Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sustainability is NOT a four letter word

SustainabilitySometimes you have to wonder what some people are thinking. Certain La Crosse Common Council members are having trouble with the Sustainable La Crosse legislation on which a group of committed volunteers has worked long and hard. Dick Mial's column in today's Tribune gives you a few examples of some of the nutso ideas that must be overcome if this meekest of plans is to be implemented.

The very idea that the government might actually be involved in people's and, yes, businesses', lives seems to irk some people (who don't seem to wonder at their government certified clean air and water, their government protected streets, their government subsidized electricity and internet access, their government inspected food (well, hmmm, maybe NOT that one) ... you get the idea.)

But, equally disturbing, are the people who just don't get that this is a real crisis. If you ask me, the time for suggesting is over and now it's time for some real mandates and I mean mandates on private individuals and business, yes.

For example, we now forbid people from burning waste in their back yards. Why? Because the smoke and smell is a nuisance, it's a fire hazard, and worst of all, it's a major health hazard, especially when people burn plastics and other things that should not be burned. It's a government mandate that you NOT burn your trash and it's for the good of all that this mandate exists.

Now it's time to mandate a few more things. I'm all for mandating that businesses selling electrical appliances and toys (ceiling fans, refrigerators, televisions, etc.) turn them OFF. I think we all know what a ceiling fan looks like whether it's moving or not. Or how about the city mandating that any group using city facilities pay a carbon tax for the electricity they use. And that tax increases as more power is consumed. (Yes, I am out to END the wasteful and polluting Rotary Lights as we know it!)

I'm also in favor of mandating that private individuals quit wasting energy with crappy windows and minimal insulation. If I were king, the city would go neighborhood by neighborhood and do an energy audit of every house, then work with homeowners to WEATHERIZE - upgrade doors and windows, insulate, seal cracks, etc. Why couldn't the city offer low or no interest long term loans, paid for by the stimulus bill, to be paid on property tax bills, for homeowners to do this? Homeowners would save on energy costs, people would be put to work building and installing upgrades and utility companies would not have a leg to stand on when they wail about increasing energy demand. (The latest National Geographic magazine has a great feature article on energy conservation we can all do right now.)

And, while they're at it, the city should ensure that homeowners who DO upgrade to save the planet aren't punished for it by higher property taxes. Maybe each neighborhood could be like an energy TIF district, where the payback for the upgrades, say at 0% over 30 to 40 years, takes the place of any property reassessment due to the energy enhancement of the property. And after the 30 or 40 years, then the enhancements can be used to increase the property taxes (assuming the world doesn't end in 2012 or something (since apparently the Y2K apocalypse didn't work out as planned.))

It doesn't have to be Draconian.

The City of Austin does an annual Kill-A-Watt Challenge and businesses participating see a great financial savings from reducing their energy costs. Even Wal-Mart, which has started its own energy challenge, is requiring that suppliers start using less energy too.

One elderly person I talked with was afraid she would be required to ride a bike or [gasp] SHARE A RIDE with someone if the sustainability plan passes! Rather than scare old and overweight people with visions of bicycle torture, why not make it an offer they can't refuse by charging much higher parking fees, increasing frequency and convenience of public transportation (hey! THAT one IS in the sustainability plan) and using the $20/month bicycle incentive in last year's stimulus bill to get some of those big behinds out of the Lexus and onto a bicycle (or at least a bus seat.) Why should those of us who have to BREATHE for a living subsidize fat asses who insist on driving everywhere and clogging our air with asthma inducing pollutants?

The sustainabilty plan is a good start, but to me it doesn't go far enough. Read it and then contact your council representative to vote for this important first step. (And while you're at it, ask her/him to see about getting council meeting agendas posted on the city's website at least one or two days in advance of council meetings!)

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