A difference of opinion; county, cities go own ways on climate change
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David Freed, who works in the Washington State University Extension office at the Clallam County Courthouse, displays a Clallam Transit pass given to him by the county on Friday in Port Angeles. Other bus-riding county employees include, from left, Trish Holden and Tammy Sullenger of the county commissioners office, Marilyn Westman of public works, Jim Podlesny of the planning department, Anne Stallard of the treasurer's office and Amanda Freed of the noxious weeds department. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series on local response to climate change.

Clallam County's two largest governments have taken different paths on climate change.

Last August, after several months of planning, county commissioners established the Climate Advisory Group to survey county government's impact on global warming -- its carbon footprint -- and suggest ways to tackle the issue.

Armed with the results, commissioners approved a climate action plan on April 21, the day before Earth Day.

But a proposal that the city of Port Angeles participate on the committee went nowhere, Deputy Mayor Betsy Wharton said.

"It was proposed," she said.

"I brought it up. There was a mixed array of responses. There was some feeling that we were doing some conservation types of things but that we don't feel like we need to wave a flag. They said we do not want to make a declaration; we are not ready to say climate change is happening."

It also was before three new council members -- Cherie Kidd, Don Perry and Dan Di Guilio -- were elected, but there's been no further discussion about the city joining the climate change committee to assess the city's impact on climate change, Wharton said.

The Advisory Group, chaired by Associate Planner Sam Fox, assessed county government's impact down to the metric ton by using software provided by International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives.

County facilities, and the employees who drive to those facilities, produced 6,459 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2006 emitted by buildings and vehicles, according to the survey.

Commissioners pledged to cut county-caused greenhouse gases by 10 percent in 2012.

Gases would be reduced 20 percent by 2015 and 50 percent by 2030.

Employees who commute by personal vehicles accounted for one-sixth the total, and vehicle emissions overall, both county and private, accounted for more than half the total.

Recycling, buying hybrid vehicles, purchasing a cleaner, more efficient courthouse boiler, eventually replacing aging courthouse solar panels -- the measures save public money and help the environment, said Commissioner Mike Chapman, independent-Port Angeles.

The solar panels, which already save the county $35,000 annually, preheat all courthouse water, including the large amount used by the jail.

"One of the things that often does not get brought out much is the economic benefit as well as the climate benefit," Chapman said of measures to combat climate change.

"It pencils out and saves money, and it reduces our carbon footprint."

The county is studying an upgrade to the courthouse solar-heating system and may install solar panels at its new Third Street building, county Administrator Jim Jones said.

The county also is conducting a $100,000 study of county government's building energy usage, Jones said.

The study is examining whether the county should use photovoltaic cells to power the courthouse.

To address greenhouse gases generated by commuters, the county offers subsidized Clallam Transit bus passes that cost participants $24.30 every three months for traveling within one zone.

Trish Holden, one of 28 county workers in the program, walks to a bus stop a few blocks from her Port Angeles home and rides the bus 2 miles to the courthouse.

Ornery weather isn't an issue.

"We had one day where it was pouring down rain and the wind was blowing and it was pretty nasty, and I kept thinking that growing up in Spokane, I took the bus to school every day, and sometimes it was 16 below and there was 2 feet of snow," Holden said.

Building-wise, the county is swapping out an old oil-fired boiler with an electric one.

"It will be much more efficient going electric, plus we definitely lower our carbon footprint by getting off fossil fuels," said county commissioners' Chairman Mike Doherty, D-Port Angeles.

The county's car fleet is being swapped out with energy-saving hybrid vehicles.

"Right sizing" is the new mantra for tailoring an agency's needs to energy-saving solutions, said Associate Planner Sam Fox, chairman of the county climate change committee.

The county purchased a 4-by-4 Ford Escape hybrid to visit work sites, a capable vehicle for winter driving but also one that spews less greenhouse gases than your average SUV.

But the county did need to be nudged a little to step up its recycling program.

The county Citizens Waste Reduction Group, a subcommittee of the county Solid Waste Advisory Committee, conducted a 48-hour audit of county garbage that showed the county was not recycling paper as much as it could.

And there were no measures taken to collect aluminum, plastic and tin, said Waste Reduction Group Chairman Shea McDonald, a 34-year-old environmental science student at Peninsula College.

In fact, the Port Angeles Wal-Mart, also audited, had established a far more comprehensive program, McDonald said.

The county expanded its recycling program "almost immediately after the audit," McDonald said.

Despite not participating in the climate change survey, the city is moving in the right direction by establishing energy-saving policies that have a direct impact on climate change, Wharton said.

The city has imposed a no-idling policy for city vehicles and is fueling city trucks with a biodiesel-diesel mix.

In addition, fluorescent light fixtures replaced standard lighting in the City Hall complex and Vern Burton Center.

"A lot of it makes good economic sense as well as helping with what I call the sustainability and climate change aspect of it," Public Works Director Glenn Cutler said.

"We have a good grade, but there's always room for improvement."

The county Waste Reduction Group also conducted 24-hour waste audits of the city of Port Angeles, Franklin Elementary School, Peninsula College and Bushwhacker's Restaurant in Port Angeles, sifting through a day's worth of accumulated garbage.

"We dig through the garbage, separate it into different types and crunch the numbers," McDonald said.

"All of them had a little bit or a lot of potential to save money by reducing waste," he said. "There definitely was room to improve as far as increasing the use of recycling or what have you."

As a result of the audit, "the college definitely made changes as far as increasing the receptacles in the recycling program," McDonald added.

Helen Freilich, a city employee who provides technical assistance to Waste Reduction Group, said the committee's projects include encouraging food-waste composting, as food waste constitutes 18 percent to 19 percent of all garbage.

The committee did not get much of a response from businesses -- "Most are too busy to worry about food waste," Freilich said -- but Hamilton, Franklin and Jefferson elementary schools in Port Angeles set up composting sites, "basically worm beds."

Fox said the county would welcome more citizen participation in climate-change efforts.

"As a government body, we are role modeling," he said.

"We are one node on a significant network rather than just an island on its own, because every little bit you do is helpful."

Wednesday: What has prevented Sequim and Forks from moving forward on combatting climate change?

Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 11. 2009 9:22PM
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