Friday, February 9, 2018

Carbon Free Thurston Efforts Underway

Above: Tom Crawford, chair of the Thurston Climate Action Team, stands near a City of Olympia stormwater bypass pump station in downtown Olympia near Capitol Lake. Crawford is working on a regional climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Regional elected officials met January 31 to discuss the threat of sea level rise and begin planning efforts to save downtown Olympia.

After being presented with sobering predictions and graphics showing most of downtown Olympia as we know it under water, Thurston County Commissioner John Hutchings asked: is there a natural, self-correcting way to mitigate some of the damage caused by climate change?

His question fell right into the lap of many climate change activists who work hard to educate anyone who will listen, improve public policy, and change personal habits to reduce contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Thurston County Commissioners, who also act as the county board of health, will face a myriad of health impacts that will result with climate change: poor air quality,  asthma, heat stroke, food and water contamination, stress, barriers to health services, and issues with mold, bugs and disease.

Although a regional sea level rise response effort is currently underway, one group is working toward the development of a more holistic, regional climate action plan.

Carbon Free Thurston, a subgroup of the nonprofit Thurston Climate Action Team (TCAT) led by Tom Crawford, is actively working to influence the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater and Thurston County to focus on community-wide reductions in greenhouse gases. 

The group will participate in recommending a set of clean energy strategies to help the region hit greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Their efforts seem to be working so far.

In light of a meltdown on the federal level where it seems no action is going to take place, TCAT members met with regional city staff and attended council meetings and budget hearings to support the setting aside of money in 2018 budgets for climate action planning.

The City of Olympia contributed $80,000 and the City of Tumwater contributed $40,000. The City of Lacey has expressed interest in participating but has not yet decided on funding toward the project.

The group is still looking to Lacey to contribute at least $80,000. 

For their part, the Thurston County commissioners have set aside a half hour on their February 28 work session agenda to discuss the issue and possible funding.

It is estimated that the total cost to develop a regional plan would be $200,000.

Crawford, a retired consultant on Native American curriculum and education and information technology issues, addressed the Olympia city council during public comment on Tuesday night and thanked them for their financial commitment. 

Above: Andy Haub, City of Olympia water resources director, and Lacey Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt visit after the sea level rise planning meeting of regional elected officials on January 31. Last year, Lacey adopted a carbon reduction and resiliency plan that included community wide goals and possible strategies for reducing carbon emissions.

The Thurston Regional Planning Council’s sustainability plan, Sustainable Thurston, includes a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The numbers are based on recommendations of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“We’re way behind….We’re not going to even make the 2020 targets because we’re just starting to plan. If we keep the present policies in place, our total won’t increase greenhouse gas emissions, but they won’t decrease them either. We have to start significant action now,” Crawford said during a recent interview with Little Hollywood.

Crawford says the region doesn’t need to start from scratch to get this done: the homegrown Climate and Clean Energy Work Group of Thurston Thrives has already done a lot of the homework.

Thurston Thrives is a county-wide initiative composed of community members who work together to improve public health and safety.

A January 12 email from the Climate and Clean Energy Work Group to county commissioners and city councilmembers of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater outlines a comprehensive list of climate planning recommendations.

“We believe a regional plan will provide a good foundation to regional action…this collective impact model is central to our work…and supports the physical and social health of our residents, and the health and vibrancy of our economy,” it says.

Crawford served as chair of the work group for about two years and is still an active member. He knows climate action planning is an overwhelming concept, but says getting to work on a regional plan dovetails well with current sea level rise planning efforts by the City of Olympia, the LOTT Cleanwater Alliance and the Port of Olympia.

“Sea level rise planning is just one element….A regional plan has other benefits. Most helpful would be to get Puget Sound Energy off coal and then getting them to produce carbon free alternatives. Other climate action planning angles are to make it feasible for more city residents to drive electric vehicles and obtain energy efficient retrofits to their homes.”

Puget Sound Energy says it intends to shut down four Colstrip coal plants in Montana by 2027, but for many, that’s not soon enough.

“That is the biggest part of the solution. We will not be able to achieve our targets without that happening…. Nature is telling us you can’t do this anymore. Unless we address the root causes, we’re not going to get ahead of climate change. It’s going to overwhelm us,” said Crawford.

Thurston County Emissions

Identifying the most effective opportunities to reduce carbon emissions in our community can come from the data. 

The Clean Energy Transition/Stockholm Environment Institute did a recent study in October 2017, developing an energy map and carbon analysis for Thurston County. This group also did a similar analysis for the City of Olympia.

The carbon analysis includes the use of coal, petroleum, natural gas, and hydro, and indicates what kinds of actions to take to reduce emissions based on current national fuel efficiency standards and Washington State clean energy standards.

New standards would include cleaner transportation fuels and a reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Most of our county greenhouse gas emissions, 44 percent, come from vehicles. Fifty three percent comes from the built environment.

In terms of one’s individual carbon footprint in Thurston County, car fuel takes up, on average, 17 percent of the pie, and electricity takes up 36 percent.

Single occupancy vehicles are still the preferred mode of commuting for Thurston County residents despite carpooling, bike-to-work, and public transit efforts.

According to the Thurston Regional Planning Council, single occupancy vehicle commuting has actually increased, possibly reflecting the impact of urban sprawl.

Housing is a major component of the issue. Residential emissions make up 30 percent of county’s total emissions. Because rental units equal 34 percent of affordable housing units, providing incentives for landlords to invest in efficiencies is one piece. 

The county’s total cost for energy for residential is $166 million a year.

For more information about Thurston Climate Action Team and Carbon Free Thurston, contact Tom Crawford, or (360) 280-0242, or

Thurston Thrives: Begun in 2013 by the county’s board of health, community members representing local businesses, governments, foundations, nonprofits and neighborhoods are involved with eight action groups to examine the root causes undermining community health. Since 2015, it has operated under a public-private council. For more information, go to

Above: City of Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, left, speaks with Olympia City Councilmember Lisa Parshley after the January 31 sea level rise response planning meeting. Other elected officials representing Thurston County, the Port of Olympia, the City of Tumwater, the City of Lacey, and the LOTT Cleanwater Alliance were also present.