Council tables environmental sustainability plan

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County > Staff directed to return with more documentation

By Arin McKenna

After lengthy debate on Tuesday, the Los Alamos County council voted to table the Environmental Sustainability Plan until staff returns with supporting documentation.

The Environmental Services Division developed the plan, which lays out 13 goals with a focus on measurement and reporting. The plan is designed to “enable the community to quantitatively track progress toward reaching the council goal to ‘enhance environmental quality and sustainability.’ Each indicator has an associated goal, along with a strategy on the means to reach the established goal.”

Council’s main objection was a lack of documentation about how the goals were developed. Councilors were bandying about words such as “impose” and “dictate” to describe how the plan’s goals would affect various county departments.

“We need to know how these goals were set and the strategy for achieving them,” Councilor David Izraelevitz said. “We’re setting a goal, and we don’t understand whether those goals are achievable, and if they are achievable, what is the cost implication or the community involvement implications. We need detail about what we would be committing our community and our resources to.”

Environmental Services Specialist Tom Nagawiecki explained that the goals were arrived at through the coordinated efforts of Environmental Services and the various departments that would be impacted, as well as through public input.

Nagawiecki also pointed out that the sections related to the Department of Public Utilities were taken from DPU’s new conservation plan. However, Board of Public Utilities Chair Timothy Neal pointed out during public comment that one section was incorrect and provided a revision.

The problem for council was that none of the steps taken to arrive at the goals is delineated in the plan.

Councilor Frances Berting pointed to a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from county operations by 22 percent below 2011 levels by 2020. The 2011 levels were not listed in the report and the report included no documentation about how the goal was arrived at.

“Are these numbers reasonable?” Berting asked. “Has somebody looked at the numbers that we’re aiming at to say how we would get there and what would happen to the general environment if we did?”
In response to Berting’s question, Nagawiecki described working with Community & Economic Development Director Anne Laurent to develop an achievable goal.

“The main thing driving this goal was the energy audits that were performed on all county facilities. That led to over 50 recommendations on changes that could be made that would have less than a 10-year payback,” Nagawiecki said.

“If I remember correctly, that was about 16 percent of that 22 percent. And then I did some research and discussions with other county employees, and that other six percent we feel we can achieve through initiatives not spelled out in the document, such as behavior change, to get us to that 22 percent.”

Nagawiecki said that education and outreach would be the main tools for achieving those goals, and that some initiatives, such as creating a county “green team,” have already been implemented.

Public Works Director Philo Shelton pointed out that the six percent goal was also based on the recent fire station competition, which achieved a 10 percent reduction in energy usage just from changing habits.

Councilor Rick Reiss challenged Nagawiecki’s statement that the most agreed upon definition of sustainability is “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

“Sustainability is a broad concept that considers a variety of criteria, including economics and the environment in order to make decisions that will enable a community to thrive well into the future,” Nagawiecki said, noting that all efforts toward achieving sustainability would be based on cost/benefit analysis.

Councilor Rick Reiss contended that the plan lacked a clear definition of sustainability and spent considerable time reading various definitions.

“What I’m afraid of is scope creep,” Reiss said. “When are we going to implement a building code change that says every new home has to have an electric car charging station built in? We’re being pushed to do that today.”

Councilor Steve Girrens objected to having such a comprehensive sustainability plan that encompassed so many departments, and wanted the division to create a simplified plan.

Council also questioned why trails were in the sustainability plan, since most of the county’s trails are recreational trails.

Shelton clarified that the plan’s goals apply to multimodal trails such as the Canyon Rim Trail and the Canyon del Buey trail, which can be used as transportation trails, not to single-track trails in the woods.

“We just did a survey on the Canyon Rim Trail a month ago and found there are several people using it to go get groceries, for example,” Shelton said.

Councilor Pete Sheehey defended the plan.

“This is a plan put together by staff and the Environmental Sustainability Board with considerable input from other boards, from the Department of Public Utilities and from the county–all departments–that attempts to focus on environmental sustainability in county operations and in how we live as a community,” Sheehey said.
“It does not dictate anything. We’ve asked the group to come up with some specific goals that we will work toward, which they have.

“I don’t want to see us spend another eight years in analysis paralysis. This sets out reasonable goals. It is reasonable guidance by which plans will come to us as a council, and piece by piece we can decide if it looks like a good investment, and we can evaluate and change those.”

Council voted to table the plan, directing Nagawiecki to return with a revised plan that includes documentation about how each goal was developed.