Land use and greenhouse gas emissions intersect in the courtroom

Sometimes government needs to avoid being sued, especially when we know we’re likely to lose. The King County Prosecutor’s Office believes that the State of Washington’s existing environmental laws and a number of court decisions already require us to establish carbon emission standards. This would apply to the Comprehensive Plans and transportation plans and investments of cities, counties, and the state. So, my office developed carbon emission standards for transportation and land use. This work has received widespread support among groups and agencies interested in this highly technical field. USDOT, on its own accord, awarded us a grant to develop models to analyze carbon emissions for transportation corridors like I-90 and State Highway 520.

You would assume that a legal opinion and validation of our emissions reduction work would give us the credence to move forward. To say the least, things have not been easy. The glaciers of Greenland have been melting faster than the acceptance and adoption of measures that actually reduce harmful emissions. Major stakeholders are slowly, quite slowly coming to accept the legal need for carbon measures. The political processes would rather defer this discussion until next year or the years thereafter. All of this reminded me of the reaction to the efforts of County Councilman Bruce Laing and I when we tried to establish an office of Climate Change in 1988. It was not well received. Hopefully, the media will report the implications of suits being brought against Thurston County and the City of Seattle. You would think that in an age of global warming elected officials and others would enthusiastically embrace measuring carbon emissions of the transportation and land use sectors. Hopefully, the wheels of government will work before the Courts compel us to follow the law.

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