Rita Hibbard's picture

Going green: new city law requires buildings to report energy use

While more than 25 percent of Seattle’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, few property managers know how much energy their individual buildings consume.

 “They all know the mileage of their car,” Jayson Antonoff, sustainable infrastructure & green building policy advisor for the Seattle Department of Planning & Development, said. “But not the energy use of their building.”

By not knowing the amount, managers also don’t know how efficient their buildings are. Because many of the buildings are not as energy efficient as they could be, much of the energy paid for by property owners, building managers and tenants  goes to waste.

That could change. A new Seattle ordinance now requires managers of buildings larger than 10,000 square feet -- a total of about 9,000 buildings -- to report and disclose their annual energy consumption to the city.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Senior Policy Associate for the NW Energy Coalition Kim Drury said. “Feedback is critical in energy management.” The coalition is focused on development of renewable energy and energy conservation.

Drury was one of 50 people, including property managers, tenants, city officials and energy conservation activists, who worked in developing this policy as a way to achieve the overall goal of the Green Building Capital Initiative, which was to reduce energy consumption in Seattle’s existing buildings by 20 percent.


Proposed port splits Dems over labor, enviro concerns

By Olivia Henry and Rebecca Tachihara

Western Washington University

                 The debate over the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal has been framed as Community David vs. Corporate Goliath, rural livelihoods vs. city NIMBYism, high-wage jobs vs. clean environment. The final concept pits two political bases of the Whatcom County Democrats against one another:  unions hungry for jobs and environmentalists concerned about their community becoming the gateway through which coal travels to be burned in China.

 Local environmentalists argue that jobs versus environment is a false dichotomy. They describe the debate as “jobs versus jobs,” citing concerns for the vitality of Bellingham’s redeveloped waterfront, which is divided from the rest of the city by the rail line that would serve the proposed terminal with as many as 20 trains per day.

Nobody, however, is arguing that the local economic picture is rosy.

The debate comes at a time when the county’s unemployment rate has surged from 4.9 percent in 2000 to 8.4 percent this May. Residents living below the poverty level accounted for 15.5 percent of the county’s population in 2009 (the most recent U.S. Census figures available), which was higher than the state average of 12.3 percent, and nearly double the rate of 7.8 percent in 2000.

Research points way to sustainable solutions

When you mention Puyallup to most Northwesterners, the city’s fall fair is the image most likely brought to mind. But this suburb of Tacoma is also home to a research center that’s on the leading edge of technology used to cleanup and curb toxic stormwater runoff.

Nationwide, cities and counties are spending billions of dollars trying to reduce the amount of polluted runoff that fouls lakes and bays, floods homes and businesses, and triggers erosion. The rainwater gushes across from highways, streets, parking lots, roof tops, lawns and farms, scooping up oil and grease, pesticides, metals and other toxic chemicals as it goes.

This spring, the Washington State University’s Puyallup Low Impact Development Research Program is launching projects that scientists hope will help slow that flow of water and treat the pollutants.

The WSU researchers are testing “green” solutions for stormwater runoff, including rain gardens and porous pavement. There’s a huge demand for more information about how to maximize the use of these natural strategies.

“Our goal is to help get this stuff on the ground as fast as possible and operating as well as it can,” said Curtis Hinman, director of WSU’s Puyallup program, of the green technologies.

Seattle, Portland, Bremerton, Lacey and Spokane are among the numerous cities installing natural stormwater solutions, which are also known as low-impact development or LID. For the most part, they’ve performed well, reducing and cleaning up runoff.

But as was recently demonstrated in Seattle when city-built rain gardens in the Ballard neighborhood turned into muddy messes, there’s a pressing need for more data on how these systems work.


Can "Eco-Industrial Districts" help make Seattle sustainable?

A potentially far-reaching step toward making Seattle and its economy truly sustainable went unrecognized by news media this week: King County declaring its intention to partner with the city to create "Eco-Industrial Districts." A likely first candidate: The Duwamish River corridor in south Seattle, home of a Superfund site but also some grand visions by environmentalists, community activists and others.

The King County Council, prodded by councilman Larry Phillips, passed a resolution Sept. 13 that was welcomed by Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin:

"Seattle’s industrial core is a unique and extremely valuable resource and critical to the long term economic health of the region. The City Council’s interest in (eco-industrial districts) has a dual purpose, both to strengthen our industrial core and to improve the environmental quality of the Duwamish river corridor."

It's been a few years since the city council passed an ordinance intended to help preserve easily gentrified industrial areas. It's a threat we explored in our 2007 series on the Duwamish. But the city hasn't done a whole lot since then to proactively encourage high-wage industry to stay in town.

The whole idea of these eco-industrial districts is that new and cleaner industry can dovetail with efforts to green up -- literally and figuratively -- some of the city's grittier and yet economically important areas. Here's how the county's press release conceputalizes them:

Carnival Cruise passengers say crew encouraged recycling, conserving water

Nora and Don Sheetz grab coffee after thier week-long cruise on the Carnival Spirit. A long line of yellow taxicabs at Pier 91's Smith Cove Cruise Terminal greeted hoards of weary cruise ship passengers today as they disembarked the Carnival Spirit, the largest cruise ship docking weekly in Elliot Bay  this summer.

Some Carnival customers said they noticed the Spirit's crew making efforts to decrease water consumption and make recycling available to guests aboard the 2,124-passenger vessel.

Nora and Don Sheetz grab coffee after thier week-long

cruise on the Carnival Spirit.


"They always talk about water conservation, but I this is really the first time I've heard about recycling," said Brian Burk, a Florida resident who has gone on five previous cruises.

"We saw recycling on all the decks," said Jennifer Ditscheit, who came to the Pacific Northwest  cruise from Wisconsin. "And the crew reminded us."

Passenger Joellen Gianfrancisco added that signs posted in guests' staterooms gave passengers a visual reminder to limit their personal water consumption and reuse towels a few times before requesting replacements.

She echoed Ditscheit's on the accessibility of recycling aboard the Spirit, which has 1,028 staterooms on 13 passenger decks.

 "Recycling, I think they did it all,"" Gianfrancisco said.

Others noted the Spirit limited the amount of single-use dining products used at sea.

Are elephants more valuable dead or alive? The African dilemma

A story on the threat the Chinese-induced ivory trade poses to elephants in Africa published in the Seattle Times Sunday partly underscored the big dilemma Africa faces as it tries to preserve the last of the wild populations of these venerable pachyderms.

The story, by The Associated Press, also rekindled memories of an Africa-wide meeting I covered two years ago in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa during which representatives of 19 African countries openly voiced discordant views on whether the elephant is more valuable to Africa – and to the world – dead or alive. The meeting was held prior to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

For some reason unknown to me then, most of the speakers had pleaded with the United Nations-funded endangered species convention not to allow China to be a partner in the limited ivory trade that had been allowed by the UN body previously. But when a number of Chinese nationals were arrested in different airports in East Africa with illegally acquired ivory, it dawned on me why African countries had raised the alarm. It also appears that the fear then was that China, unlike Japan, had not come up with an effective way of ensuring that illegally acquired ivory is not traded within its boundaries.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Wolf hunts killed 206 wolves in '09, but population grew overall

Bottom line - despite the return of wolf hunts to Idaho and Montana this year, wolf populations grew. Not by as much as in previous years, but by a respectable 3.2 percent in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, reports the Sightline Institute in its Cascadia Scorecard.

The hunts marked the first time in decades recreational hunters were allowed to shoot the wolves. Hunters killed 134 wolves in Idaho and 72 in Montana. There were 1,386 left standing in the four states at the end of 2009.

But hunting wasn’t quite as lethal to wolves last year as lack of habitat and policies that protect livestock. Wolves have pretty much saturated the best habitat in high-elevation public forests in Idaho and Montana. That means they're expanding their range and getting into more conflicts with the cattle, sheep, dogs, llamas and goats that inhabit more domesticated territory. In 2009, there were 944 confirmed domestic animal kills by wolf packs in the three core recovery areas, a jump of more than 50 percent from 2008, an increase that was mainly due to a taste for sheep.

Another 240 wolves were killed by property owners and game officers for killing or stalking livestock in Montana, Idaho and Oregon.

“They get in trouble and we end up killing them," said US Fish and Wildlife Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs. "The wolf population still grew last year, but they’ve filled up all the good habitat, so conflicts were a lot higher than normal and there was a lot more damage than usual. But the populations are still doing great.”

Rita Hibbard's picture

Gray whale dies bringing us a message -- with stomach full of plastic trash

When news that a dead gray whale had washed up on the shores of Puget Sound in West Seattle recently, its stomach full of human trash, I immediately thought of a series of stunning but horrific photographs I had recently experienced -- Seattle photographer Chris Jordan's work on the albatrosses of Midway Island who unintentionally kill their newborns feeding them our brightly colored garbage.

The gray whale was dead, but had been in good health. A bottom feeder, it had ingested about 20 plastic bags, surgical gloves, plastic pieces, a pair of sweat pants, a golf ball, and other cast-off bits of our lives. It was the fifth dead gray whale to be found in two weeks on Puget Sound, according to the Cascadia Research Collective.  Several of those whales were malnourished. The photo above, by Cascadia Research of Olympia, WA,  shows researchers near the whale.

Jordan's photographs show image after image of albatross chicks who have died after their parents have flown out over the ocean, bringing back deadly "meals" stuffed in their own beaks. The adult birds cannot distinguish between the plastic floating in the ocean and real food they need to feed their babies. As Jordan writes on his Web site: