Climate (Policy) Change

10 Important Takeaways from Seattle's Green New Deal

Seattle City Council announced an ambitious list of climate goals. Here's what you need to know.

By Lily Hansen August 21, 2019

Council member Mike O'Brien speaks at a press conference about Seattle's Green New Deal.

Free transit, electric energy, and a pollutant-free Seattle: This is the dream of local climate activists, environmental groups, and now Seattle City Council. With the passing of last week’s Green New Deal, they inched toward that utopia.

Inspired by the Green New Deal first introduced to Congress by Massachusetts senator Edward Markey and New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier this year, the extensive resolution is Seattle’s most ambitious environmental goal yet, coupling the climate crisis with possible solutions to the city’s growing economic troubles. With the federal legislation hitting a standstill in recent months, Seattle is among a wave of states and municipalities across the country—including New York, MaineLos Angeles, and soon Milwaukee—taking it upon themselves to pass their own version. 

Here are 10 primary takeaways from the city council’s Green New Deal and what these changes could mean for the future of Seattle:

1. The resolution shaves off 20 years from mayor Jenny Durkan’s original goal for a carbon-neutral city by 2050, as outlined in her 2018 Climate Action Strategy. The new goal: rid Seattle of climate pollutants by 2030. Although the city’s current emissions rate comes nowhere near the 2050 goal, council member Mike O’Brien, the resolution’s sponsor, wants to motivate local representatives to implement drastic environmental policies soon.

2. Overhaul existing transit and infrastructure. Not only does the city’s Green New Deal propose all ride-share vehicles be electric by 2025, it advocates that all King Country Metro buses become fully electric by 2030. With Seattle City Light’s almost 15-year carbon-neutral status, O’Brien hopes building-owners will forgo natural gas and energy oil for electric appliances.

3. Expand job opportunities in renewable energy and train workers to “thrive” in their new industry. The resolution also calls for the support of workers’ unions and for strengthening employee protection laws.

4. Consider downtown congestion tolls. Equity discussions continue, but council member Teresa Mosqueda thinks a toll might succeed if alternatives such as frequent buses and citywide dedicated bus and bike lanes are available. “We need to convince folks to get out of their cars,” she says, “and we can only do that by establishing adequate transit alternatives and creating a mechanism to avoid the unintended consequences of congestion pricing.” She's also interested in coordinating with Sound Transit to expedite the opening of future Link light rail stations.

5. Offer free transit (hopefully, eventually)O’Brien estimates that complementary transit could cost over $100–$200 million a year—outside of the city’s current budget. For now, he says, the path forward requires dual action: subsidies from the city and a willingness from employers to offer their employees free transit.

6. While this spring’s Mandatory Housing Affordability was a win for YIMBYs, Seattle’s Green New Deal aims to create affordable housing near public transit, parks, schools, and other neighborhood amenities in order to help prevent the displacement of low-income communities.

7. Expand healthy food access and promote plant-based diets. The council has a few routes for this: One, use soda tax funds to provide low-income residents with nutritionally rich foods and two, commit public property to urban gardening. Independently, Mosqueda thinks we should follow San Francisco and force producers to publicly list the antibiotics in their meats.

8. Create a 16-member Green New Deal Oversight Board to ensure the council remains committed to the goals, as O’Brien puts it, “long after I’m gone.” The requirements for membership include eight people directly impacted by racial, economic, and environmental inequities; three representatives of environmental organizations; two labor union representatives; and three climate change experts.

9. Take waste minimization and recycling seriously. A growing number of cities have banned single-use plastics in grocery stores and Mosqueda thinks Seattle should be next. She's also interested in organizing a citywide campaign to reeducate the public on recycling. “I think people here pride themselves on being high recycling consumers,” she says. “But when we don’t follow recycling protocol, we hurt our climate and the recycling industry.”

10. During the public comment period, King County Council member Larry Gossett was inspired to propose a similar, county-level Green New Deal. With increasing pressure from climate activists around the state, we'll likely see climate-focused legislation introduced at both the county and state level sometime in the near future.

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