By Lorilyn C. Lirio
At the Finance Committee meeting yesterday, Olympia Climate Program manager Dr. Pamela Braff discussed information about sustainable funding to support climate work and how the city has been able to reach targets addressing climate change.
In 2018, Olympia began working with Thurston County with the cities of Lacey and Tumwater and to develop the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan, which was published in December 2020 by the Thurston Regional Planning Council. The intention is to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by 45% – below 2015 levels by 2030; and 85% – below 2015 levels by 2040.
Braff recounted that the city passed the Olympia Climate Inheritance resolution in 2019, which aims to achieve net-zero emission by 2040.
Olympia also participates in “Cities Race to Zero: Achieve net-zero emissions by 2040” and sets an interim 2030 science-based target, which reflects Olympia’s fair share of a 50% global reduction in emissions by 2030.
Despite these commitments, Braff said Thurston County’s emissions are not on track.
Braff showed a graph reflecting Thurston Country’s 2019 Greenhouse Gas Emissions with 3.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e).
“It is just taking us further from where we need to go,” she commented.
Broken commitments – not close to the goal
Braff said Olympia’s emissions reached 661,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019. She said a big chunk of it came from the built environment and transportation, including fuels, energy used to heat, power, and cool the buildings, and vehicles and buses to get around town.
Braff said Olympia has a growing commitment to reducing emissions, and addressing climate change requires investments in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change.
“It requires investment in both mitigation and adaptation. It is because many effects of climate change are here now. They will continue to get worse until levels of C02 emissions in the atmosphere level off, and we are not expecting to see that until 2050,” Braff warned.
“So no matter what we do, no matter how good we are at reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, the impacts of climate change will continue to grow until at least 2050,” she added.
She said Olympia needs to be prepared to be resilient to those climate impacts, like extreme heat, weather, drought, disturbances, and diseases.
Braff said there is a mismatch between the amount of necessary work and the funding available to support climate work; other cities and counties also recognize this.
According to Braff, Boulder and Denver, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Bellingham, Washington; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have taken steps to generate revenues through taxes – property, utility, sales – retail, to support their climate programs.
Braff presented five options to raise revenue for the Olympia climate programs:
- Private utility tax – a tax on electric, gas, or telephone. This will require voter approval. Estimated revenue per 1% increase is between $100,000 to over $500,000 annually. Tax for each utility would require a separate individual vote approval.
- Municipal utility tax – includes taxes on garbage, sewer, stormwater, or water. It does not require voter approval and is within the city council’s discretion. The estimated revenue per 1% increase is about $100,000 to $400,000 annually, depending on the utility tax they consider.
- Property tax – requires voter approval. It increases costs to property owners. Depending on the rate increase, the estimated revenue is between $89,000 to $1.7 million.
- Business and occupation tax – requires voter approval. It increases costs to businesses. The estimated revenue per 0.1% increase is $3 million.
Climate mitigation goals
With the possible availability of funds, Braff recommended focusing on high-impact actions to achieve the 2030 science-based target, including investing on:
- Grid decarbonization – 80% reduction of carbon intensity
- Building efficiency – all new buildings meet IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) 2018
- VMT (vehicle miles traveled) reduction – 5% reduction in total vehicle miles traveled. Whatever miles that can’t be reduced need to electrify
- EV (electric vehicle) adoption – 4.5% annual growth in EV adoption.
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