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Originally published Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Sims proposes developers reduce emissions 15 percent

King County Executive Ron Sims offered a plan Wednesday aimed at fighting global warming by getting developers to reduce emissions of climate-altering carbon dioxide by 15 percent.

Seattle Times staff reporter

King County Executive Ron Sims, showing he hasn't stopped trying to shape county policy even while he's getting ready to join the Obama administration, proposed to fight global warming Wednesday by reducing carbon emissions from new development by 15 percent or more.

If the ordinance is approved by the Metropolitan King County Council, the county would be among the first jurisdictions in the nation to require substantial reductions in carbon emissions from new buildings.

"In an age of global warming, we all have to do our part to reduce the carbon released into the atmosphere and we need to prepare for the impacts we already know are coming," Sims said.

The ordinance would affect development in unincorporated King County, where more than 300,000 people live.

It would apply to large apartment projects, residential subdivisions and commercial projects such as shopping centers and large stores. Most single-family homes, short plats and small stores wouldn't be affected.

Developers could meet the new standards through a combination of measures, including improved insulation, energy-saving appliances, greener building materials, better access to buses and facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Sims said county attorneys warned him that permit approvals could be struck down by courts if the county fails to consider climate impacts when it reviews projects under the State Environmental Policy Act: "We can get in front of that."

Several cities, including Dallas, San Francisco and Baltimore, have adopted carbon-restricting regulations, said Sims' strategic planning director, Jim Lopez.

Development proposals reducing carbon emissions 15 percent below the amount allowed under existing laws wouldn't have to undergo environmental-impact studies, and proposals with a 30 percent drop in carbon use would get expedited permit review.

Sims' proposal was written over the last year and a half with input from environmental groups, builders and county and state agencies.

Developers who participated in the process offered very different views of Sims' proposal.

Kari-lynn Frank, local government affairs director for the Washington chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, said the ordinance provides the kind of certainty large and small developers need. "Instead of using it as a hammer, they're using it as a tool," she said. "It's a subtle distinction, but it's important if you want to foster economic development."

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But Allison Butcher, spokeswoman for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, said her organization was reviewing the proposal and wasn't sure the county correctly calculated carbon emissions under existing laws or set the right goal for reductions.

"We do have serious concerns about the potential significant impacts of the ordinance on housing costs," Butcher said.

"This is especially worrisome in light of current economic conditions."

Environmentalists praised Sims' proposal. K.C. Golden, policy director for Climate Solutions, said it would help slow global warming and reduce King County residents' reliance on imported fossil fuels.

"I'm just so proud to be in Martin Luther King County where this kind of innovation is happening," he said.

The proposed ordinance would put teeth into an executive order Sims issued in 2007 that required developers to calculate the climate impact of their proposals but didn't set limits on emissions of greenhouse gases.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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