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King County's proposed Climate Action Plan highlights equity for frontline communities

King County Executive Dow Constantine has unveiled his proposal for the 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan. It’s a five-year roadmap that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade. Among the details is a pledge to plant 3 million trees and make buildings and transit greener.

Speaking at an event held on the grounds of a new community garden in Kent, Constantine announced the plan calling it a comprehensive, integrated approach.

It has three pillars: dramatically and quickly reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Elevating the voices and expertise of frontline communities — those are communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change — and preparing our region for climate impacts,” he said.  

That’s because even with dramatic emissions reductions, there will still be warming and effects such as heavier rain and flooding.

And for the first time, the plan has brought leaders from frontline communities to the table.

King County climate engagement specialist Jamie Stroble led the new 22-member Climate Equity Community Task Force and says their work on policy already is leading to positive changes.

“Our last strategic climate action plan didn't have a focus on housing or anti-displacement," she siad. "That's a new section that got added in as a recommendation of the Climate Equity Task Force. Food security was also something that got added in recently,”

The task force includes people of color and people with lower incomes.

“There's a lot of new things in there that a lot of the climate justice community and our nonprofit partners have been talking about for a long time. But now we have really integrated it into our county government and our strategic climate action plan,” Stroble said.

Another example of equity goals in the new plan is not only a tripling of the number of trees to be planted this round, but that they are to go first to disadvantaged areas that lack canopy.

The proposal is an update to the current plan from 2015. It now goes to the King County Council for a first hearing in the mobility and environment committee, on Sept. 9. It is not expected to be taken up by the full council until after they are done with budget deliberations, likely in the new year.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.