Council should let residents weigh in on climate actions | Letter to the Editor

The Mercer Island City Council and staff are currently working with a consultant to prepare a draft Climate Action Plan (CAP). This is great, as cities can do so much. Cities regulate building construction and operation, land use, maintenance of urban forests, and have a large role in transportation and public education, among other areas of significance for climate.

Of concern is that substantial decisions about the draft CAP have been made by the Council without adopting and implementing a Public Engagement Plan (PEP). The purpose of the PEP is to ensure that the CAP meets the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal, garners support for climate action, and gathers feedback on the strategies that the community supports. Not surprisingly, without an adopted PEP, a lack of sufficient public input has gone into decisions that will substantially determine the mix of strategies in the final CAP.

The problematic decision by the Council was to remove from further consideration over one third of the strategies offered by the consultants. These strategies had been vetted for cost and approximate GHG reduction benefit. They have been included in the Climate Action Plans of other cities in the region. The exclusion of strategies by the Council was not rigorously tied to cost and benefit. Strategies of high GHG reduction value fell off of the list as easily as did low-value strategies. Further unfortunate fallout is that in an upcoming survey of 2500 residents about possible approaches, the questions about the strategies that have been removed will not be asked. Residents will never know what was removed or be in a position to comment one way or the other.

Since climate planning is a project to achieve a change in the chemistry of the atmosphere by implementing actions that involve engineering, economics, sociology, politics, and more, removing a large handful of the set pieces from a well-considered collection leaves us with an outcome that does not optimize cost and benefit. The choosing was done before the analysis, and before public input.

The steps of the planning process have gotten out of sync. This can happen due to busy agendas and the desire to meet a short timeline. The Council can correct course by adopting a Public Engagement Plan and placing the removal of potential strategies on hold for the time being. The PEP should guide the particulars of the statistical survey. When the public has weighed in via the survey and through other aspects of the PEP, the Council should then decide which mix of strategies seems to be most responsive to the goal, with considerations of cost, benefit, and public acceptance. This mix should be included in a draft CAP for public review.

Should all of this take a bit longer, it would be worth it in the long run.

Carolyn Boatsman, Mercer Island