Seattle's Green Mayor
by Mary Milliken & Daisuke Wakabayashi
SEATTLE -- On the frontier of the fight against global warming, the mayor of Seattle boldly goes where the U.S. president will not -- like right to America's backyards.
As the mayor spearheading a drive to get U.S. cities to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Greg Nickels is proposing a host of "green" initiatives, like urging Seattle dwellers to buildrental units in their backyards to stem city sprawl and get people to live closer to downtown.
"We have lots of jobs downtown and we want to balance that with having a lot of new residents so that people are literally walking to work," Nickels told Reuters in an interview this week in his energy-efficient City Hall overlooking Puget Sound.
Nickels is the mayor who first urged U.S. cities to adhere to the targets of the Kyoto Protocol, the 164-nation agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. President Bush pulled the United States out of the treaty in 2001.
One year after launching the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, Nickels said 275 mayors representing 48 million Americans had promised to cut their heat-trapping gas emissions 7 percent from 1990 levels by 2012.
While recognizing that there is really no way to enforce the pledges, Nickels said the cities -- like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas and even some smaller ones like Denton, Texas -- are working to share their best ideas.
"We will come up with a menu of things that other cities and states and ultimately the country can use as a menu for how we achieve this goal," he said.
SEGWAYS YES, HIGHWAYS NO
Another prominent west coast politician, California's Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week took a similar stand as the Democrat Nickels, accusing the federal government of lacking leadership on the environment. The United States is the biggest producer of greenhouse gases, with a quarter of the world total.
Bush refuses to discuss mandatory cuts he says would hurt the economy. But Schwarzenegger and British Prime Minister Tony Blair teamed up with an agreement on research for clean energy technologies and work on emissions trading.
Former President Bill Clinton, who signed the United States up for Kyoto, turned his foundations's focus to fighting global warming this week by joining up with 22 of the largest cities around the world to help them become more energy efficient.
Most scientists link greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil fuels, to global warming that could lead to heat waves, stronger storms and flooding from rising sea levels.
Seattle, a city of 575,000 people, wants to lead by example. Its public utility, Seattle City Light, became the first major U.S. electric utility to achieve zero net emissions of greenhouse gases last year.
The mayor exchanged his Cadillac sedan for a Toyota hybrid sports utility vehicle and Seattle meter readers ride electric motor Segways around the city.
He predicted a groundswell of support for environmental programs on the local and state level would capture the attention of U.S. presidential candidates and put the environment on the front burner for the 2008 election.
"The next administration, whether it's a Democrat or a Republican elected president, will take this issue seriously and rejoin the community of nations in trying to find an answer," Nickels said.
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