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Tacoma bans use of fossil fuels in new city buildings. Are commercial, residential next?

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 4/22/2021 Allison Needles, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Apr. 22—Tacoma is prohibiting all new city-owned buildings from using natural gas and other fossil fuels energy sources for heating, lighting and power and will explore a similar rule for new residential and commercial buildings.

Tacoma City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday that requires new city-owned buildings, and buildings undergoing major renovations, to use low-carbon fuels such as biodiesel, renewable diesel, renewable natural gas or electricity.

The new policy will become effective Jan. 1, 2022.

The resolution also directs city manager Elizabeth Pauli to spend upwards of $130,000 to conduct several studies and report their findings by Jan. 1, 2023.

One is an inventory of all city-owned facilities that use fossil fuels and evaluate what it would take to retrofit them to low-carbon sources by 2030.

A second would develop a plan to retrofit each city-owned parking facility and building with electric vehicle (EV) charging stations by 2030. The city is already in the process of retrofitting eight public parking facilities with EV infrastructure.

A third study would assess the impact of requiring non-fossil fuel sourced heating, lighting and power in new commercial and residential development in the city. The study would include stakeholder involvement and look at potential opportunities and challenges of making the transition.

The resolution also encourages other jurisdictions to do the same.

City leaders are expecting some push back if they expand the restriction to commercial and residential development.

City documents tied to the resolution also make note of potential long-term costs, including between $500,000 and $1 million in litigation costs to defend the city if it moves ahead with requiring non-fossil fuel energy sources in commercial and residential development.

"Natural gas utilities may file suit against the City for unfair business practices that favor municipally owned energy sources over others," city documents stated.

Other costs stemming from the resolution are expected but depend on the outcomes of the studies. A $597,558 grant awarded to Tacoma by the Washington State Department of Commerce with a match from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency will help install EV-charging stations at some municipally owned parking facilities.

Council members and city staff say the resolution advances the city's 2019 Climate Emergency Resolution, which created a goal to make city operations carbon neutral by 2050.

"This resolution is a first step in moving us towards that goal," said Jim Parvey, chief sustainability officer for the city of Tacoma.

Council member Catherine Ushka assured the public at Tuesday's meeting that poorer communities won't be left behind in the transition and that the city is keeping equity at the forefront of the conversation.

The city should "have a plan for, if we're going to make it happen in commercial buildings, or going to have people transfer their gas stoves into electric stoves, that there's specific funding and outreach to make that happen," Ushka said.

Organizations and members of the public showed their support for the resolution on Tuesday.

"Addressing municipal emissions and studying how to electrify buildings city-wide are both crucial actions to take to help meet Tacoma's climate goals," Deepa Sivarajan, Washington policy manager for nonprofit Climate Solutions, told the City Council.

Greenhouse gas emissions from buildings in Washington state are growing at a faster rate than any other source of carbon pollution, primarily due to the use of gas to heat, cool and power buildings, which can harm cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological health, Sivarajan added.

"One thing we do know for certain is that the climate crisis is here, it's intensifying, and our Black, brown, immigrant, low-income, unhoused, indigenous and front-line communities are being impacted the hardest," said Marquis Mason with Citizens for a Healthy Bay.

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