Environment gets top billing at City Hall workshop

The environment was in the spotlight May 10 at Bellevue City Hall as a mini-workshop helped community members become aware of the ongoing threats to natural resources.

Mary Embleton of Cascade Harvest Coalition speaks to a crowd gathered at Bellevue City Hall on Saturday May 9. King County Councilmember Jane Hague hosted the ‘Living Green’ event.

The environment was in the spotlight May 10 at Bellevue City Hall as a mini-workshop helped community members become aware of the ongoing threats to natural resources.

A series of guest speakers explained the ripple effect of the environment that creates change in the surrounding forests, the climate, water and energy supply and continues to trickle down to the locally grown agriculture and the food supply.

Doug Sutherland, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands for the past seven years, outlined current environmental issues and concerns surrounding climate change in the Northwest and what it means for the future of our state.

“Agriculture is the biggest business in the state of Washington,” Sutherland said. “So what happens when the climate change has a direct effect on the biggest business in the state.”

Washington, Sutherland said, leads the nation in a number of commodities and climate change has an effect “on how productive we are in the state,” he added.

“It effects the job market, the ability to see a return on investment and it has an impact on the amount of food that is produced,” Sutherland said.

Understanding the climate change and how to position the resources of the state, both financial and natural, is what his agency is trying to discern and react to appropriately.

Sutherland also acts as chair of the State Board of Natural Resources, which sets policies for the management of state trust lands including some 3 million acres of publicly owned forests, agricultural and grazing lands, and commercial properties.

Roger Garratt, the director of Resource Acquisition, Green Power and Emerging Technologies for Puget Sound Energy, addressed some of the concerns surrounding the increasing scarcity and rising price of fossil fuel resources and the high demand for electricity.

In 2006, he said, the voters of Washington passed I-937, that requires larger utilities to get 15 percent of the energy from renewable sources. According to PSE reports, the company is on track to meet the requirements by 2020.

The company has begun offering residents and businesses new ways to save on the increasing cost of energy. PSE’s net metering program allows customers to produce a portion of their own electricity through customer-owned systems such as solar panels on the roof or a wind turbine on the property.

“In a sense, your meter runs backwards and you produce part of your own electricity,” Garratt said.

The Green Power Program is another cost efficient option when it comes to energy use that allows consumers to purchase blocks of green power.

“As a society these programs are helping to reduce our dependency on foreign oil,” Garratt said.

Other local companies, including grocery stores, are doing their part to help clean up the environment. PCC Natural Markets listened to their 40,000 local members and in October 2007 got rid of all single-use plastic bags at the check stands in all of their stores.

“We are committed to environmental stewardship in everything that we do as a business that touches on the people, places and products that we sell,” said Diana Crane, the community and public relations manager for PCC. “We look to those three elements in a very green way.”

As the executive director of Cascade Harvest, Mary Embleton works to implement many local awareness programs including a local branding and consumer education program known as Puget Sound Fresh.

“Eating locally is something that you can do that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and all the other things that contribute to climate change,” Embleton explained. “Farmers markets are great, engaging, fun places – so it’s not like your getting a lecture or a lesson.”

Much like the rising interest in locally grown foods, the interest in green building has been growing as well. Aaron Adelstein, executive director of the Built Green program, said the green building program rates residential housing based on a checklist of different options that are chosen during the building process.

“Green building is the acknowledgment that the decisions that we make on a day to day basis in the building process and in our homes have a real environmental impact,” Adelstein said. “It’s using your dollars to vote for the products that you like based on your moral and ethical values. Your dollar is basically a new market-based model for environmental advocacy.”

The certification program examines a wide range of sustainable building practices including energy efficiency.

“I applaud our local leaders for taking this issue seriously while our national leaders are not,” Adelstein said. “Climate change is a real issue that we need to be addressing in a meaningful way because it has an impact on everything, including water.”

Adelstein added that “this problem of solving climate change is a daunting and very scary problem, but one that we can no longer ignore.”

Lindsay Larin can be reached at llarin@reporternewspapers.com or 425-453-4602.

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