not only sounds *alarmist*, it smacks of *xenophobia*and a dogged unwillingness to even consider global best practices.

Avista has been an enthusiastic participant in the Mayor’s Sustainabililty Task Force process….why?

9.) Avista has been actively involved in developing the SAP because:

“Our history of responsible stewardship reflects the spirit of the region. You and others like you — who care about things like conservation, recycling and the natural beauty around us — embody that very spirit. We do it because it is the right thing to do, because it’s what you expect of us, and because, honestly, the next century depends on it.”

If you look at the “fiscal note” attached to the state cap and trade bill, you will see that expenditures will involve hiring new government officials who will build a whole new series of government agencies to monitor “sustainability.” Thus, government at the state as well as our local level will expand, and expand, and EXPAND! This will cost taxpayers more money. Do citizens really want more government that will be more intrusive?

10.) The proposed Washington State Climate Action Plan is in no way linked to the Spokane Sustainability Action Plan. The local plan does not call for a carbon exchange market. Opposition to one plan should not be confused with or transferred to the other.

________________________________________________________

In closing I would like to make one last plea for the adoption of this plan that has nothing to do with environmental concerns. It has everything to do with the impact on COMMUNITY TRUST AND FAITH IN PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT that will be had by your decision.

 

The introduction to the Sustainability Action Plan states:

“This initiative included dozens of meetings and many individual hours invested by the Task Force, meeting four hours every three weeks since April 2008. Such community participation shows that Spokane is a valued home, well worth the time and energy invested to ensure its future as a livable city.”

If in the face of public testimony you refuse to adopt this plan,you will effectively be issuing a vote of “no confidence” in the value of public participation in local government. As a local community activist and former City volunteer, I can’t caution you enough against sending such a devastating message to the broader Spokane community.

As you probably would agree, an effective City depends on the active involvement of all its citizens. This ensures accountability, innovation, responsiveness and collective capacity. While I myself am an avid sustainability advocate, I choose not to participate in the Mayor’s Taskforce precisely because I feared that the resulting plan would not be incorporated into City operations. Instead I chose to invest my limited time and energy doing independent organizing work that focused on relationship building among my immediate neighbors and peers. I was concerned that the Taskforce would consume an enormous amount of time attention and energy, only to ultimately burn out and embitter local sustainability proponents.

 

I want to believe in our ability to work together to achieve regional resiliency and well-being. In order to bring my disenfranchised young friends into this process with integrity, I need to believe that our vision will be taken seriously, and that our efforts will not be tabled or ignored. Please help me rekindle my confidence in local government as a viable means by which to achieve positive change. Please approve the Sustainability Action Plan.

Sincerely,

The Spovangelist

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