Solar panels on the Library roof will be generating energy in the renovated building. (Courtesy/City of Salem)

An effort from city leaders to implement Salem’s Climate Action Plan in phases is causing consternation from climate activists on and off the Salem City Council.

Dozens of community and city leaders spent over a year drafting the plan to drastically cut Salem’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades, finishing their work in November.

The city council heard a final plan Dec. 6 and had planned to hold a public hearing, then consider adopting it in January. But instead, City Manager Steve Powers decided to postpone that to give the council more time to review the plan.

Last week, he recommended in an email to councilors that the council approve strategies in phases without mention of a public hearing or adopting the full plan.

That’s really slow walking it,” said Phil Carver, a co-coordinator with 350 Salem, the local chapter of international climate action organization 350.org.

The situation has caused one city councilor, Tom Andersen, to call for a public hearing on the Climate Action Plan at a date yet to be determined.

On Jan. 26, 350 Salem sent out a press release calling on Mayor Chuck Bennett to “stop blocking approval of the climate action plan.”

The release went on to say that 350 Salem believes that the holdup is due to objections from Northwest Natural on banning new natural gas hookups. The plan has suggested banning natural gas hookups for new construction within the next three to five years, and was arguably the most contentious climate strategy.

Other strategies in the plan include getting more people to ride the bus, charging for on-street parking downtown and net-zero waste through recycling and composting.

Carver said 350 Salem sent the release after seeing an email from Powers to city councilors dated Jan. 24 about the phased approach with no mention of a public hearing or of a process for the council to adopt the Climate Action Plan.

In that email, Powers wrote, “to assist city council’s consideration of how to best make progress on achieving (greenhouse gas) emissions goals, and due to the long timeframe covered by the CAP (30+ years), implementation priorities are recommended. Staff will review the 180 strategies and recommend to city council a sequence for implementation.”

He wrote that report would be presented at the council’s Feb. 14 meeting and would include criteria used to select the first group of actionable pieces from the plan.

“This sequenced approach provides the highest probability that city actions will be feasible and make progress on reducing (greenhouse gas) emissions,” Powers told councilors in the email.

Mayor Chuck Bennett said nobody is blocking anything.

“It’s untrue, it’s just untrue,” he said of 350 Salem claim’s that he was blocking the plan’s approval.

The Climate Action Plan has 180 strategies listed as needed to reach a council goal of cutting the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050. 

“I don’t expect the council next Monday to vote on banning lawnmowers and leaf blowers and saying you can’t build homes with natural gas. There are over 100 items in there that the public doesn’t even know is there yet. It’s going to take a while to roll this out,” Bennett said.

Andersen, one of the councilors who served on the Salem Climate Action Plan Task Force, said he plans to file a motion for the council’s Feb. 14 meeting calling for a public hearing on the Climate Action Plan.

Andersen has been the plan’s biggest advocate on the council.

He said after the hearing the council can vote on whether to adopt the plan.

But he said the council “can’t make a final decision until we have a hearing.”

Andersen said once the plan is adopted it’s up to city staff to begin a piecemeal implementation, starting with the policies that will be easiest to execute.

“We should adopt the plan first. At that point, sure you can implement the things that are easier to implement,” he said.

Andersen, who has vocal proponent of the plan, said “of course” he’s disappointed that the plan hasn’t already been adopted.

“We’re after the first of the year now and it has yet to be considered,” he said.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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