Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Seattle Mayor plans to Clear the Air

Mayor has plan to clear the air
Nickels says Seattle should set example for world


Saying Seattle must lead the world in battling the globe-warming gases that spew from our cars and furnaces and power plants, Mayor Greg Nickels today will unveil the most comprehensive plan to date to reduce Seattleites' impact on the climate.

The plan amounts to a call for everyone who lives here -- along with the city's businesses -- to change how they get around and how they heat and light their homes and offices. It could mean charging tolls for using certain roads, additional taxes on parking and other measures to encourage people to get out of their cars and use mass transit.

The 34-page list of actions Nickels is proposing range from the very specific -- spending $530,000 over the next two years to save natural gas in city buildings, for instance -- to aspirations whose outcome the city can't control, such as persuading the Legislature to follow California's lead and cap so-called "greenhouse gases."

The basic message: Seattle can do this. And so can the world.

"We can make a difference," Nickels said.

"The struggle with climate change is that since it is global by nature, no individual or city feels like it has the power to change the course. However, we're all in it together, and if we act together, we will be able to make a difference," he said.

The proposal is heavily reliant on voters approving two ballot measures in November, the city's proposed nine-year, $365 million property tax for transportation improvements and King County's one-tenth of 1 percent increase in the sales tax to fund improved bus service.

That would provide better sidewalks, trails and stairways to encourage pedestrians; more-frequent buses; additional bike paths; a doubling in size of Seattle's modest system of on-street bike lanes; planting of trees; and improvements to help move freight through the city more efficiently.

Of the $37 million Nickels' plan would cost the city over the next two years, $34 million would come from the "Bridging the Gap" property tax for transportation on the November ballot. King County's "Transit Now" sales-tax increase would provide $10 million annually.

If those ballot measures don't pass, Nickels and other supporters say, they'll be back asking again.

The plan being released today is a road map for how Seattle can by 2012 reduce its production of carbon dioxide, methane and other climate-warming gases to 7 percent below 1990 levels -- the goal of the Kyoto Protocol, the global plan to help moderate the warming climate. President Bush and the Senate have rejected the treaty.

The document the mayor is releasing today does not offer a complete explanation of how Seattle will meet the Kyoto goals. The plan's authors don't show how much of the reduction in greenhouse gases will come from which steps, because in many cases they are unsure how much can be accomplished.

Over the next few years, though, the plan contemplates trying out dozens of ideas, grouped in 18 broad areas, and measuring how they work: How many commuters switch to bikes or buses? How many cars are traveling fewer miles? Is per capita electricity use dropping?

"One of the efforts of this plan is to connect the dots for people who may understand that climate change is a problem, but don't understand that their everyday actions contribute to it," said John Healy of the city's Office of Sustainability and Environment.

Nickels last year kicked off his personal crusade to convince mayors of other American cities to commit to meeting the Kyoto goals. To date, 307 mayors representing some 51 million Americans -- equivalent to the population of Spain and Portugal combined -- have signed on.

Denis Hayes, the environmentalist who organized the first Earth Day and co-chaired a committee that helped lay the groundwork for Nickels' plan, said the plan is bold in areas that Nickels controls directly, such as city energy use.

But it also counts on getting a lot of help from the private sector and just plain folks, Hayes said, and Seattle's success so far in reducing city operations' greenhouse gases already gives it the "moral authority" to ask that.

"Seattle, having sort of organized these 307 cities, has to show in very concrete ways how we're going to do it," Hayes said. "We're saying we're going to do more than we're asking anyone else to do."

In fact, the plan is geared to eventually going far beyond Kyoto's goals, because much larger reductions will be necessary to reverse or even moderate overall global warming.

"This is very much a beginning," said Steve Nicholas, head of the city's sustainability office. "There's no question that this is a big challenge, but it's the kind of challenge that this community has a history of meeting."

For instance, he said, Seattleites rejected the state's failed bid to embrace nuclear power in the 1970s, instead opting for energy conservation. Seattle City Light spent $120 million helping electric-heated households improve their energy efficiency. Now a similar program is working on businesses and apartment houses. Single-family homes heated by natural gas should be next, proponents say.

How might a resident of Seattle notice the changes? For one thing, Nicholas said, downtown will smell a lot better when biodiesel is running in many buses instead of petroleum fuel.

"It'll smell more like French fries," Healy observed.


Driving less and keeping the thermostat down are among the most important ways to reduce the city's impact on the climate, but there are less obvious steps that the community also can take:


Unplug electronics and phone chargers when not in use

Set fridge at 35 to 38, freezer to zero. Clean coils regularly

Offset emissions with programs such as TerraPass ( www or Climate Trust ( www


Green the fleet: convert to hybrids and biodiesel or other climate-friendly fuels

Provide incentives for employees to take the bus

Provide showers and lockers for bike commuters


Increase collaboration with Puget Sound Energy to save natural gas

"Drive Smart" campaign to promote climate-friendly vehicles, driving habits

Offer more bike lanes on streets, bike trails, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods


Steps for reducing global-warming gases that Mayor Greg Nickels proposes for city operations include:

Synchronizing traffic lights so cars don't spend so much time idling.

Offsetting city employees' business-related airplane trips by paying into cooperatives or businesses that use the money for climate-friendly actions such as planting trees and using wind power.

A number of measures to encourage pedestrians, such as installing 200 new curb cuts that allow people in wheelchairs and pushing strollers to get across intersections more easily. A master plan for making streets easier on pedestrians would be drawn up by 2008.

Replacing police cars not used in chasing criminals with fuel-efficient hybrids, and replacing the Parks Department's lawn mowers with electric and hybrid electric models.

Requiring more energy-efficient windows in new homes and apartments.

Steps that the city is urging individuals to take include:

Installing an efficient furnace. Counting homes, businesses and government buildings, Seattle could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by some 66,000 tons by 2012 through more efficient use of natural gas.

Buying compact fluorescent light bulbs. They save money in the long run.

Conserving hot water by taking shorter showers and using energy-efficient dishwashers and washing machines. Keep the hot water heater at 120 degrees.

Using a push or electric mower.

Check with Puget Sound Energy (800-562-1482 or online at and Seattle City Light (206-684-3800 or

P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or


Tom Gray said...

Offset emissions with programs such as TerraPass ( www or Climate Trust ( www

Great advice. If you don't feel that you can afford to go 100% wind, a very inexpensive option is to buy 10% or 20%. For the average household, the cost will be 5-10 cents a day . . .

For info on green power suppliers, see "Your Electric Choices" at This site includes a clickable map of the U.S. which will show you the choices in your state.

Tom Gray
American Wind Energy Association

karen said...

Thank you... this is a great alternative...

More people should participate.