By Maryam Noor
In 2019, the city of Seattle joined a growing list of US cities by passing a local Green New Deal resolution that would mobilize all city departments to reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels and invest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution. The resolution calls for new public investments to increase access to healthy foods, transition homes from natural gas to electric power, and strengthen green building standards.
In September 2019, just months after passing the Green New Deal resolution, the city council passed an ordinance requiring the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment to establish a 19-member Green New Deal oversight board, including eight members of communities directly impacted by racial, economic, and environmental injustices.
But in the years since the two bills passed, the city still hasn’t implemented many of the policies it recommends.
As PubliCola’s new intern, my first assignment was reaching out to Seattle’s mayoral candidates to ask them what they think of the policies outlined in the Green New Deal, and which ones they’d prioritize if elected. We also asked them to rank four policies in order of importance: Appointing a Green New Deal oversight board [Editor’s note: See correction below]; ensuring free public transit for all Seattle residents; decreasing the use of fossil fuels in Seattle homes; and exploring alternative housing models that aim to increase equity and affordability, such as community land trusts and limited-equity coops.
“ We’ve taken steps forward in banning reliance on fossil fuels in new construction of commercial buildings. I think we need to use the focus on that to make sure that we are not continuing to build infrastructure that delivers one of the most harmful emitters and products out here.”—Mayoral candidate Lorena González
Of the six candidates who responded to our questions––Colleen Echohawk, Jessyn Farrell, Lorena González, Bruce Harrell, Andrew Grant Houston, and Lance Randall–– Houston, Farrell, and Randall all said that alternative housing options would be their first concern. Farrell said she considered free public transit equally important, and Randall questioned the validity of free public transit in general.
“I would say in terms of importance, the alternative housing models would be my first priority,” Houston said. “In order to build new housing, it’s going to take at least three to five years, and so that’s something we should start off immediately.”
Farrell said affordable housing and transportation have to work together; you can’t have one without the other. “You gotta do housing and transportation together.”
Randall doesn’t want free public transit, at least not for everyone, because he believes it wouldn’t be practical or affordable.
“I believe more in subsidies for low-income people who need help, but there are a lot of people who can afford to pay for transit and they should pay for it because we have to pay the drivers,” Randall said. “We have to do bus maintenance. We have to purchase new buses.”
One of the most ambitious goals of Seattle’s Green New Deal is achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. In order for Seattle to do so, the amount of greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere need to be equal to the amount taken out in the city. Hitting this goal would mean implementing incentives to reduce carbon emissions, such as carbon taxes and electrification of industries and transportation, and long-term investments in clean energy sources like renewable diesel or biogas.
Only one candidate, Lorena González, put reducing carbon emissions in Seattle homes at the top of her priority list. To some extent, this is already happening. In February, the city banned the use of natural gas for space heating in new commercial and apartment buildings larger than three stories and for new heating systems in older buildings that match these qualifications. The ordinance also bans the use of natural gas to heat water in larger hotels and apartment complexes.
González doesn’t think it’s enough. “Fossil fuels are the largest producer of carbon emissions. We’ve taken steps forward in banning reliance on fossil fuels in new construction of commercial buildings,” González said. “And so I think we need to use the focus on that to make sure that we are not continuing to build infrastructure that delivers one of the most harmful emitters and products out here.”
Find out how the six candidates ranked the four issues we asked about below.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the mayor and council had not yet appointed the members of a new Green New Deal Oversight Board. The board has been appointed and will convene later this year. We have edited the story to remove quotes about the board, but have left the rankings below in their original order.