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City cautious on greenhouse gas reduction
Council wants more information before setting a public hearing on the plan
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CLEARWATER – The question facing the City Council at its April 18 work session was whether to endorse a consultant’s 49-page draft of “Greenprint strategies” for reducing the greenhouse gasses in Clearwater’s air, reject the plan, or get more information before making a decision.

“Clearwater Greenprint: A Community Action Plan for Sustainability will result in a vision and strategic plan that looks beyond municipal functions to develop a list of measurable, achievable strategies that can be implemented by residents, businesses, the industrial sector, and the municipal government,” according to a staff memo. “These strategies, when implemented, have the potential to reduce energy consumption, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions while stimulating the local economy and improving the quality of life for the city’s residents.”

But not everyone agreed.

“There were a number of people who came to the (March 1) open house who don’t embrace this concept with a whole heart,” Councilman John Doran said.

Consultant Alan Steinbeck said that the objectors generally fell into two categories. The first doesn’t believe that any governments, be they local, state or national, should be involved in anything related to air quality or climate change. The others, he said, object to specific aspects of the plan, such as encouraging people to get out of their cars and walk, bike or use public transportation. A few even believe that the proposal is related to United Nations Agenda 21, which they regard as radical environmentalism, but Steinbeck said it’s not.

The original plan called for reducing the greenhouse gasses in Clearwater’s air by 10 to 20 percent by 2020, by 25 to 35 percent by 2035 and by 40 to 50 percent by 2050, but Steinbeck said that a reduction of 8.9 percent by 2020 would be more realistic. After that, he said, progress should speed up as old buildings and vehicles are replaced by new, more energy-efficient ones.

Vice Mayor George Cretekos worried that the goals set forth in the plan are too ambitious.

“I would rather have lower targets that we can reach rather than targets that are unattainable,” he said. He added that the city should begin with simple solutions, such as better coordination of the traffic signals on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard or buying vehicles that don’t use fossil fuels, before going to more ambitious measures.

Mayor Frank Hibbard said that some reductions in greenhouse gasses are illusory or misleading. He cited the example of electric cars, which emit no greenhouse gasses, but use electricity that is mostly generated by burning coal or oil.

“You’re burning fossil fuels, but just in a different place,” he said.

Hibbard added that, while cleaner air is a worthy goal, the council should proceed with caution.

“We can’t obligate future councils, but we can start them down a path that sometimes can be irreversible,” Hibbard said, adding that each component of the plan should stand alone and have “decision points’ along the way where it is either continued or discontinued.

“I’m reluctant to impose (these goals) on a community that doesn’t necessarily buy into them,” Cretekos said.

But Steinbeck said that “other communities have more aggressive goals than these on their books,” and they’re just goals, with no penalties if they’re not met.

“I think this (study) is intended to give us a competitive advantage in the 21st century,” said Michael Delk, the city’s planning director. “I think there’s an economic development component to this.”

But Mayor Hibbard and Councilman Paul Gibson said that the city should slow down and make sure it has all the facts before scheduling a public hearing to finalize the plan, which Steinbeck had hoped to do by next month.

“I think this is much too fast,” Gibson said. “I don’t think we should have a public meeting until we know what we’re talking about. The first thing the citizens will do is ask us questions we don’t have the answers to.”

“I want to give people more time,” before scheduling a public hearing, Hibbard said. And the council members agreed to delay a public hearing until they are confident that they have all the information they need.
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