Listen In: “It Gives Everyone—from a Dishwasher to a Bank President—a Voice”

Honest Elections Seattle on KEXP.
This post is 14 in the series: Honest Elections Seattle

Where did Honest Elections Seattle I-122 come from? Who’s behind it? Why vouchers? And what’s it all about? Sightline executive director Alan Durning recently spoke with KEXP Mind Over Matters host Diane Horn to address these questions and others. The full 25 minutes are worth a listen, and you can listen in here, but some highlights are below.

On how Honest Elections Seattle limits the power of Big Money to influence our elected officials and their policy decisions (5:30):

We’ve banned contributions from entities that spend a lot of money lobbying City Hall, and we’ve banned contributions from entities that make big money getting contracts from City Hall. A candidate shouldn’t be collecting money from businesses whose whole economic future depends on the regulations that those city councilors are making at that time.

The bottom line of “democracy vouchers” (7:30):

It will turn everyone from a dishwasher to a bank president into a $100 donor from the perspective of the candidate. It gives everyone a voice.

On why this is the best solution for democracy reform, even under decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon (8:20): Read more »

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Weekend Reading 10/2/15

Bungalows = McMansions of the 1910s, the impacts of climate pollution on Native cultures, and more.
This post is 222 in the series: Weekend Reading


The bungalows revered by neighborhood preservationists and nostalgists as egalitarian and right-sized were the luxury displacement wave of a century ago. An important piece.


Darrell Hillaire, one of the Lummi Nation elders and a longtime friend of Sightline, is raising money to produce a film about the impacts of climate pollution on Native cultures and traditions. The film will feature Northwest Native leaders sharing traditional stories about transforming mankind’s treatment of the planet and each other. Find out more and help make this film a reality. Read more »

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Propane Terminal Added to Refinery Proposal in Longview

Pouring fuel on the fire, a rail-to-ship facility has potential for large-scale disaster.

The latest wave in the tsunami of the Northwest fossil fuel export schemes has washed up in the form of a propane-by-rail facility on the Columbia River. A firm currently calling itself Waterside Energy recently announced plans for a $450 million liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or propane, export project at the Port of Longview in Washington. The proposal comes on top of a revamped plan by the company to develop an $800 million oil refining operation there to be called Riverside Refinery.

The proposal

At full capacity, the propane export and storage facility, called “Washington Energy Storage and Transfer,” would serve one train each day with 75,000 barrels of propane delivered from Canada and North Dakota. The fuel would then be pumped from rail tank cars into the terminal’s storage tanks, which could store up to 1.1 million barrels. (The site would include five spherical tanks capable of holding 23,000 barrels each, one 550,000-barrel tank, and two 222,000-barrel refrigerated tanks.) Four times a month, on average, the fuel would be piped from the refrigerated tanks onto a ship for export to Asia.

The project would be built on 75 acres of private land, but the Port has jurisdiction over the underground pipeline, rail corridor, and wharf needed for development and operations. The terminal would also require permits through Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC).  Read more »

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Event: Build Small, Live Large

The future of sustainable housing.
This post is part of the research project: Making Sustainability Legal

Curious about small and sustainable housing?

The Build Small Live Large Summit in Portland next month will explore the leading edge of the space-efficient housing movement where design, cost, and care for the environment intersect with the needs of today’s communities. The goal of this one-day summit is to increase the demand for space-efficient housing in the region by informing, inspiring, and connecting those interested in building small. Leaders in this movement will share what’s working and what’s next, including Sightline Institute executive director Alan Durning, who will keynote the event.

  • What: Build Small Live Large Summit.
  • When: November 6, 2015, 8:00 am — 7:00 pm.
  • Where: Portland State University Smith Center (map).
  • Tickets: Early Bird rates end Tuesday, 10/6! Register here. (Registration includes all sessions, exhibit hall, and lunch.)
  • Meet the speakers.

Read more »

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The Seattle Times’ Four Critiques of Honest Elections Seattle…

...are riddled with errors and misunderstandings.
This post is 13 in the series: Honest Elections Seattle

The Seattle Times recently editorialized against I-122 Honest Elections Seattle. Its arguments include a litany of errors. To set the record straight, I’ll repost and correct each of the editorial board’s four points.

The Times writes:

The proposal counts on people not participating. . . . Only about . . . 13 percent . . . of the vouchers could be redeemed before the money runs out. While the initiative suggests all voters should have a chance to contribute to campaigns — using taxpayer dollars — it assumes only a small percentage of voters would actually bother to do so, even when the money doesn’t come out of their own pockets. More money, more apathy.

The truth is that Honest Elections Seattle projects and counts on more people giving to local campaigns than ever seen in Seattle or anywhere else in the United States. I-122 gives Democracy Vouchers to every registered voter in the city, giving them a chance to have a voice in local politics as never before. In my dreams, everyone would treasure and use those vouchers. In reality, most people will not. Vouchers start from a baseline of political giving that could hardly be lower: In Seattle’s 2013 elections only 1.5 percent of city adults made campaign contributions. Read more »

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Pope Francis’ Climate Change Talking Points

Your guide to Pope Francis’ forceful global warming message.
This post is part of the research project: Flashcards

Maybe you heard? Pope Francis was making the rounds last week in DC, New York, and Philly. The buzz has been hard to miss.

It’s no wonder. The Pope is the “faith boss” of every practicing Catholic on earth: 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide and at least 70 million Catholics in the US—that’s the largest denomination by far, 22 percent of the American population. (Interestingly, the second-largest US “faith” group is former Catholics.)

But it’s not just his flock that’s paying attention these days; the crowd-pleasing Pope has mostly everybody’s ear. And he’s talking about climate change—a lot.

Environmental protection—or creation care—is based on long-standing Catholic teaching, as old as Genesis, grounded in the New Testament, and reflected in the life of the Pope Francis’ chosen namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, protector of the poor and patron saint of the environment. The last two Popes, both considered very conservative in many ways, were solid environmentalists in both word and deed. But Pope Francis is taking on climate change specifically, he’s talking about it in powerful new ways, and he’s going to great lengths to deliver his message far beyond the Catholic Church.

Read more »


Weekend Reading 9/25/15

The Pope in DC, Seattle's missing middle, tree goats, and more.
This post is 221 in the series: Weekend Reading


“To use a telling phrase of the Rev. Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.” -Pope Francis

The first Pope from the global South, who named himself for St. Francis of Assisi, quotes Dr. King —who said the words in the time of the first Catholic president—to the first black president, in a ringing endorsement of climate action. Didn’t think I’d live to see the day.

Here’s a chart of the most popular type of home in every major American city. Seattle: can you say “missing middle“?


Autumn has fallen upon us, and you know what that means…pumpkin everything! For those of us with more tenuous relationships with this festive flavor, I give you “An open letter to pumpkin flavored seasonal treats.” Enjoy. Read more »

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The Oil Industry’s California Playbook

The arguments you can expect against smart anti-pollution legislation.
This post is 46 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared on Oil Check Northwest.

Last week, after intense lobbying from the oil industry, California legislators killed part of a bill that would have set a landmark goal of decreasing statewide petroleum use by 50 percent by 2030. After millions of dollars of furious Big Oil lobbying, legislators dropped the petroleum requirement from the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act (SB 350). While the bill’s other monumental goals of increasing building efficiency by 50 percent and increasing renewables’ share of the state’s energy to 50 percent remain intact, the oil lobby won this battle.

However, Governor Jerry Brown insists the war is not over: “I am more determined than ever,” he stated in a press conference announcing the bill’s changes. He plans to spend his remaining three years in office making meaningful progress on climate change. Under his leadership, California has been a model for the rest of the world on climate legislation and has even led other subnational provinces and states to join its carbon trading market. Read more »

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Why China Wants Methanol from the Northwest

Three proposed refineries would help them make cheap plastics.

The Northwest is currently deciding whether to allow the Chinese government to build three export-oriented refineries in our region—specifically at Kalama and Tacoma, Washington, and near Clatskanie, Oregon. They would more than triple total US methanol production in order to fuel plastics manufacturing abroad. In our first installment on the subject, Sightline explored the fundamentals of these planned projects. Here, we will examine some key features of the industry.

What is methanol?

Methanol (CH3OH) is a simple alcohol—a light, colorless, and flammable liquid at room temperature. Although methanol is present in the environment in small amounts, we also synthesize it for industrial purposes from fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas) or biomass (wood and plant material). We use methanol for transportation fuel (biodiesel), portable fuel cells, wastewater treatment, and to manufacture common products like formaldehyde, acetic acid, plastics, paints, resins, and insulations.

What happens at a methanol refinery?

To understand the methanol projects proposed for Oregon and Washington, you’ll have to endure a little chemistry lesson. (It won’t hurt much.) Read more »


Event: The Thin Green Line in Tacoma

Standing up to oil trains in the City of Destiny.
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal & Oil Exports

Next month, Eric de Place will head to Tacoma to discuss how oil trains and other dirty energy proposals put Tacoma residents—and their wallets—at risk.

Tacoma is now the Northwest city most threatened by oil trains. New Sightline research reveals that 80,000 barrels of crude oil per day are permitted to travel on a publicly owned railway into the heart of Tacoma’s industrial area. In addition, another 15 loaded trains bound for north Puget Sound refineries can also pass through the city each week. No other urban center in the region plays host to so much oil train capacity inside city limits.

In addition, a new proposal for a methanol refinery in Tacoma has recently gained media attention. Eric de Place will also explore the fundamentals of methanol facilities—and what they mean for Tacoma and beyond.

Event Details:

  • What: The Thin Green Line: How Oil Trains Put Tacoma At Risk, a presentation and Q&A with Sightline Institute policy director Eric de Place
  • When: Tuesday, October 13th, 7:00 PM (doors open at 6:30 PM)
  • Where:  Milgard Assembly Room in William W. Philip Hall (WPH) at UW Tacoma,1918 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, WA (map)

Please RSVP to [email protected].

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