(The Center Square) — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is pushing once again to limit natural gas usage despite the industry's ties to city hall.
Durkan’s proposal on Thursday mirrors a failed measure from 2019 to ban natural gas in new single-family homes that sparked outrage from a host of utility and construction companies.
This time, the mayor is opting to limit the use of natural gas in multi-family buildings and commercial construction.
Durkan said in a statement that her new proposal renews the city’s commitment to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 58% in 2030 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
A 2018 Office of Sustainability & Environment report which showed citywide greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1.1% in the past several years. The building sector saw the largest increase of 8.3% between 2016 and 2018, according to the report.
“It is up to Seattle and other cities to make the bold changes necessary to lower our greenhouse gas emissions,” Durkan said. “As Seattle’s population continues to grow, the scale of our policy response to rising carbon emissions must grow even faster.”
U.S. Census data studies show that Seattle, which boasted 745,000 in 2018, has become one of the fastest growing American cities last decade and added some 90,000 people since 2013.
Residential natural gas consumption has nearly tripled in Seattle since 1970 and still makes up a large portion of local utility companies' portfolios.
In 2017, natural gas accounted for 21% of the power supplied by Washington’s largest energy provider, Puget Sound Energy (PSE).
The company of around 3,000 employees serves 1.1. million Washingtonians and also draws a third of its power from hydroelectric sources. Coal makes up 37.5% of its energy portfolio while wind accounts for another 7%.
PSE gave $1,540 to Durkan's first mayoral campaign in 2017, according to city campaign finance records.
In 2019, it contributed $30,000 to the business-led Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) political action committee alongside Amazon, Starbucks, and Expedia.
CASE has endorsed Seattle City Council President Lorena González in 2015 and council members Alex Pedersen and Deborah Juarez in 2019.
PSE claims it is committed to its goal of reaching net zero methane emissions from its local distribution system by 2022 through renewable natural gas, increased efficiency, and leak reduction.
“We know our customers and the communities we serve want cleaner energy,” PSE wrote in a statement. “We are equally committed to deep decarbonization and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.”
Durkan’s announcement nevertheless drew praise from environmental activists and the support of the King County Labor Council.
“You all know I have many disagreements with the mayor,” said Sierra Club Seattle Chair Brittney Bush Bollay. “I hope that will only add weight when I say: this is a great move. These changes matter.”
In a state that has twice failed to pass a carbon tax, Seattle's environmentalists may see an uphill battle next year if energy reform is on the table.
The city's Green New Deal Oversight Board, which oversees climate change policy recommendations, has yet to convene this year as promised by the mayor.
At the same time, city council members did allocate $140,000 for a climate policy advisor position in its 2021 budget.
Durkan, González, and Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda will be up for reelection in 2021.