10 Key Takeaways from BC’s Polluters-Pay Model

Advice from northern Cascadia.
This post is 34 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

British Columbia has a world-class carbon tax. Its been working for almost seven years, cutting pollution and pumping money into other parts of the economy, like the pockets of businesses and households who now pay lower taxes. Jealous decision-makers down here in Oregon and Washington might be asking “Yes, but how how did they start taxing pollution and helping businesses and residents? How did they do it?” Clean Energy Canada set out to answer your anguished questions by interviewing 13 of the architects of British Columbia’s carbon tax. Below are their 10 takeaways about a carbon tax, along with a little explanation and my take.

1. A carbon tax and a thriving economy can co-exist.

“The numbers speak for themselves. In the last five or six years, B.C. has outgrown most of the rest of Canada, and has had significantly less emissions than the rest of Canada.” —Ross Beaty, Executive Chairman, Alterra Power

True, that.

Every single interviewee agreed that the carbon tax has not harmed the economy. Some interviewees noted that carbon-funded corporate tax cuts have helped attract businesses to the province.

Hear that, Oregon and Washington? Making prices tell the truth about the cost of pollution is at worst neutral for the economy and at best good for business.

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Grays Harbor Ship Traffic: the Impact of Oil Plans

Oil terminals could mean five-fold increase in major vessel traffic.
This post is 8 in the series: The Risk of Northwest Oil Spills

Of all the places in the Northwest that would be affected by a ramp-up in oil transport, none stands to be as profoundly transformed as Grays Harbor. A trio of proposed crude-by-rail-to-vessel schemes at the Port would result in staggering increases in oil-bearing vessels moving in and out of the bay.

Based on figures in the the Washington Department of Ecology’s “Vessel Transit and Entry Counts” database, it is possible to contrast the average volume of ship and barge traffic over the last decade to the number of vessel trips that would be induced by planned oil sites on Grays Harbor. The most direct comparison—the number of current to potential future tank vessel—reveals that the three sites could multiply laden oil tankers and barges by 44 times.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

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Weekend Reading 2/20/15

50 reasons to love Northwest rivers, Grays Harbor oil plans, money in politics, and more.
This post is 191 in the series: Weekend Reading


I’m a week late on this story, but I highly recommend Ashely Ahearn’s look at the oil terminals proposed for Grays Harbor with a focus on the potential impacts to local fisheries and the Quinault Nation.


How many reasons do you have to love Northwest rivers? Well, here are 50!

Not only is this a fun and beautiful look at the rivers of Puget Sound and the Columbia Basin, you also get to feel nostalgic about those days when you were first exploring among moss-covered trees and misty waterfalls. Enjoy!


In case you needed more evidence, two new studies by political scientists show that the rich use their wealth to control American politics.

Native Americans are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. I don’t know if it’s adequate, but the US Interior Department just announced millions in funding to help tribes adapt.

And check out Robert Reich’s video on the Keystone XL decision.

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What’s Your Climate Change Elevator Pitch?

Katharine Hayhoe, PhD, says: Start with values. Say what you care about.
This post is part of the research project: Flashcards

The clever folks over at Climate Denial Crock of the Week (that’s Peter Sinclair) and Skeptical Science (John Cook) were in San Fran back in December, interviewing scientists, when they had the brilliant idea to ask each one to give their best climate change “elevator pitch.”

The set-up is simple: You’re on an elevator. Somebody says, “Oh, hi, you’re a climate scientist? What’s the big deal about climate change anyway?” What do you say in two minutes or less? And the resulting series of short videos is proving to be inspiring and instructive.

Katharine Hayhoe rocks the first one.

And no wonder. She’s an atmospheric scientist who bridges climate science and political science at Texas Tech. She’s a consultant, communicator, educator, and author. And she’s an evangelical Christian.

Watch the video. Then memorize her crib notes to refine your own two minute climate pitch.

hayhoe final big2

Click here to see a bigger version.

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Advice on Rain Barrel Watering Now As a Pamphlet!

An easy way to share the news on using roof runoff to irrigate veggies.
This post is part of the research project: Stormwater Solutions: Curbing Toxic Runoff
rain barrel brochure

Thanks to all of the interest in our post “A Green Light for Using Rain Barrel Water on Garden Edibles” we’ve created a user-friendly pamphlet summarizing the research on rain barrel safety.

This colorful, one-page brochure hits the high points of the international studies on rain barrel water quality, citing research from Washington, New Jersey, and Australia that found that roof water from most, but not all, roof types is surprisingly clean. It also gives tips for reducing exposure to toxic chemicals and pathogens for people who want to use their roof runoff for watering their homegrown garden veggies.

Please feel free to download the pamphlet, print it out (one sheet, printed on both sides), fold it into thirds, and pass it around. Or share the link to the brochure in whatever way you see fit.

And if you’d like to republish the original article in full on your own website, please contact Serena Larkin, Sightline Institute’s communications contact, who will set you up with permissions.

All photos in the pamphlet are courtesy of Stewardship Partners and their 12,000 rain gardens project.



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VIDEO: The Pacific Northwest Can End the Free Lunch for Carbon Polluters

Beyond carbon in 60 seconds (part 1).
This post is 33 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

Have you ever tried to briefly explain to someone why we need to hold carbon polluters accountable? Here’s a 60-second explanation. This is the first in a series of short videos about how the Pacific Northwest can use a carbon price to protect our communities and accelerate our transition to clean energy.

Key takeaways:

  • The biggest polluters are getting a free lunch. Oil and coal companies profit while they pollute our atmosphere for free.
  • Our families and communities are picking up their tab. In the Pacific Northwest, we are seeing more kids with asthma, damages to the shellfish industry, dwindling water supplies, and record wildfires.
  • We can fix this by making polluters pay for their pollution.
  • Places around the world are already making polluters take responsibility. By 2016, almost one quarter of all carbon pollution in the world will have a price tag attached.
  • Washington and Oregon can play a leadership role holding polluters accountable as part of a West Coast block for climate action.

It’s Accountability Time for Seattle Port Commissioners

Port of Seattle: Gateway to Arctic Drilling?
The oil drilling ship Noble Discoverer, seen April 5, 2012 in the Port of Seattle before its trip to Alaska for the summer Arctic drilling season.

The oil drilling ship Noble Discoverer, seen April 5, 2012 in the Port of Seattle before its trip to Alaska for the summer Arctic drilling season. Image by James Brooks used under CC BY 2.0

The irony oozing from the Port of Seattle these days is thicker than crude oil.

The Port claims to be “the Green Gateway for trade” and employs a jaunty green slogan, “where a sustainable world is headed.” But this week officials quietly inked a deal to lease terminal space on Elliott Bay to Shell Oil for its Arctic drilling fleet, one of the most environmentally destructive endeavors on earth.

Virtually every environmental organization in the region is vehemently opposed to the Port’s move: already on record are Washington Environmental Council, Climate Solutions, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Earthjustice, the Audubon Society, 350.org, and practically every other group you can name. Yet despite vocal opposition from green leaders, plus an outpouring of objections from the people of Seattle the Commissioners claim to serve, the Port opted not to engage in further dialogue or solicit community input, but rather to rush the deal, signing a lease far sooner than anyone expected to allow Foss Maritime to host Shell’s vessels on Seattle’s public land.

To their credit, two of the Port’s commissioners—Courtney Gregoire and Tom Albro—tried to put a hold on the deal.

Gregoire and Albro were out-maneuvered by the other three Port commissioners—John Creighton, Bill Bryant, and Stephanie Bowman—who ushered the contract through with little chance for public feedback. (For a fuller accounting of how the politics worked, see Sydney Brownstone’s excellent reporting at The Stranger.) All three trumpet their supposed environmental bona fides. Yet when given a choice, they voted for the Port to be a crucial part of a notoriously reckless oil company’s plans to drill in an environmentally fragile part of the Arctic.

It’s time for an accountability check.

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Weekend Reading 2/13/15

Zero-waste inspiration, "my life is worth a piece of pie," and more.
This post is 190 in the series: Weekend Reading


Think living with zero waste is impossible? Check out this 23-year-old New Yorker who has been doing it for the past two years—and is now sharing some of her tips. One takeaway: go stock up on (second-hand) mason jars!


“My life is worth the price of a pie.” That’s how a steelworker describes operations at the same Northwest refineries that aspire to become major players in oil-by-rail. And that’s why he’s on strike.

This video of a train plowing through deep snow is weirdly riveting and beautiful—right up until you realize that it’s an oil train and traveling fast in potentially hazardous conditions.


For all you environmentally conscious high school and undergrad students in Washington, the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences is hosting a climate change video contest! For the contest, students are asked the question: What does climate change mean to you? Read more »

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Seattle’s Vision Zero Plan

"We should not accept death as a byproduct of commuting."
This post is 22 in the series: Family-Friendly Cities

Seattle became the second major Northwest city this week to promise to end all traffic deaths and serious injuries by embracing Vision Zero, a transportation approach that prioritizes keeping people alive and building streets that work for everyone.

The biggest changes for the next year are: Reduce downtown speed limits by 5 mph to 25 mph, improve 10 downtown intersections to benefit people walking, create slow “20 mph zones” in 5-10 neighborhoods where too many crashes happen, lower speeds on a dozen city arterials to 30 mph or below, improve the city’s most dangerous corridors, add 12 cameras to catch school zone speeders, add nearly 20 miles of safer bikeways, build 14 blocks of new sidewalks, and improve street crossings in 40 locations.

The city’s long-term goal is to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, in part by using data to drive investments and enforcement efforts to where they’re needed most.

“We should not accept death as a byproduct of commuting. It’s time to slow down to the speed of life.”—Seattle’s Vision Zero Plan

Vision Zero holds that people driving, people walking, people biking, people driving trucks, people using wheelchairs on our streets will all, from time to time, make mistakes. And that cities should design roadways so that those groups of people don’t come into conflict as often, and when they do, the consequences shouldn’t be fatal.

Seattle is actually one of the safest US cities, with a traffic fatality rate (3.2 per 100,000 people) rivaling Sweden’s (3 per 100,000), where Vision Zero was born. But city officials, who see the aftermath of downtown traffic fatalities from their office windows, acknowledged Thursday that Seattle ought to do better.

In recent months, a 7-year-old girl was hit in a crosswalk and left for dead, cars have plowed into a coffeeshop and hair salon, a 52-year-old man was killed in a crosswalk next to a library and preschool, and a new mom lost her life in a downtown bike lane. Even Seattle Mayor Ed Murray had a personal experience to share.

When he was 14, Murray was hit by a car while riding his bike in a neighborhood south of Seattle. He said the collision sent him to the hospital, left him unable to walk for six months, and had consequences that last to this day. While that’s not the main reason he wanted to pursue Vision Zero, Murray said, it illustrates the point:

If that car had been going 20 miles per hour, I would not have been thrown from my bike across someone’s yard. More importantly than me being injured, I remember the anguish my parents went through at the hospital week after week after week. This is what this is about. Twenty miles per hour can make a difference.

As the charts below show, between 150 and 300 people have been killed or seriously injured in recent years on Seattle’s roads, and people walking, people biking, and people on motorcycles fare worse in those collisions than people in cars. Traffic collisions are a leading cause of death for Seattle’s kids and young adults between ages 5 and 24. And people older than 50 have accounted for 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities in the last three years.

Seattle traffic collision statistics

Image by City of Seattle, Vision Zero Plan

So here’s a closer look at how the city plans to get those numbers to zero. (For a map of all the following projects, see page 15 of the city’s Vision Zero plan.)

Downtown and Urban Center Changes

Most pedestrian collisions happen in downtown Seattle, where more than 600 people walking have been hit by cars in the last three years. Collisions in the Central Business District have become more severe recently, largely due to speeding.

That’s why the city plans to lower speeds throughout downtown Seattle from 30 mph to 25 mph. As the graphic below shows, research has shown that speed has an enormous impact on the likelihood that a person on foot can survive a collision. Half of pedestrians who are hit by a car traveling 30 mph will die.

Pedestrian survival graphic

Image by City of Seattle, Vision Zero Plan

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will start with James, Pike, and Pine streets and lower speeds throughout the rest of downtown by the end of the year. In part, that’s because the city needs time to adjust hundreds of downtown traffic signals and make other engineering changes to slow traffic. (For compaison, New York City just lowered speeds to 25 mph citywide.)

SDOT will also make safety improvements at 10 downtown intersections (along Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh avenues) with high crash histories. That includes outlawing right turns on red that create conflicts between cars and people crossing streets, giving people walking extra “lead time” to cross streets and become visible, and offering people biking and driving protected opportunities to turn.

Outside of downtown, the city will undertake similar intersection improvements and traffic calming in several urban centers where people walking, biking, driving, strolling, and riding transit all merge: Lake City at NE 125th Street and Lake City Way NE, White Center/Westwood at SW Roxbury Street and Delridge Way/16th Ave SW, and Columbia City and Hillman City on Rainier Ave S.

Citywide Changes

Speed vs Travel Time Change

Image by City of Seattle, Vision Zero Plan

Because 90 percent of Seattle’s serious and fatal crashes occur on busy arterial streets, the city plans to review and lower speed limits to 30 mph or below (right now, they range from 20 mph to 40 mph) on city arterials.

In the next year, for instance, the Vision Zero plan commits to lowering speeds—by reducing limits, using radar speed signs, and making engineering changes—on a dozen corridors: Martin Luther King Jr Way S, Rainier Avenue S, 35th Avenue SW, SW Roxbury Street/Olson Place SW, Delridge Way SW, Fauntleroy Way SW, Harbor Avenue SW, Greenwood Avenue N, Holman Road NW, Seaview Ave NW, 5th Avenue NE, and 15th Avenue NE.

The city also hopes to reduce collisions on some of the most dangerous corridors through low-cost engineering, enforcement and education efforts, as well as make improvements for people walking, biking, and taking transit in others. SDOT will update crosswalk policies to emphasize the needs of older and younger residents, address safety problems around ubiquitous construction sites, and begin using more durable and reflective pavement markings across the city.

In 2015, SDOT also plans to follow through on commitments in the city’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Master plans by adding seven miles of protected bike lanes, 12 miles of neighborhood greenways, more than 40 crossing improvements, and 14 blocks of new sidewalks.

In 20 mph school zones where kids are walking or biking to school, the city will add twelve new cameras to catch speeders and use the revenue from tickets to improve infrastructure around schools.

Neighborhood 20mph Zones

Although few fatal accidents occur on neighborhood streets, Vision Zero also aims to create communities where everyone—from unsteady toddlers to 6-year-old bikers to marathon runners to retired walkers—feels safe on the street. That’s why the city plans to implement five to 10 pilot “20 mph zones” in neighborhoods near parks and schools with a high crash history.

Similar projects have been wildly popular with New York City families and residents who want safer, traffic-calmed streets with speed humps, road narrowing, daylighting, and 20mph speed limits. Some want the city to take even more aggressive safety and engineering measures there.

To start, Seattle plans to install signs and pavement markings to clearly tell people driving that they’re in a slow zone and make sure intersections are cleared of obstructions that make it hard to see people in crosswalks.

Education and Enforcement

The other prongs of the Vision Zero plan include education—from rewarding people who follow street rules with gift cards to outreach campaigns to vulnerable groups like teen drivers and older pedestrians—as well as enforcement.

Seattle Police Department plans to incorporate traffic, speed, and collision data to identify areas with the highest enforcement needs, as well as to target risky behavior in high-crash areas. Officers will step up enforcement efforts in places where bicycle collisions frequently occur, as well as educate drivers about the consequences of failing to yield to pedestrians and “blocking the box” in crosswalks.

Seattle has also committed to publishing a Vision Zero report in October of each year, which will track the city’s progress toward achieving zero traffic fatalities and describe efforts for the upcoming year.

So how do the city’s initial efforts stack up? As the mom of a six-year-old, I’ll continue to argue that Seattle could lower speed limits on neighborhood streets to 20 mph citywide without inconveniencing many people (If you’re in that much of a hurry to get somewhere, you shouldn’t be on slower residential streets.) And I hope that’s where we’re headed, soon.

But Seattle’s Vision Zero plan is a reasonable and informed set of first steps. It focuses on the corridors, intersections, and areas where the data tells us things aren’t safe or acceptable. And it sets the city on a promising path to do something about that.

Let’s hope that the city continues its commitment to Vision Zero’s principles—that everyone has a right to be safe in traffic—by using that lens to prioritize projects and allocate funds in the next citywide transportation levy.


Latinos and Republicans Favor Climate Action?

Poll: Time for a reality check when it comes to the politics of US climate action.
Photo Credit: Kevin Coles via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kevin Coles via Compfight cc

There are at least two misconceptions that have proved tough to shake when it comes to the politics of advancing climate solutions in the US: One is that Latinos don’t prioritize the environment or global warming. The other is that all—or at least most—Republicans are solidly united against climate action.

It’s time for a reality check.

In fact, relative to other American voters, Latinos are actually among the most concerned about the environment, and in particular about global warming.

And despite the fact that 56 percent of Congressional Republicans still deny climate change (and, make no mistake, they are not scientists, BTW), significant numbers of rank and file Republican voters acknowledge the problem and favor climate action.

Recent polling conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and Resources for the Future further debunks the stereotypes.

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