Seattle will no longer use fossil fuels like natural gas to heat, cool and cook in new and substantially altered city-owned buildings and will come up with a plan by 2021 to transition all city-owned buildings to clean electric systems over time, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Wednesday, including those directives in a “Green New Deal” executive order.
“The No. 1 thing we have to do as a city and as a country and as a world is end our dependence on fossil fuels. The science is absolutely clear and we know we must move quickly,” Durkan said at a City Hall news conference about the order she said would address the climate crisis and advance environmental justice.
Neither the new KeyArena now under construction at Seattle Center nor the massive Seattle Aquarium expansion pavilion planned for construction starting next year will be covered by the city’s new fossil-fuel ban, however, Durkan said. That’s because the projects are underway, she said. Both city-owned structures will use a lot of energy.
The $930 million new arena and 50,000-square-foot aquarium pavilion will initially be allowed to include some fossil-fuel infrastructure, though both will be included in the city’s longer-term electrification plans, Durkan’s office said (Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront said Thursday the aquarium pavilion will actually comply with the mayor’s order right away, using electricity to heat and cool the building’s public spaces and water tanks rather than natural gas, except for a backup generator). There’s no deadline yet for all city buildings to be fossil-fuel free.
“We need to show that you can and must change what’s already in place,” Durkan said. “This executive order is about the city setting an example.”
Last year, the council passed a Green New Deal resolution that said Seattle would seek to eliminate climate pollutants in the city by 2030.
Wednesday’s order also instructs Durkan’s Office of Sustainability and Environment to convene an interdepartmental team, start work on various Green New Deal actions and engage with stakeholders, such as tribal governments, businesses and community organizations.
Then-Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien last year proposed legislation that would have banned natural-gas hookups from all new buildings, including homes. He shelved the measure after natural-gas industry players, labor unions and other critics raised questions.
The council later added $100,000 to Seattle’s 2020 budget to study local fossil-fuel and clean-energy workforce issues.
Jill Mangaliman, executive director at Got Green, was glad to see Durkan’s order Wednesday. But Mangaliman stressed that union workers and community members should be part of the conversation.
Though banning natural gas from new city-owned buildings is a small step compared to banning gas from all buildings, which are responsible for one-third of climate pollution in Seattle, “It’s an important step … we’re really proud of the mayor,” said Jesse Piedfort, director of Seattle’s Sierra Club.
Still, “We really need a plan to get fossil fuels out of all buildings, and we know we need a plan that protects workers,” Piedfort said.
Asked about that possibility Wednesday, Durkan said, “I think we’re moving in that direction. I can’t give you a time frame.”
There must be “deep engagement with the labor community and communities that have really borne the brunt of climate change, because the switch from natural gas to electricity can be a very expensive proposition and we don’t want to harden inequity,” she said.