A deep dive on what Spokane candidates had to say about climate change

click to enlarge A deep dive on what Spokane candidates had to say about climate change
Jonathan Hill illustration
Earlier this month, many of the candidates running to lead Spokane gathered before a packed room on Gonzaga's campus to talk about how city decisions can impact climate change. 

Moderated by Brian Henning, a Gonzaga professor in the departments of philosophy and environmental studies, and one of the cofounders of environmental group 350 Spokane, the forum brought together candidates for Spokane City Council, council president and mayor.

Missing from the forum were mayoral candidate Nadine Woodward, council president candidate Cindy Wendle, and council candidates Tim Benn and Andy Rathbun.

click to enlarge A deep dive on what Spokane candidates had to say about climate change
Derek Harrison photo
Brian Henning
All other candidates were in attendance. In an attempt to flesh out the conversation, the Inlander reached out to the candidates who didn't go to ask the same questions. All except Woodward agreed. (Woodward's emailed statement can be found at the end of this post.)

For everyone else, here's an in-depth look at their take on climate change.

Questions are as posed by Henning, unless noted as Inlander questions. Candidate answers have been edited for length and clarity. Not every question or answer could be included.

HENNING: What, if any, are your concerns about global warming's effects on Spokane, the Inland Northwest and the world?

MAYORAL CANDIDATE BEN STUCKART: I'm hugely concerned, I think the national government is failing. So it's up to cities and states to actually lead on climate change. Just so we're clear up front, climate change is real global warming is real, and it's human caused. Our own climate data analysis shows that our built environment accounts for over 50 percent of emissions in the city of Spokane. We will build a denser, more walkable environment if we actually want to impact the climate. If we put one duplex and one fourplex on every city block in the city of Spokane we would decrease emissions by 20 percent.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT CANDIDATE BREEAN BEGGS: My grandmother helped raise me for many years, and she was a great lover of the Earth and took care of it and taught me how to do it, whether it was plants or animals, and clean water. And she was blessed to live to 107 and steward that Earth and so I have her on one hand, then I have three children on the other, who are all in college, who are all passionate climate justice advocates, and who poke me all the time because I'm not moving fast enough. For this problem, this existential crisis that we all face, it is going to take all of us with all of our perspectives to do it. And the city as Ben said, the city is well positioned to do it. We're small enough that we can actually get agreement and move ahead. And we're big enough that we can make a huge difference, not just for Spokane, but in leading the state and leading the nation which we've been doing.

Do you believe that global warming is caused mostly by human activities and what, if any, are your concerns about global warming’s effects on Spokane, the Inland Northwest and the world?

COUNCIL PRESIDENT CANDIDATE CINDY WENDLE (by phone, didn't attend): We can all agree there’s some human impacts regarding climate change. We can’t solve global warming on our own in Spokane. We have to make sure as a city we focus on high impact and locally relevant projects in fiscally responsible ways to be good stewards of our environment.

COUNCIL CANDIDATE MICHAEL CATHCART: I think men, women, humans do contribute to global warming, and as far as, does it weigh on me? It's not really something that I think about every single day, to be perfectly honest with you. As I'm knocking on doors and talking to my constituents in District 1, it's not an issue that's brought up to me, in fact, I've had only one individual whose door I've knocked on, bring the issue up. But it is an important conversation that we need to have. It very well may have impacts on Spokane I mean, if it is contributing towards worse wildfires, obviously, we're seeing more smoke in the air and it's contributing towards health issues that folks are having. And so yeah, there are effects.

COUNCIL CANDIDATE TONY KIEPE: I have solar panels on my house. I don't believe in global warming. But I believe, actually, that everybody's got to do their part. I put solar panels on my house two years ago, last year, and my utility bill runs about $9 a month. It's fantastic. And now I'm here tonight because I want to learn, I want to be educated on what's going on. I think it's very important if I want to be on City Council I got to be able to listen to all people. Now I see reports where my panels have produced, that it's just like planting 351 trees over the past 11 months, and you see how much CO2 you're saving by having your solar panels on it. But we need everybody to do their part, and I don't believe the government should say you have to do this, you have to do this. But let's do marketing. Let's do strategies.

So just to be clear, you don't think that climate change is happening and you don't think it's human caused?

KIEPE: I don't think it's human... well, I believe OK, God created the heavens and the Earth. I do believe it, and I believe we should be good stewards while we're here on the Earth, and that means let's not have pollution. Let's keep our rivers clean.

So is climate change happening or not?


Onto Ms. Kinnear, do you believe that global warming is caused mostly by human activities and what, if any, are your concerns about global warming’s effects on Spokane, the Inland Northwest and the world?

COUNCIL CANDIDATE LORI KINNEAR: I absolutely do believe the climate change is man caused, human caused. Can we do something about it? Absolutely we can. I have a long history in the city even before I was on council of trying to mitigate climate caused activities starting with spearheading a community garden program with the city where one had never existed before if you can believe it. Seattle had had one since 1973. People need to be able to grow their own food and grow healthy food, but it also helps with our carbon footprint so you're not buying things that have been shipped 1,000 miles. I'm heartened by the fact there's so many young people, I feel that we have a responsibility to you to make this right. I don't think that our generation — I'm going to give a plug for the boomers now — I don't think our generation necessarily caused it, but we sure did put it in high gear and make it a lot worse.

To clarify, what effects do you think might be coming to Spokane and the Inland Northwest?

KINNEAR: Wildfire for starters, drought, the impact on our river and our streams, streamflow, just to name a few. Hotter drier summers, allergy season that's longer or year-round, I mean the list is very long. Bad air quality not just from wildfires but from emissions. The list is long. No snowpack, so if you're a skier gee sorry, you're going to have to go to I don't know, the Himalayas.

Ms. Stratton same question, do you believe that global warming is caused mostly by human activities and what, if any, are your concerns about global warming’s effects on Spokane, the Inland Northwest and the world?

COUNCIL CANDIDATE KAREN STRATTON: I absolutely believe that global warming is caused by human activity. There's no doubt in my mind, I believe in the science. I will say that my mother is 92 years old, and she was born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation. She's a Spokane tribal member, so I was raised with a mother who was taught to honor the Earth and to treasure that natural environment. But the most heartbreaking moment of my life was when we started having the fires and the big fires up in Stevens County and on the Spokane Indian Reservation and the damage that was done, the health effects that it has on people. My mother is pretty healthy for 92. But when you have to start worrying when you're at work and you see or you smell smoke in the air, you think, 'I hope she's got something on her face to cover her from the smoke.' You know, it's bad, and I think we all need to wake up and deal with it and accept the fact that you're right, we have to work together.

COUNCIL CANDIDATE TIM BENN (by phone, didn't attend): Well I think that when it comes to the environment there’s just a massive amount of details. I’m not a scientist but I know the sun, all sorts of different things impact… I’ve read things about solar flares, I’ve read things about pollution. One thing I’m proud about Spokane is how clean we are. Washington has wonderful ways of using hydropower instead of coal. There’s a lot of great things I think for Washington and how we do things. I think our impact, of our citizens, our people, our residents here on the environment has been diminished because of how clean we are.

INLANDER: So do you believe that climate change is largely influenced by human activities?

BENN: I don't take a position if I don't know all the science. I've seen both sides of the argument. Obviously people have an impact on the environment, like the sun and the volcanoes, but I know we’re doing a lot to clean up our impacts. Our vehicles are cleaner than they used to be. We should always seek out more ways to be more efficient, ways to be cleaner.

INLANDER: Do you believe that global warming is caused mostly by human activities and what, if any, are your concerns about global warming’s effects on Spokane, the Inland Northwest and the world?

COUNCIL CANDIDATE ANDY RATHBUN (by phone, didn't attend): I mean, combating climate change is definitely… it… yeah I believe there is a lot of human factors causing it. There’s a lot of money and jobs that will be associated with many green projects and those green projects will probably also save millions of dollars in taxpayer money when they're enacted. I believe here in Spokane we’re way ahead of most other cities as far as what we’ve done to protect our river with the stormwater capturing and preventing it from running into the river. And I absolutely believe in, you know, we need to think globally, but act locally, and recycle, reuse, reduce and repurpose.

INLANDER: So you do think that climate change we're seeing is mostly human caused?

RATHBUN: It’s definitely a factor. It’s a factor. There’s obviously other things going on throughout the world, but definitely human activity has a lot to do with what we’re seeing, but there’s natural cycles of the Earth too.

Tailpipe emissions are the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state. What is your understanding of the links between land use, transportation and climate change and what policies do you support to give people in Spokane more opportunities to reduce individual vehicle miles traveled?

The basic philosophy that I've adopted and I know council president has as well, I've learned a lot from him on this, is that the closer you live between work and school and all those places, you just cut down on your trips. You cut down on the length of trips. So it's about giving people options and choices. And so what we've been doing as a city is really giving people more choices to live downtown, to live closer to centers and corridors, and then to combine that with robust public transit. If you want to drive a car you can choose, but if you want to ride your bike with good bicycle infrastructure, if you want to ride a bus with other people and community and it's easier and cheaper for you than the car, that's what you will have a choice to do. And so all our incentives should be going in that direction of density. All our regulations should be pointing in that direction. Other policies that I've been involved in is the micro scooter, electric scooters, I think, I don't know, we're up to about 20,000 or 30,000 trips a month that we save cars from that.

WENDLE (by phone): The less mileage travelled... I think that is something, when I’m out talking to voters, those are things that... I have to really look into the specifics of what that does for the economy or the environment here in Spokane. I don't know the specifics. But as a city what our job is is to make sure anything we propose is locally relevant and has a high impact. The biggest concern for me is making sure our river is clean, that our local environment is sustainable and that we are doing the best job we can as a city to focus on those efforts. I have two kids with asthma. I get that we have some very big issues with regard to our climate. It pains me when we can't go outside in summer with the smoke... Without looking at specifics, there’s nothing I would propose right now. I do think compared to other cities we should be proud of our public transportation system. Some others don't even run buses after 6 at night.
STUCKART: I'll start with the story. My wife and I bought our first house in 2003. Jump forward, we drive to work every day, we would drive to the grocery store every day, there were no services really near our house in 2006. By that point, we knew our neighbors on our right and the left and across the street, and that's all we knew in our neighborhood because we'd constantly be getting in our cars and driving. So we got a dog in 2006, and she required three walks a day. Within six months, we knew everybody that lived within a half a mile radius of us. My wife got diagnosed with cancer soon thereafter. The people that brought us the meals were the people that we met when we were out walking our dog. So we created this community. But what it also did is show me the type of community that I want to live in, and land use is very important to that and how we develop our city can actually create that interaction between people. So that's our centers and corridors. We have 28 centers and corridors that our comprehensive plan says that's where we want to focus our business development, and that's where we want to focus our density in our community. Those centers and corridors are still surrounded by single-family homes. We have to upzone those because single-family zoning is exclusionary. Our strong business centers and creating the density around them will create the type of community that we want.

In 2015 we observed natural drought conditions that presented our Spokane River and our community with just what climate scientists project for the future of our basin in a warming world. It is clear that in order to be resilient and retain a viable river into the 21st century, Spokane and surrounding communities will have to address water consumption. If elected, how will you contribute to designing and implementing water conservation plans that address peak demand in our hot, dry summers and buffer our river against overconsumption of water?

KINNEAR: We're already doing that. We do have conservation measures in place not just for our city, but people that we sell water to. It's not your indoor water use that we're really concerned about because most people are pretty frugal when it comes to indoor water use. It's the outdoor water. So the city is has instituted what's called SpokaneScape, that gives you incentives to get rid of your lawn, which is a huge water-suck, and put in native plants and landscaping so that it's low water usage. And the other thing that I'm doing right now is sponsoring an urban forestry ordinance update. How can we not only plant more trees and get up to a 30 percent canopy covered by 2030 (right now we're at 23 percent) but how do we incentivize builders and developers to plant those trees and not cut them down? We know that watering trees takes a lot less water than watering turf. So we have to transition from that 17th century English lawn look to what is prudent for us right now, today.

KIEPE: I'm a commissioner for the Spokane County Water Conservancy Board, and you've learned a lot about how we're taking gray water off our pipeline that goes through the process. We're putting... our water's 98 percent, 99 percent cleaner going into the Spokane River. Every little thing helps and I want to go fishing and trout fishing. I want our waters clean. I don't want to see pollution in the water. We've got to make sure we take care of our rivers. Our yards, I mean I've cut back my, I used to water my yard 20 minutes per section. I've got it back down to 12 minutes this summer and I'll be turning it off tomorrow. I keep telling myself I need to do that. But we all do our little part. Let's keep our water clean safe and make sure it's drinkable.

STRATTON: Council member Kinnear did a great job answering and she talked about SpokaneScape. I spend a lot of time in the neighborhoods in northwest Spokane, and we have a lot of residents that are benefiting from that program. Not only did we provide the information, we invited city staff to come to neighborhood councils, but then they would meet the residents at their place where they live and show them and work with them on how to do this with their front lawns or back lawns, whatever they were trying to do. And we also have a credit on the utility bill, you use less water if it's a certain amount and get a utility credit. And I'm proud to say that I got like a $3 utility credit last month. We have a really cool trailer. It's called "Slow the Flow," and I don't know if you've seen it in these [neighborhood] events. And I'm one of those crazy people, I love to work it. So I will volunteer to be in the camper in the trailer, pouring water and talking to people about water conservation. And I'm absolutely impressed every time I do. It is the one place where people will come right up to you and they want to know and give them information, they want to talk about how they can do their part, to contribute to trying to conserve the natural resources of our water and it to me, I'm very impressed. I think we need to keep doing that. Those little steps. I think they go a long way.

CATHCART: I think the the SpokaneScape idea gives homeowners the ability to be somewhat innovative and ingenuitive with how they use their yards and how they landscape those yards. And so I think it's a great program that we should continue. It's a good way to rebate folks for conserving water. I think that's really important. Another thing I think we could do is just make sure that information is available. I live in a homeowner's association. I don't see my individual water usage. I pay a flat fee to the homeowner's association and that's how I pay for my utilities, my water usage, that sort of thing. And so I think encouraging — whether it's homeowner's association, condos, multifamily units, where they are not getting those individual water readings — that information, I think would be very beneficial, so people can see how much water they're actually using. The other thing is, I think, you know, we've been really smart with the cleaner river faster program and building the CSO tanks. And I think that's really important to clean the water and make sure that we're being good stewards with the river because ultimately, we all want a clean river and we want it faster.

BENN (by phone): I think that the city of Spokane and our park system and public schools are some of the biggest water users in the city, and I would advocate for effective irrigation so we’re reducing the amount of water used. I know that on the golf courses they are making investments that — I think it was Indian Canyon Golf course that got funded last year for fixing its irrigation. I know that on one Spokane course they're dragging hoses and sprinklers, it's a very ineffective way to water. The report I was given was that Indian Canyon got an irrigation system that saved 40 percent on water usage. I would support those kind of efficiencies to reduce water usage by the city and other places like golf courses.

RATHBUN (by phone): I mean the programs we have in place, with increased water use, there’s increased cost. I think those programs are working well to help keep water reduction down in the summer time when there is a drought. They already have programs in place with trying to plant native plants instead of grass. There’s incentive programs for that. I’ve seen people move that direction throughout our neighborhoods.

This last question comes from our local youth activists from the Sunrise Movement who so successfully organized the Spokane climate strike. Why should young people trust you to represent them and what is your unique commitment to climate action?

KINNEAR: So when I was 25, there was an adage that said, "Don't trust anyone over 30" and that stuck in my head. But then after I was 30, I realized that is ridiculous. So I want to just give a rundown of all the things that I've done so far, and then you be the judge. I've already mentioned the urban forestry ordinance, I've already mentioned starting the community garden program. I worked on protection of public lands and spaces, that means public land, trees, vegetation, illegal fires and our river. I also worked on the sustainability ordinance, the first one to set the goals, that was in 2017. I worked with council member Beggs, the two of us were wanting to put a coal and oil train initiative on the ballot and we were there by ourselves and everybody's looking at us like, "You are crazy." No, we aren't. We wanted to go before the people, we wanted the people to decide, and we were voted down. And he's back there now, is that correct? Yes. But we were there, you know, The cheese stands alone. And there we were. So I already have history of wanting to protect our our Earth and protect your future. So, I would ask you to trust me because I'm going to be listening to you as well. And you're going to tell me, "You know, you're really screwing up" or, "Yes, that's exactly what we want you to do." I will be listening and I will be having your best interest at heart.

KIEPE: Well I have four children, and I think that today it's sad that our children are scared to death. They think the world's going to end in 12 years. And they're very passionate. They believe that. I don't believe we're gonna end in 12 years, but I believe there's things we can do together to make it a cleaner, better Earth. But I... my concern is, what kind of message are we sending to our children? I don't think we should be out protesting picketing during school hours, but they have the right to do that on Saturdays, Sundays, after school. Why do we have to go during school just to protest? I see you believe a little differently. That's OK.

STRATTON: First and foremost, I'm a mother and I have a 24-year-old son who lives in Maryland. He's way ahead of us as far as this issue goes. The second reason is, I would tell them that I was one of them. I was blessed to be born in a family that were very proactive. My parents were very involved politically, and we were taught to get involved, to stand up, to talk about what we believed in, and to the best of our ability, at young ages, to respect differences of opinion. So those would be the two things. I would also tell them that since I've been on the City Council, I've supported legislation that addresses some of these issues. I just got on the STA board and I am working with STA to get up to speed on transit, and so I'm kind of immersing myself in that. But that I do support our young people. It's going to be their land soon, and it's their future and we need to listen to them because they're gonna be the leaders tomorrow. So I have good relationships with young people, and they would be very comfortable with supporting me, because I'm not a good liar.
CATHCART: Well, first of all, I'm here. And I think it's really important that we're engaging and having these conversations. I'm very accessible. I think you could ask probably any reporter in town that covers local issues, and they would tell you that I'm very accessible. I'm an easy person to talk to you. I'll give you a straight answer. I think those are virtues that you want in a City Council person, and I'm really excited to join the council and lead on on some of these things. I'm for denser communities around our centers, our corridors, more neighborhood retail, more walkability. I think those are things our young people are eager for. We can add vibrancy to our community. I think there's a lot of things even right here in the Logan Neighborhood that we can do to really improve both the landscape and the environment. And I think that our universities are, you know, great partners to work with I'm excited to work with our universities, most of which sitting in my district here. Furthermore, I wouldn't do things like adding more regulations on Uber and Lyft, which are some things that the incumbent council member for the seat I'm running for championed. I would not pass those sorts of things. In fact, I will not pass or support the passage of further regulations on those. I think that helps to reduce single car usage. I think that's a great way to, you know, encourage a cleaner environment is by using Uber and Lyft as a as an alternative option. Furthermore, on jobs, I'm going to be the biggest jobs champion you've seen. And we have got to make sure that we have good paying living wage jobs right here in our community for our young people who are graduating from our local universities. And that has got to be something that we are paying attention to and focused on. Otherwise, we're going to continue to see talent flight. I think people would find that I've got the passion and energy and I'm willing to listen, I've always got an open door and love to hear your ideas. So please talk to me. You can call me anytime.

STUCKART: So my opponent didn't even show up. So I guess I'll give that. Please trust me. I have a history of success. As council president for the last seven and a half years I've taken climate change very seriously and led the passage of more resolutions and ordinances than any other council member ever in the city of Spokane. In 2012, I convinced all of the members of the City Council to vote on the unanimous passage of a coal train resolution, despite pressure from Burlington Northern and coal interests. We were one of the first cities in the United States to actually take those coal trains seriously, and the concerns that arose from that. I've been to Washington D.C. six times lobbying on oil and coal trains with leaders from across the country. We are the first city nationwide that passed an oil train resolution calling for safer cars because of the risk that they have. I sponsored and passed an ordinance banning the procurement of products containing PCBs, we were the first city to do that. I sponsored and passed an ordinance banning the city's use of neonicotinoids and that we were the second city in the United States to do that. I sponsored the ordinance to ensure that every new car that we purchase for our fleet in the city is more fuel efficient than the ones we're replacing, and we need to take that a step further. And then I spent six months working on urban farming. We don't talk about how we get our food and how food impacts climate change. It's a huge contributor to our problem in locally sourcing our food, where 97 percent of the food produced in Eastern Washington is shipped out of the region, and then what we eat, 97 percent is produced outside of our region. And we, by growing our own food and localizing it, we can make a huge impact. So our urban farming ordinance ordinance was great, I enjoyed working on that.

BEGGS: Yeah, so first I just wanted to shout out for the climate strike. I was marching in it and participating in it, and what I was struck by was how many people were there. As I said earlier, it's going to take all of us to do it. And there is something fabulous and refreshing and unique about having not just the same old suspects there but really having all these people that were passionate about it. And what I really appreciated about it is at least, from talking to my kids and my kids' friends, you all get that your life is actually on the line. And so the first thing that I would say, why you should trust me, is I hang out with young people, high school students, college students. I speak regularly in classes and I give people a voice and space to be heard, and know that there's nothing about your age that disqualifies you from being heard on this and being a leader. Council president has a really impressive list of resolutions and ordinances, I don't have that many, but I will say this, I think my gift is bringing people together. When I got done with college I had a lot of answers, I thought, to the world, and nobody was listening to me. So I went to law school, because then you can sue them and they have to come to court and listen to you. So I kind of made my way doing that by battling and taking on big corporate interests and government. I've done that for 28 years. But what I really realized is the art of government is bringing people together. And I think that's what I'm known for in Spokane more than anything, on any hot issue, including environmental issues.

BENN (by phone): I wouldn't want to discriminate based on age. The city benefits everyone. My wife and I, we work with children. Part of the drive I have to run for office is having a safe and clean city for all the children we’ve worked with over the years and their families. We’ve already served the youth for two decades and looked out for their needs. I think that my commitment to the environment is that I’ve always been an advocate for being a good steward of our resources. As an avid recycler, I recycle everything I can. I’ll continue on that way in my personal life and that’s how I would work as a council person, and representing the people of East Spokane.

WENDLE (by phone): I think young people can trust me because I listen. I'm curious. I like to learn and I want to make sure that everybody has a voice, and to be the best candidate that does the best job to listen and learn.

RATHBUN (by phone): Well I’m very concerned about the future of Spokane for my kids and grandkids, but especially my grandkids. I’m just... What was the exact question? My unique... climate action. We need to be concerned about this issue, but it’s... I’m very concerned about the future and where we’re going and I want my grandkids to be able to have everything that we have. And we do need to consider these issues and work to incorporate them into our actions here in the future.

INLANDER: Can you clarify what you mean by these issues?

RATHBUN (by phone): All the climate... Different... you know… We need to be responsible and we need... I think the best thing to say is the greatest thing is think globally, but act locally. Do everything we can to reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose.

Note on Nadine Woodward...

Through her campaign manager Allison Walther, Woodward declined to comment or answer the list of climate related questions. Walther later emailed the campaign's brief "climate policy":

"One of our region’s best assets is the abundance of natural resources and we want to make Spokane attractive to businesses who value green energy. I will work with the council to ensure Spokane is investing in necessary technologies and policies that will have a positive impact and preserve Spokane’s old slogan: ‘Near Nature, Near Perfect.’ We must preserve our river and do more to fight litter and pollution."
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Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...