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No teeth

Council plans to protect climate by doing little

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This week, Missoula City Council achieved another milestone as a member of the Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) campaign, an international coalition of cities working toward sustainable environments at local levels. Missoula joined the CCP in 1996. The most recent and probably most time-consuming step it has taken as a member was the creation of an energy efficiency plan. Over the course of the past four years, Air Quality Specialist Ben Schmidt calculated and recalculated greenhouse gas emissions from various sectors of the community. A greenhouse gases subcommittee formed and disbanded. Committee members wrote, rewrote and wordsmithed. Now, a Missoula Greenhouse Gas Energy Efficiency Plan is complete. On Monday night, City Council approved the plan, which opens with a section on greenhouse gases before discussing ways in which residential, commercial, industrial, transportation and waste management entities can become more energy efficient.

“The Sustainable Business Council (SBC), and myself included, think this [plan] is a good start,” says SBC’s Pete Talbot. The SBC represents about 50 businesses in the Missoula area. At a Council meeting two weeks ago, many parties lavished praise upon the plan, which touts the benefits of recycling, notes how government, households and industrial sectors contribute to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and how each can decrease emissions.

Though he spoke in favor, Talbot was also the only person to indicate he would have liked to see more “teeth” in the plan. Someone, he says, had to say it.

In fact, the plan lacks concrete and mandatory measures, standards or regulations altogether. In December, another representative of the business community, the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce (MACC), reviewed the document and was frightened. In the words of two former Council members and conservation proponents, Dave Harmon and Jim McGrath, Chamber folks came “unglued.”

Bob Tutskey is president of the Chamber. “There were proposed standards and regulations in there that might not have been attainable,” he says. What caught the Chamber’s attention, he says, is that while a pie chart in the plan indicates that the industrial sector in Missoula contributes close to 50 percent of all emissions, and the Conservation Committee had been working on a reduction plan for four years, December 2003 was the first that Chamber folks had heard of it. “It hadn’t gotten wide exposure,” says Tutskey. Steven Patrick, Roscoe Steele & Culvert Co. general manager, agrees.

“It became somewhat noticeable that the business and industrial segment of our community had not been engaged at a very high…level,” he says. They felt left out of the plan development, says Patrick, though the topic is hardly unfamiliar to business and industry. Industry, he says, lives with fuel efficiency everyday.

A three-month rewrite process ensued. Two of the original drafters, Harmon and Schmidt, and two industry representatives, Patrick and BFI’s Jim Leiter, rewrote the plan so it would be palatable to both conservationists and industry representatives, says Ward 4’s Jerry Ballas, who chairs the Conservation Committee.

During this process, says Harmon, the plan, which never imposed strict regulations, was “de-toothed.”

It opens up with a short paragraph through which paranoia is liberally woven. The plan is self-described as a “guidance document” that “provides suggestions.” It “encourages efforts.” It “does not set mandatory limits or implementation in any manner, [and] is not intended to be used as a platform for current or future regulation.”

True to its opener, the body of the plan provides no carrots and wields no sticks. It articulates no mandatory goals, imposes no regulations and sets no standards.

McGrath says that even if the city had wanted to implement regulations and set mandates, it couldn’t.

“The city is not legally empowered by the state to do anything anyway,” says McGrath. McGrath chuckles when asked if the plan, which “encourages” bicycle and pedestrian-friendly development in several sections, may provide only lip service to energy conservation efforts. The Broadway reconfiguration, after all, was almost derailed by the current Council, and as of last week its status was tenuous. The plan, answers McGrath, will have as much authority as the “city fathers, if you will,” grant it.

Patrick doesn’t deny that the document is much revised since its December iteration.

“No question,” says Patrick. “It’s a much softer document.” But it’s something that both the MACC and the SBC can sign on to, he says. Industry doesn’t want to feel like it needs to uproot and relocate to a nearby city without regulations. “Shame on us if we create an environment where we can’t sustain a vibrant economy locally due to our noble objective,” says Patrick.

In fact, creating a plan with strict standards and specific regulations would probably be futile.

“First of all,” says Talbot, “it probably wouldn’t pass Council.”

On Monday night, several Council members agreed that they would not have approved the plan in its pre-rewrite iteration. Ward 4’s Myrt Charney thanked Ballas for crafting a final document they could support. Only Ward 5’s Bob Lovegrove voted against the plan.

For conservation proponents, some of the rewrites were gut-wrenching. A discussion of greenhouse gases outlines how human activities—like burning wood, paper or fossil fuels—contribute to global warming. Then, it indicates that other scientists believe that global warming is a natural phenomenon—unrelated to human activity. “It was painful for us,” says Harmon of the addition. “We even had to say ‘knowledgeable’ scientists.” Then, he says, “I guess that’s what compromising is all about.”

Last week, the Conservation Committee agreed to have a group oversee and report on the plan on a quarterly basis. The Chamber and the SBC will co-facilitate the oversight, says Ballas.

“I was able to suggest—demand—that the Sustainable Business Council also be a facilitator,” says Harmon. “I didn’t want the Chamber in charge.” He feels comfortable with shared oversight.

Now that the plan will be actively monitored, conservation folks are less concerned that it will sit in a filing cabinet collecting dust. Bob Giordano, with MIST, worked on the transportation section. He acknowledges that he would be pursuing many of the same goals regardless of the plan. “I would,” he says, “but not with as much gusto.”

Comparatively speaking, Missoula now has less aggressive goals than Portland, Ore., which calls for a 20 percent reduction of emissions by 2010, and falls roughly in line with Burlington, Vt., which calls for 10 percent reductions by the same year, says Harmon. Now, says Talbot, “It’s up to city government to lead it.”

kszpaller@missoulanews.com

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