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for people who care about the West

Seattle passes on greenhouse gases


Politicos in Seattle, Wash., took Earth Day to heart. Mayor Paul Schell and the city council made an unprecedented pledge: to meet Seattle's future electricity needs without increasing net greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists say these gases, some of them produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal, make the Earth's temperature rise.

"The mayor thinks that global climate change is the pre-eminent environmental challenge of our lifetime and our children's' lifetimes," says Casey Golden, who is spearheading this project for the mayor. "It has profound local consequences."

As a first step, the city's municipally owned utility, Seattle City Light, sold its interest in a coal-fired power plant. To compensate for this power, it will use geothermal, solar and landfill gas facilities to meet future electric demands. When Seattle can't make these alternatives stretch, it will off-set coal pollution by planting trees and giving premiums for car-pooling.

"It won't be easy to do this, but we're in pretty good shape," says Bob Royer of Seattle City Light. "Most of our electricity is not fossil fuel-based - most of it is falling water (hydropower)."

Seattle depends on coal for only 5 percent of its energy; Denver and Salt Lake City are 90 percent dependent on fossil fuels and, at least in the short term, it's unlikely they will be able to follow the leader.