It's rare that I get to use "shenanigans," since that's an old-fashioned word. But it came to mind when I read what Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett is being accused of by our local 350.org affiliate, 350 Salem OR.
As you can read below, it does seem like Mayor Bennett is engaged in a devious, underhanded trick -- trying to undermine the Salem Climate Action Plan so NW Natural can continue polluting the atmosphere with dangerous greenhouse gases.
I've got more to say after the 350 Salem OR news release.
January 26, 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Phil Carver, Co-Coordinator (503) 562-9878 [email protected]
350 Salem OR Calls on Mayor Bennett to Stop
Blocking Approval of the Climate Action Plan
Salem, Oregon – 350 Salem OR calls on Mayor Chuck Bennett to allow the City Council to consider the draft Salem Climate Action Plan. 350 Salem OR has learned that instead of allowing the City Council to approve or reject the draft Salem Climate Action Plan, the Mayor has directed the City Manager to recommend non-objectionable strategies from the plan to the Council for consideration in February.
Without Council approval, the draft plan won’t have official status in future City discussions. Also, Council needs to reevaluate the plan every few years to assess progress on the Council’s emission reduction goals. The draft plan is far more than just a list of short-term suggestions.
A report to City Council at their meeting on December 6th stated that “the final draft CAP will come to Council for consideration after the beginning of 2022”, but no action has been scheduled.
The final draft of the Salem Climate Action Plan, released in November, was the result of a year of work by a 42-person Task Force appointed by the Mayor. The Task Force was led by the Verdis Group consultants who were paid approximately $170,000 for their work on the plan.
350 Salem believes that the holdup is due to objections from Northwest Natural against elements of the plan that would reduce or eliminate the use of natural gas (fossil methane) in new developments. Houses built now will stand for 100 years and lock in decades of methane and carbon dioxide pollution. The greenhouse gas inventory completed in 2019 as part of the Climate Action Plan process showed that “stationary emissions,” (mostly from natural gas) comprised 16% of total emissions in Salem.
“We object to Mayor Bennett holding up final approval of the Salem Climate Action Plan because of objections from the fossil fuel industry,” said 350 Salem OR Co-Coordinator Phil Carver. “Northwest Natural has no right to veto Salem’s plan so that they can forever contribute to the climate-related harms that we are already experiencing in Salem.”
350 Salem OR began advocating for Salem to have a Climate Action Plan five years ago. Salem is the only major city in Oregon that does not already have an adopted Climate Action Plan.
Prof. Janet Lorenzen, an environmental sociologist at Willamette University explains, “I spent months volunteering my time on the Salem Climate Action Plan Task Force, we worked hard to prioritize both climate and equity, and now the Mayor seems to be caving to special interests who have a business model of unlimited growth and pollution. Residents on the side of clean air, climate resiliency, and racial justice don’t even get a hearing.”
“The Mayor’s approach will never get us to the Council’s adopted goal of cutting our emissions in half by 2035, just 13 short years away,” said Phil Carver. “He should consider his legacy in his last year in office. We ask: Will he stand on the side of the fossil fuel industry or on the side of our children and grandchildren?”
350 Salem OR is the local affiliate of international climate action organization 350.org. The mission of 350 Salem OR is to build an inclusive grassroots movement that targets keeping fossil fuels in the ground, advocates for a just transition to a renewable energy economy, and supports community-based resilience in response to the climate crisis. “350” refers to the safe level of carbon dioxide (ppm) in the air, a level that the world passed in 1988. Today the level is 417 ppm, the highest level in the last 3 million years.
Note that the Climate Action Plan doesn't call for a ban on the current use of natural gas in Salem, just new hookups. That seems entirely reasonable. Natural gas is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Don't be fooled by the appealing term natural. Methane is a fossil fuel, just like oil and coal. But people prefer "natural gas" to "methane," even though they basically mean the same thing.
So it might just be luck that gas came to be seen as “natural.” Some 76 percent of Americans view natural gas favorably, substantially more than for oil (51 percent) or coal (39 percent). While conventional wisdom once held that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” to a renewable-powered future, some now argue burning existing gas reserves would lock in dangerous levels of carbon dioxide emissions and endanger international goals to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. That’s not to mention the health effects of burning natural gas: Gas stoves, for instance, pollute homes and increase the risk of respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.
Take it as a sign that natural doesn’t necessarily mean “good for you,” no matter how nice it sounds. Americans love “natural” potato chips, but they’re still just deep-fried potatoes.
Hopefully Mayor Bennett's attempt to undermine the impact of the Climate Action Plan is limited to himself, and doesn't reflect a broader "revolt" among City of Salem staff.
Regardless, the City Council should make sure that the Climate Action Plan is officially approved at an upcoming city council meeting to ensure that the plan doesn't become a document that sits on a shelf and fails to achieve the goal of Salem doing its part to preserve the habitability of our planet for both ourselves and future generations.