Friday, December 3, 2021

City Council, December 6th - Update on the Climate Plan

With the Climate Action Plan, Our Salem, and the bundle of code amendments, Council has a lot of substance on the agenda for Monday.

Just the latest in today's paper

Staff had thought to initiate adoption of the Climate Action Plan, but public comments on the draft have prompted a slight retreat, and the item at Council now is only an information report.

Public materials generated by the CAP team have not very directly addressed the reasons for delay, but the Staff Report does finally touch on some of it:

Several of the strategies contained in the CAP, if implemented, will have a significant impact on various sectors of the Salem community. For this reason, the public comment period on the draft document is being extended....

Based on interactions among members of the task force and on public feedback received to date, one of the more contentious strategies in the draft Salem CAP is the recommendation to shift homes and businesses to all-electric heating/cooling systems and appliances. Options for implementing this strategy range from providing education on the subject to creating incentives to convert to electricity to enacting an outright ban on new natural gas hookups. Regulations banning or restricting new natural gas hookups have been implemented in dozens of US cities. Conversely, nineteen states have passed laws restricting the ability of cities to ban gas hookups. Banning new natural gas hookups in Salem would be a significant and controversial action by City Council....

However, based on what is known now, Salem will not be able to meet the Council-set goal of net zero emissions by 2050 without essentially eliminating all fossil fuels, which includes natural gas, unless emissions are offset or another similar approach is taken. As a best practice, fossil fuel emissions should always be reduced or eliminated rather than offset. Alternative fuels such as renewable natural gas and hydrogen, while not viable today as replacements for fossil fuels, could help to meet Salem’s goals over the next 30 years.

The Staff Report also underscores some of its weakness and signals interpretive wiggle-room:

The strategies identified in the CAP are non-regulatory and non-binding on the City or other parties. Approval of the CAP by Council will not directly result in funding, staffing, or specific implementation of any of the strategies. Further, the wording used to describe the strategies, which grammatically vary from the imperative to the suggestive, should not be taken to mean that authority to implement them has been granted or an outcome has been predetermined. Rather, the CAP and its various recommendations serve as a blueprint for further actions and a source of information for the Council for any actions under consideration. Additionally, local, state, and federal regulatory or statutory requirements may exist that will impact the degree to which some strategies can be implemented.

From here the plan has seemed too weak.

In comments on the plan, our chapter has decided now that support and praise for it is best. This is likely more of a political calculation, and they allude to a reticence on further critique or concerns.

As a whole we at 350 Salem are very pleased with this draft....We deeply appreciate that almost all of the potential strategies that are controversial are still in the complete strategy list of 183. We understand and appreciate that staff are reluctant to propose near-term implementation of controversial strategies.

SEDCOR, the Chamber, the Homebuilders, and a Realtors group all oppose any ban on new fracked/fossil gas hookups, but apart from that outright criticism in the packet from others is cranky - irritable climate delay or outright denial from cranks. Even if the sentiment is strong, the discursive content is weak.

It's hard to know exactly what is best here. The temporary goal is a strong plan. But the overall goal is emissions reduction, and it is possible that strong action with a weak plan is easier to accomplish, and that a strong plan might be vitiated politically and yield only weak action. The final goal is not to win a prize for an elegant and powerful plan.

(Over the weekend we'll post on Our Salem and the code amendments separately.)

Bullets for the rest:

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