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King County Executive News

King County Executive News
Feb. 11, 2009

Sims proposes incentive-based regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on construction projects

Commercial developers, environmentalists, other governments part of broad stakeholder review

Executive SimsKing County Executive Ron Sims is proposing incentive-based regulations that provide a safe harbor from litigation for developers who reduce greenhouse gases associated with their projects. Developers who reduce carbon emissions by 15 percent of what they would generate by complying with current codes would be designated as "in compliance" with environmental standards under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The change could help reduce the impacts of global warming for this region.

"In order to reduce the harm of global warming, all of us will have to do our part to reduce our carbon footprint, whether it's as individuals or as businesses," said Executive Sims. "This is a modest but important reduction that will recognize the shift much of the development industry has already made towards sustainable development as they build our homes, stores, businesses, and infrastructure."

The new SEPA regulations are the result of a yearlong process with stakeholders that included builders, developers, representatives from the environmental community and many others. The regulations are put forth amid growing litigation in California over greenhouse gas emissions in new developments after the landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires the Environmental Protection Agency to treat greenhouse gases as pollutants. King County's approach is a proactive effort to create a clear path to legal compliance in this area of growing uncertainty.

"Lawsuits seeking to regulate greenhouse gases are emerging around the country that will likely have significant impacts on land use plans and development," said Executive Sims. "In today's difficult economic times we must do all we can to limit greenhouse gases while still providing stability and predictability for residential and commercial development."

Green or sustainable building construction, low impact development, use of renewable energy, protection of open space, purchase of transferable development rights from rural areas and building at higher densities are identified as measures that could earn a project a designation of "non significant" for greenhouse gas emissions under King County's SEPA review. Other measures, such as reduced truck traffic during construction, would also be credited toward the 15 percent reduction in emissions. Developers who reduce emissions by 30% will also be provided with priority permit processing.

" King County was one of the first jurisdictions in Washington State, if not the nation, to take on climate change," said Washington State Ecology Director Jay Manning. "The county continues to demonstrate strong local leadership in addressing greenhouse gas pollution."

Some King County home builders already offer environmentally-friendly homes through Built Green, LEED for Home and Energy Star,   which are recognized on the Northwest Multiple Listing Service through ECert, a green certification program.

"This is meaningful step towards addressing greenhouse gas pollution in a manner that provides a reasonably clear path to compliance and some legal certainty," Kari-lynne Frank, local government affairs director for the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties. "NAIOP is pleased with the cooperation that transpired throughout this process, and this proposal ensures ongoing cooperation between the commercial real estate industry and county government on this issue in the future."

National and local studies found homes built to a "green" or "sustainable" standard sell faster and at higher value, as well as give homeowners reduced energy costs. If built in a transit-friendly area, the homeowner will also have lower transportation costs.

A new report from Northwest Multiple Listings' new ECert tracking shows that green homes sell in 18 percent less time and at a value ranging from 28-37% higher than a comparable non-green certified home.

In addition to building regulations, King County's Smart Growth and Place Matters strategies not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they have other benefits for communities, such as reducing obesity, addressing traffic congestion, and make communities friendlier places to live.

"This proposal demonstrates the key role local land use decisions have in meeting state carbon reduction targets," said Dennis McLerren, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. " King County is to be commended for this proposal."

The international scientific community has concluded that the evidence is clear that human caused increases in greenhouse gases are causing climate change.  Reports from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that in order to limit the rise in the global average temperature to two degrees Celsius and avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change, emissions must be reduced by 80% by 2050.

"Reducing the climate impacts of development is one of the keys to building a new, more sustainable energy economy," said K.C. Golden, Policy Director for Climate Solutions. "As we chart the course to economic recovery and climate solutions, reducing our fossil fuel dependence is our greatest opportunity to take control of our future. This ordinance will do exactly that, by incorporating climate impact into the fabric of local environmental review. King County is taking it to the next level by pioneering local solutions to our greatest global challenge."

Executive Sims issued an Executive Order in October 2007 that specifically directed King County agencies to begin requiring applicants covered by SEPA to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. This action came following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision where the court found that greenhouse gas emissions are an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and that the EPA has the authority to regulate such emissions.

"County Executive Ron Sims' proposal to use the Washington State Environmental Policy Act to analyze and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from both county actions and the permits it issues is an important first step in helping to reduce the adverse effects of global climate change on human health, county taxpayers, and the environment," said Dan Cantrell, Executive Director of Futurewise. "We strongly support the proposed ordinance and the tools that the county has prepared to make the analysis quick and easy for applicants and the county."

In 2008, at Executive Sims recommendation, the King County Council also updated the county's Comprehensive Plan to allow King County to also require projects covered by SEPA to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The SEPA incentive proposal is consistent with recent recommendations from Governor Christine Gregoire's Climate Action Team.

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