Last month, Warming Law reported that a proposal coming before Seattle's City Council would be the first in the nation to flatly require new development efforts to account for global warming impacts (as opposed to growing efforts to utilize existing law, such as what Tim wrote about earlier today). Earlier this week, that legislation was passed unanimously and with lots of rightful enthusiasm, though the issue hasn't been completely resolved:
Seattle is poised to become one of the first cities to require large construction projects -- whether condos or freeways -- to account for their greenhouse gas emissions.
But legislation passed Monday doesn't resolve a thornier question: how local governments want builders to curb gases that contribute to global warming.
Those choices could include requiring buildings to be more energy-efficient, charging fees for projects with large carbon footprints or possibly even rejecting permits.
The City Council, in a unanimous vote Monday, took a first step toward regulation. In March, city departments will start evaluating greenhouse gas emissions -- from the energy used to make concrete to pollution from cars that a building's residents drive -- when reviewing proposed projects.
"It's useful because departments aren't currently doing this," environmental attorney David Bricklin told the council last week. "But you're only scratching the surface with this, and you can't go home and think 'We've dealt with the issue now.' "
Seattle's vote follows a string of court rulings -- including one by the U.S. Supreme Court -- that classify greenhouse gases as pollutants that can be regulated.
The outstanding article that Tim cited earlier delves into this question as it pertains to California, where the question has become just how much climate-sensitive planning, and what kind, will be enough to truly have an impact (and avert more litigation). That's an important concern for all parties involved, and it's why several key organizations are working to create model planning codes and policy proposals at all levels that might help foster them.
But the critical point is that action is being initiated under both existing law and landmark new ones; the authority to do so exists and those who would assert otherwise are sanguine about their chances in court; and thanks in particular to the spurt of activity coming out of California and the legal settlements reached there, some guidelines for moving forward very much exist.
And when the public gets a hold of an issue and it becomes a long-term political plus for ambitious public officials, its salience tends not to fade and be left to obscure regulatory and judicial proceedings. We note with enthusiasm that, despite the concerns of some cynics, ensuring green-tinged growth has become a key issue for several ambitious California politicians (note that Los Angeles' mayor recently announced ambitious green building standards); and that the Seattle proposal has added to speculation that its author, an outgoing councilman with a background in architecture and planning, might be looking to seek higher office down the line.