City Council Flunks Climate Action

On December 10th, 2019, Mayor Woodards and Council Members Beale and Mello presented Resolution 40509, acknowledging the perils of our climate crisis and declaring it as constituting a “public emergency.” 

The Sunrise youth present their demands to some of the City Council on September 20, 2019.

Note that while the Resolution itself was a response to the demands of the youth during the Climate Strike in September 2019, the City has yet to take any action to address the second demand to “Terminate all new and current fossil fuel expansion projects.”

The Resolution promised several actions to start addressing the climate crisis. Here is their overall grade and below you can read more about each section in which they made promises (with our section nicknames in quotes):

Overall Grade: F

With responses like this we stand no chance in meeting goals to curb fossil fuels rapidly within the next 10 years as international scientists warn we must. The new IPCC report reinforces the call to action, saying this is “code red for humanity.” The entire world is behind and failing to meet promised quotas. The climate crisis is like no other in that we are facing a serious deadline on taking action, where delay can literally mean suffering and death to millions of people worldwide. Tacoma must do its part and has a particular responsibility to do so, being in the historically worst emitting country in the world and home to so much fossil fuel industry.

Acknowledging that our house is on fire isn’t enough. Ordering a study of how that fire is burning isn’t enough. We need to send the fire department immediately and start putting it out. That means stopping fossil fuel expansion and putting in place a strong, effective plan to transition off of them. We literally need to stop fueling the fire.

Training City Directors and employees about the severity of the climate crisis is crucial yet, at a time when corporations have successfully shifted to working virtually and may continue to do so after the COVID crisis passes, the City has been unable to provide such training in over a year since passing the resolution. This undermines the declaration and meaning of “emergency.”

We recognize that the COVID crisis has made things more difficult for everybody and can cause some delays. We also recognize that the City has started processes to take community input into account in order to center justice in their climate response.

And we demand more. As requested, we are here to hold the Mayor’s and City Council’s feet to the fire. Right now that fire is burning fiercely and shows no signs of abating. We need bold, visionary action now. This could start with banning the expansion of fossil fuel uses in the City of Tacoma, just like Whatcom County, home to large refineries, has just done. Then, we can start dismantling those industries and building up the renewable jobs that will see Tacoma into a sustainable future.

The Tacoma Climate Solidarity Event in December 2020, symbolically holding City Leaders’ feet to the fire.

Here are their grades for each of their promises contained in the resolution:

Section 1 – “Facing Reality 101

City declares that we are “experiencing a climate emergency” and expresses support for a “Citywide climate emergency mobilization effort to combat global warming…”

Grade: A+

This was the first demand of the September 2019 Climate Strike. You can’t address a problem until you acknowledge it exists. Thank you!

And now we need meaningful action, like stopping fossil fuel expansion.

Section 2 – “Planning 101”

“That the City Manager will work with the Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability (OEPS) to develop an updated Environmental Action Plan (EAP) by April 22, 2021.”

Grade: F – Overdue! We do not believe the City Council recognizes the consequences of their actions, or their inaction.

This is a direct answer to Climate strike demand 3 – wonderful! Now let’s see what it ends up including. City’s new goal is to adopt by September 2021. But considering they have acknowledged this is an emergency, two years from our ten year timeline (as outlined by climate scientists) to respond meaningfully is unacceptably slow.

The city has been working on the Environmental Justice Leadership Workgroup, so we recognize and acknowledge that. This appears to be doing well in responding to demand number 4 of the Climate Strike, to center justice.

Section 3 – “Know Your Polluters”

“That the City Manager shall establish a method by which the quantity and type of fossil and bio-fuels produced, refined, stored in, and distributed through the City of Tacoma can be determined, and periodically reported.”

Grade: D – room for improvement

Council Member Beale got funding approved for a study on fossil fuels in Tacoma and this was presented to City Council in draft form in February 2020. What was astonishing is that, after three years of the public asking the City to take action, they suddenly didn’t know enough about fossil fuels and required a study. Classic delay tactic. We know all we need to know – the science says NO new fossil fuel infrastructure if we want to preserve life on earth as we know it.

Sunrise Tacoma, 350 Tacoma and other residents give testimony for a fossil fuel expansion ban at one of many public hearings.

Section 4 – “Work Well With Others”

“That the City Manager will review the reporting structure of Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability (OEPS) to better collaborate with all City departments and initiatives to address shared responsibilities, seriousness, and urgency for climate action, and report back to the City Council by March 31, 2020, with those recommendations.”

Grade: F – superiority complex, doesn’t want to work more closely with environmental division

We were told that the OEPS meets with the Deputy City Manager every other month to “review action plan progress and emerging environmental topics.” That doesn’t seem like an appropriate response to an acknowledged emergency. What has come of these few meetings?

Section 5 – “Balancing Your Budget

“That the City Manager, in coordination with Tacoma Public Utilities, shall identify and propose to the City Council and Public Utility Board sustainable funding mechanisms for actions prescribed in the Environmental Action Plan…”

Grade: F – also overdue

The Environmental Action Plan is overdue, so this is as well. Given the City hasn’t been able to fund its tree planting goals we remain skeptical this will be given the priority it requires. We see no signs of any suggested budget plans on the City’s website.

Section 6 – “Climate Science 101

“That the City Manager is directed to coordinate with Tacoma Public Utilities to establish a training plan for all City department directors regarding climate science and equity…”

Grade: D – need to train City Council members

It has taken over a year to start training in response to an emergency? It was given by Lara Whitley Binder, formerly with the UW Climate Impacts Group and training started in April. Training was for about a dozen department directors within the City. While this is great, this training should have been required for the City Council – after all, the Planning Department recommended a ban on fossil fuel expansion and the Council has so far refused to implement it.

In particular, Council Members McCarthy, Thoms, Hunter, Blocker and Hines refused to vote for a ban during the last vote. It appears that McCarthy, Thoms, and Hunter may be trying to amend the Planning Departments regulations into uselessness.

Section 7 – “Earth Day”

City was to coordinate with the community for Earth Day on April 22, 2020, but that was all shut down due to COVID.

Grade: N/A

The City will not be graded on this promise due to the COVID crisis and it being a largely symbolic gesture.