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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Vancouver City Council OKs climate plan to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2040

Ambitious package aims for 83% reduction

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 6, 2022, 4:22pm

Vancouver is on its way to carrying out its “leading edge” promise to make ambitious strides in climate action following a significant win for the city.

On Monday, the Vancouver City Council and city officials were met with applause as the body unanimously approved its Climate Action Framework, a package composed of nearly 90 actions aimed at drastically curtailing greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

The first iteration of the green package carved a pathway to carbon neutrality by 2040, but the approved version anticipates reducing 83 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by the same year. Officials are still optimistic.

“Because Vancouver is setting the bar high with our targets, even with these steps back, we are still exceeding the 2030 targets that the latest science says is needed to prevent dangerous climate change,” said Rebecca Small, senior policy analyst.

Policymakers project that Vancouver will reduce 73 percent of its community and municipal emissions by 2030, which outpaces the Paris Climate Accords’ threshold  for reaching 45 percent reductions that same year.

Reaching outlined targets will require steady commitment to improving the framework and adopting stronger policies, Small added, but city staff are confident that its goals are attainable.

Palpable delight, slight concern

More than a dozen Vancouver residents provided remarks lauding the framework for its focus on equity in environmental strategies, forecasting positive impacts it will have on future generations.

A common thread connecting these voices emphasized the crucial nature of the framework and its timing.

“Things may hurt a little,” said Vancouver resident Kristin Burrows, “but we all have a moral obligation to step up and act.”

Representatives from local organizations, such as the Alliance for Community Engagement, Columbia Riverkeeper, Washington Environmental Council and the Vancouver Audubon Society, celebrated the city’s steps.

“(The Alliance for Community Engagement) and the environmental community have worked hard to get us to this stage. However, there is still much work to be done to implement the goals and put necessary ordinances and regulations into effect. We will continue to shepherd those steps,” said Peter Fels, who is a member of the alliance.

Others were appreciative of the city’s engagement with community groups.

“In a world where climate injustice also targets communities of color, it is exciting to see our city working with those same communities toward a brighter, cleaner future,” said Xaviera Martinez-Ziegenfuss, president of Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens.

Natural gas utilities, while supportive of Vancouver’s actions and environmental goals, did not stand in full agreement with the package.

Nelson Holmberg, Northwest Natural community affairs manager, said details in the document need to be altered to “comport with sound logic” and consider the future of energy systems. Northwest Natural, formerly included as a partner for rolling out building electrification initiatives, agreed with the end goal of decarbonization rather than electrification, emphasizing the two are not synonymous.

He requested changes to the document to reflect this language.

“The use of the term ‘electrification’ could easily be perceived as a gas ban, or as mandated electricity only for residents and businesses,” Holmberg said. “We know from public opinion that Vancouver residents do not support gas bans, and instead support energy choice.”

Natasha Jackson, Northwest Gas Association representative, provided similar remarks, noting “electrification is a pathway and not an end goal.” She said there should be additional language that prioritizes using renewable natural gas, hydrogen and other renewable fuels to reach net zero.

Small assured that electrification, or decarbonization, initiatives outlined in the package do not mean gas use would be banned beyond what is mandated by the state. The city council later approved amendments to the framework to tweak language and remove Northwest Natural as a partner from two building electrification actions.

Review process

City officials’ next review of its framework will occur in four years, and staff will also evaluate progress regularly to adjust accordingly.

Items prioritizing decarbonizing buildings and transportation — sectors that have the highest impact on local emissions — may cost upwards of $151 million, or $8 million annually through 2040. Small emphasized that the cost of inaction is far worse, as it could total a loss of $15 million annually through 2040, which was based on cost analyses from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

Policymakers and council members shared enthusiasm surrounding the timing of the Climate Action Framework’s adoption, as it enables the city to apply for multiple tax rebates, credits and grants provided through the Inflation Reduction Act to support environmental initiatives. Opportunities to secure federal dollars will open in 2023.

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Council members collectively shared an eagerness to see the city of Vancouver execute its environmental goals.

“Tonight, is a day that I’ve been waiting for my entire seven years on council,” Councilor Ty Stober said. “I couldn’t be more excited.”

Councilor Bart Hansen erred on the side of cautious optimism.

“One of the things I want to end on is that, from here on out, we need to work with the power and natural gas company to be successful at this, and we’ll be working with them lockstep,” Hansen said. “Not just: ‘Oh hey, we got a great idea.’ ”

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle thanked staff for the months of exhaustive research and revisions dedicated to each “86 little steps” in the framework’s composition.

“It’s kind of like Thanksgiving dinner, some of them you like, some you don’t have to eat,” she said. “But look at this.”

Columbian staff writer