Climate activists line the walls at a City Council meeting on June 12. Photo by Sara Bernard

Seattle Commits to Paris Accord, Calls for End to Coal-Fired Power in Washington

A City Council resolution calls for Puget Sound Energy to stop using coal by 2025.

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday that commits the city to do its part to uphold the Paris climate accord, making this the latest — and the most specific — local statement following President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the global agreement on June 1. Some of the resolution’s strongest words are reserved for Puget Sound Energy, the private utility that is currently negotiating a new contract for coal power.

“We know the threats that climate change poses,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, the resolution’s sponsor, in front of a room packed with climate activists (the resolution was developed collaboratively with the Sierra Club and 350 Seattle, as well as the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment). “Seattle has a very bold Climate Action Plan. This resolution recommits us to that. But that plan assumes actions at the federal level,” he said — assumptions that may no longer be reliable. As a result, the resolution asks the City to re-evaluate its plan and figure out “what additional actions we have to take locally.”

Among those additional actions is the call for Puget Sound Energy to end its operations at Colstrip, a massive coal-fired power plant in Montana, by 2025, and replace it with 100 percent renewable energy. “If a private utility operating in Seattle’s backyard needs to rely on burning coal, then we have much bigger challenges than we thought,” said O’Brien in a statement, noting that Colstrip is the third-largest single source of carbon emissions in the country.

Puget Sound Energy provides natural gas services and electricity to nearly 2 million customers in the region, and about a third of its electric power supply comes from Montana coal. While PSE and Colstrip co-owner Talen Energy agreed last summer to shut down the two oldest, dirtiest units at the plant by 2022, there is no firm closure date for the other two, larger and more modern units (Units 3 and 4). In fact, the company is in the process of negotiating a new contract with the operator of the Rosebud Mine, the 25,000-acre strip mine that supplies Colstrip with its coal.

“A current renegotiation of the fuel supply agreement will create greater flexibility for PSE on behalf of our customers,” PSE says in a statement it provided to Seattle Weekly. “The revised agreement ends in 2029 and includes options that recognize the rapid changes in energy technology and customer needs.” PSE adds that “we anticipate phasing out use of [Colstrip electricity] for our customers around 2035,” although PSE officials reportedly told the Seattle Times that that date would be closer to 2030.

Either way, climate activists want coal to be off the PSE grid by 2025 at the latest. Doug Howell, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, notes that the King County Climate Action Plan — which Seattle and 12 other King County cities signed onto — calls for the complete phase out of coal-fired electricity by that year. King County customers represent about half of PSE’s total customer base. Could King County meet its goals if PSE doesn’t pull out of Colstrip? “It can’t,” says Howell.

He adds that the first emissions-reduction goals the Paris accord calls for — 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels — is by 2025, and the company that operates the Rosebud Mine recently told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has enough coal to supply Colstrip through 2024. All of this creates a “perfect storm,” Howell says, to put even more pressure on PSE. Monday’s resolution “is one of the strongest statements from an elected body we’ve seen against fossil fuels in the state,” says the Sierra Club’s Caleb Heeringa.

The resolution also takes firm stances against fossil fuel infrastructure projects in the Pacific Northwest, including the proposed methanol refinery in Kalama, Wash., and the proposed Tesoro-Savage oil export terminal in Vancouver. It calls for the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System (SCERS) board to look into divesting city pensions from fossil fuels, and supports “an equitable and effective price on carbon pollution.”

Howell adds that he appreciates that Seattle’s resolution takes a position on all of these things. In addition to Colstrip, “these other major [fossil fuel] investments … are really a bad mistake. We do not want to be spending hundreds of millions, if not billions, on new fossil fuel infrastructure, when there are better alternatives.”

Monday’s resolution is the latest example of local leaders vowing commitment to climate goals after the U.S. exit from the Paris agreement. Following Trump’s decision, Mayor Ed Murray joined 291 other mayors from across the country promising to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.” Murray also signed another letter — called “We Are Still In” and developed by a group of 1,219 mayors, governors, businesses, investors, colleges, and universities — that promises to deliver “concrete emissions reductions” to help meet the promises of Paris. And Gov. Jay Inslee, along with New York and California governors Andrew Cuomo and Jerry Brown, formed the United States Climate Alliance, which now has a total of 13 state members, all of which also commit to taking “aggressive” actions toward upholding the accord.

sbernard@seattleweekly.com

More in News & Comment

A woman works on a drawing next to an unused viewing scope as a smoky haze obscures the Space Needle and downtown Seattle last August as smoke from wildfires moved across the region. (Photo courtesy of The Herald/Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
Why Do Washington Voters Struggle With Climate Change Policies?

Despite environmental awareness and the public’s apparent desire for reform, statewide initiatives keep failing

Mary Lynn Pannen, founder and CEO of Sound Options, has consulted thousands of Washington families on geriatric care for 30 years. Photo courtesy of Sound Options
Seattle Takes on Elder Abuse as Reported Cases Rise

Local agencies and geriatric care managers aim to increase public awareness about the epidemic.

The Ride2 transit app will offer on-demand rides to and from West Seattle starting on Dec. 17. Courtesy of King County Metro
Climate Action Coalition Urges City to Respond to Seattle Squeeze

MASS asks the city to prioritize reducing traffic and increasing pedestrian safety ahead of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s closure.

State Supreme Court Strikes Down I-27; King County Will Pursue Safe Consumption Sites

The decision upholds a court ruling keeping the anti-consumption site initiative off the ballot.

Seattle’s Hockey Team And Stadium Are On Their Way

Key Arena renovations will be completed without the use of public funding

Andrea Bernard, Allycea Weil, and Phoenix Johnson (left to right) are Licton Springs K-8 parents who want their kids to stay in the Native-centered program. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Licton Springs K-8 Parents Dismayed by Potential School Move

The PTO says children have benefited from the Native-centered program, and that transferring the pupils would disrupt their progress.

Seattle Municipal Court’s warrant outreach event on Nov. 30, 2017. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Seattle Takes Steps to Quash Warrants

City Attorney attempts to address inequities in criminal justice system and enhance public safety.

The King County Courthouse. File photo
King County Council Acknowledges Report on Juvenile Solitary Confinement

Report also says youth of color face a disproportionate amount of disciplinary measures

Federal Way Megachurch Slapped With Another Sexual Exploitation Lawsuit

Lawsuit calls for removal of Casey and Wendy Treat, and CFO, from church leadership roles.

The Centralia Power Plant is a coal-burning plant owned by TransAlta which supplies 380 megawatts to Puget Sound Energy. It is located in Lewis County and slated to shut down by 2025. Aaron Kunkler/Staff Photo
National Report Outlines Climate Change’s Course For Northwest

More fires, floods and drought appear to be on their way for Washington state.

Mustafa Getahun and other Washington Federation of State Employees laundry workers picket University of Washington Medicine at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery on May 17, 2018. Photo courtesy of the Washington Federation of State Employees
University of Washington Laundry Workers Feel Hung Out to Dry

The Rainier Valley facility’s imminent closure leaves over 100 people looking for new jobs.