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Sept. 24, 2022

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Vancouver seeks staff help to refine its climate strategies

By , Columbian staff writer, and
The Columbian
Published:

After months of consuming detailed analyses exploring leading-edge climate strategies, the Vancouver City Council is hoping to see a plan come back for an adoption vote.

“OK, counselors, so let’s jump in. We’re not going to go to dinner until we get all of our policies nailed down,” Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said at the top of a workshop discussion Monday.

City staff dedicated two hours to meet with the council to establish a clear direction on how to revise the Climate Action Framework, previously known as the Climate Action Plan.

The set of green policy tactics is expected to fulfill the city of Vancouver’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2040, a lofty goal that was adopted in early June. Key points in the framework highlight policy measures and incentives related to buildings and energy, transportation and land use, solid waste, equity and governance.

The framework is the most complex and thorough package of strategies that span across the city of Vancouver’s other focus areas, including its transportation, comprehensive land use and strategic plan. Its final form will serve as guidance for the city’s plans to ensure they align with climate goals.

Before putting final touches on the framework, staff sought council input on building energy supply, transportation and two-cycle engine use regulations.

There will be a public hearing and adoption vote the next time the framework is presented at a Vancouver City Council meeting.

Buildings and energy consumption

Building energy accounts for 20 percent of Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the city’s 2019 inventory, with most coming from residential and commercial buildings.

A foundational component in reaching Vancouver’s carbon neutrality goal is reducing the amount of energy consumed, said Rebecca Small, city senior policy analyst. It will require collaboration between local utilities to weatherize building equipment, switch to low carbon power sources and creating incentives for electrification.

Washington’s State Building Code Council revised its building energy code earlier this year to require electric heat pumps for new commercial and four story or higher multifamily residential developments. However, this revision doesn’t affect single-family and lower-level multifamily buildings.

Vancouver’s framework could extend the state’s requirement to include the buildings it doesn’t cover, making it more rigorous than required yet likelier to yield favorable results for climate action. Local building industries have opposed this idea, arguing that municipalities aren’t permitted to exceed the state’s standards.

Council members were hesitant to broaden the framework’s reach beyond existing electrification requirements and favored a hybrid approach, which will include natural gas. They suggested upholding state standards while advocating for and implementing incentive programs to transition to electric energy.

Addressing energy supply in new construction is only the tip of the iceberg, Small said. City staff asked the council if they should require a transition to electric heat pumps in existing single-family and low multifamily buildings or simply work through incentives to encourage owners to make the switch.

Some council members said requiring a transition isn’t reasonable.

“Going back to being equitable in our community, we want to achieve our goals without putting undue burdens on a particular portion of our city,” Councilor Sarah Fox said.

“How do we do it in a way that is equitable and accessible for everybody, and where can the city fill in that gap so we can actually reach these goals that we set for ourselves?” Councilor Kim Harless asked.

Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober said there is no way the city can meet its carbon neutrality goal by 2040 unless it is more aggressive through policy initiatives.

“If we’re not willing to be uncomfortable, then we need to go back to the goal we set for 2040. For me, it’s still the goal,” he said.

Cleaner fuel, less pollution

Although Washington has a statewide mandate for all-electric vehicle sales by 2030, vehicles that consume gasoline and diesel will remain. To reduce these emissions, the city of Vancouver can promote alternative fuels, such as renewable diesel, compressed natural gas, propane and ethanol, while the transition to electric vehicles unfolds.

Right now, other jurisdictions have not made distinctions between different fuels or carbon intensities, Small said. This would be a new framework that the city of Vancouver would be creating.

Council members didn’t commit to whether they would actively support the distribution of clean fuels. Instead, they recommended pursuing educational outreach to the community for relaying the benefits of using clean fuels.

Noisy, gassy yard tools

Previous public engagement showed concerns related to the impacts of gasoline-powered two-cycle engine lawn equipment, such as leaf blowers, that are proven heavy polluters. More than 170 jurisdictions nationwide have banned and limited the use of this equipment, including Multnomah County, Ore.

Small said using a leaf blower for one hour produces the same number of carbon emissions as driving 1,100 miles from Vancouver to San Diego.

The council unanimously advocated for cutting the use of these tools with some members emphasizing it needs to be phased out intentionally, so it doesn’t upend small landscaping businesses.

To view the council workshop, visit CVTV.org.

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