City lawmakers take hesitant step in addressing global warming
The current issue of Scientific American has devoted most of its current “special issue” to describing the science on global warming and the development of alternative sources of energy. A few months ago Time Magazine devoted a cover feature to global warming.
Former President Bill Clinton has just raised $7 billion for his Global Initiative, including a pledge of $3 billion from Virgin mogul Richard Branson.
Earlier in September, James Hansen, climate researcher and NASA scientist, came out stating that at best we have only ten years left in which to address global warming and possibly curb its effects.
It was reported recently that a vast “dead zone” of oxygen-depleted water lies just off the Oregon coast and will remain there until fall storms break it up. Scientists from Oregon State University believe it is caused by global warming.
According to a study just released by the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, there has been a distinct warming trend in Oregon for the past five years.
Global warming is a big issue at the state and national level this campaign season. Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski believes Oregon should take the lead in reducing emissions that contribute to global warming. He proposes that 25 percent of Oregon’s power be generated by new sources of renewable energy by 2025. He wants 100 percent of power used by state government to come from renewable resources.
He takes pride in working closely on this issue with California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger, who has taken the most aggressive steps in the country to address global warming, including filing a lawsuit against several automakers over tailpipe emissions.
On September 27 Schwarzeneger also signed into law a sweeping global warming initiative that imposes the nation’s first cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
Kulongoski’s Republican challenger, Ron Saxton, believes the issue is best left to the federal government and international treaties. He recently told a business group, “To be really blunt with you, I’m not running for governor to deal with global warming.”
The Bush administration has been at best hesitant in accepting global warming and at worst has called into question the science pertaining to global warming. The president withdrew the U.S. from the 160-nation Kyoto Protocol in 2001, arguing that it would harm the economy. At present there is no national policy addressing global warming. This is despite the fact that the U.S. is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emission s.
Seattle mayor, Greg Nickels, stepped into this void by promoting the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The Agreement consists of three parts:
A. Urges federal and state governments to enact policies and programs to reduce global warming pollution levels that meet or beat targets set in Kyoto;
B. Urges the U.S. Congress to pass the bipartisan Climate Stewardship Act which creates a market-based system of allowances for industries with high emissions;
C. Introduces a 12-point action plan for cities across the country to reduce pollution emissions, to create alternative sources of energy, and to better educate the public about this issue.
Since the Agreement was introduced in 2005, 307 cities across the U.S., including six cities here in Oregon, have signed on to it. It was unanimously passed at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June, 2005.
On September 5 two motions addressing Salem’s energy consumption, reducing its waste, and controlling emissions contributing to smog and air pollution, all factors in global warming, were considered by the city council.
Councilor Rick Stuckey brought forward a motion to send the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to staff for study and analysis to determine what its impact would be on Salem if implemented.
Councilor Dan Clem also brought forward a “Resolution to Reduce City Waste, Emissions and Energy Consumption,” which authorizes city staff to “report back on steps the City can take to conserve energy and preserve resources,” including “staff and budget cost estimates and savings targets of implementing these conservation measures.”
“The City will first figure out how it can reduce its carbon footprint and how much it will cost to do so before it adopts an international protocol affecting every business, facility, and home within city limits,” Clem said. “It made sense to target those items we could agree on and to move forward.”
Frank Mauldin, a retired environmental engineer and former Director of Salem Public Works, who is now with the Marion County chapter of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV), believes that Clem’s resolution meets only one of the 12 action steps recommended by the Mayors Agreement, 5 are partially met, and 6 of the steps are not met at all.
Mauldin says that Clem’s motion does not mention global warming, climate change, or greenhouse gas emissions.
Approximately 35 private citizens attended the council meeting to support Stuckey’s motion and 9 people testified on behalf of the Mayors Agreement. No one testified against it. Clem’s motion was debated and voted on first and was passed unanimously. Stuckey’s resolution was voted down. Despite public statements indicating otherwise, Mayor Taylor also voted against the Mayors Agreement.
There were three key arguments against passing Stuckey’s motion:
China and other developing countries are not bound by such agreements and their emissions also contribute significantly to global warming; the Mayors Agreement is based on national and international protocols beyond the purview of city government and is too political; and many of the councilors said they weren’t informed enough on the Mayors Agreement.
Assistant Professor of History at Willamette University Wendy Boring believes the council should have demonstrated more leadership.
“Rather than asking ‘What is China doing?’ the councilors should have been asking ‘What can we do now?’” she said.
Regarding national and international protocols, Councilor Brent deHart said, “I don’t think it’s particularly my role to advise the federal government on international agreements.”
Councilor Stuckey has responded, “Salem city government should be and is involved in national issues. This is a national policy our current national administration is not adequately addressing. We have a duty to lobby for better environmental policy.”
The argument that the councilors are not informed enough on this issue may have been addressed if Stuckey’s motion had been passed. It called for the Mayors Agreement to be sent to staff for study and analysis and to hold a public hearing in which the community would learn its findings. City government and the community would have been better educated as a result of this process.
Mayor Taylor was pleased that Clem’s motion had passed.
“It has some action. It doesn’t just say we’re going to study it and we’re going to look at it.”
She dubbed Clem’s resolution “The Salem Environmental Action Plan.”
Frank Mauldin and other members of the OLCV, as well as those not affiliated with OLCV who testified at the meeting, were pleased that at least Clem’s motion had passed.
Rick Stuckey voted for Clem’s motion because he said it was a small step in taking a more comprehensive local effort.
Nathan Good, a local architect who designs “green” buildings and homes and who also testified in favor of the Mayors Agreement, thinks a valuable opportunity may have been lost.
“If I had known that Dan Clem’s motion was going to be introduced and Rick Stuckey’s wasn’t, I still would have been happy to see Clem’s motion passed. It is a step forward,” he said.
Good also wished that Mauldin and the OLCV had worked with Stuckey to focus on the 12-step action plan in part C of the Mayors Agreement and had simply dropped the first two parts since the council found them too political. City staff could have looked at both motions concurrently.
“Since the City is going to invest the staff to study these issues anyway, it would have been more cost effective to handle the analysis parallel with the 12 action steps. It’s not too late,” Good said.
Boring believes the Mayors Agreement offers Salem a unique opportunity to take a leadership position concerning a local, national, and global issue.
“It provides an opportunity to attract businesses and individuals committed to sustainability and the real economic benefits of being able to market Salem as a ‘green city,’” she said.
For more information and to view a complete text of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, visit www.seattle.gov/mayor/climate.
For the complete texts of Councilors Rick Stuckey and Dan Clem’s resolutions, visit www.cityofsalem.net.