As the World Burns

The Strip knows how it feels to have flames licking its backside. And like other folks around the country this sizzlin’ summer, it’s been worrying about the environment. There are a lot of things one little meat patty can do to make a difference, so the Strip’s been buying compact fluorescent light bulbs, taking the Max to work and, like the governor’s brother, Andy Blunt, investing in ethanol plants (just kidding about that last part). The Strip figures its ever-lovin’ city can help, too.

It knows, for example, that Kansas City signed on to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. That document came about after world leaders met in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, to write an environmental treaty that would eventually go into effect in February 2005. More than 160 nations pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by amounts corresponding to how much they were polluting. The Bush administration refused to sign on, though, despite the fact that the U.S. spews more than 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. To put the feds’ feet to the fire, more than 250 U.S. cities have signed the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, agreeing to try to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in their own towns.

The Strip was happy to learn that Mayor Kay Barnes was among the early signers, inking her name to the document in May 2005. After all, local experts say, the barbecue capital belches out more nasty fumes than seven developing nations with combined populations of 40 million people.

Over the last couple of weeks, though, the Strip’s pride in our mayor faded. It turns out that 50 other cities have started actually doing things to curb their pollutin’, and 140 other cities are at least coming up with plans. But we’ve been stalling.

After signing us up, Barnes turned the planet-savin’ effort over to something called the Environmental Management Commission (yep, a mayor-appointed citizen committee charged with prodding the city toward good enviro behavior) for six months of research. In February, the EMC recommended that Kansas City should, urp, pass a climate protection resolution and start a planning process.

A year after her ink had dried, Barnes finally announced a grand environmental plan … to start planning for an environmental plan. In her State of the City speech this past May, Barnes said, “I will introduce within the next 30 days a resolution … endorsing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and a climate protection planning process for Kansas City.”

The resolution, she continued, would create a task force to “establish goals to meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol target, and recommend specific actions that the city will implement by 2007.”

It was 60 days, not 30, before she introduced the resolution. But here’s what really gets this burger’s blood boiling: It looks like Barnes’ resolution will pretty much be gutted anyway.

The resolution finally made it to a City Council meeting on July 20. There, Jenny Erdman, the director of government relations and policy development for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, got busy in the back row of the spectator section, speaking in a hushed but frantic tone as she passed around copies of some handout to a few business types. Meanwhile, each council member tossed in some praise for the idea of protecting the environment, then sent the measure on to the Finance and Audit Committee.

Funny, but when the resolution resurfaced at that committee meeting a week later, there had been a “small change” in the wording.

“When they see words like Kyoto Protocol, some of our members get a little alarmed,” Erdman told the finance committee members when they asked for public comments. Marty Matthews of the local Heavy Constructors Association agreed that his group had similar concerns. After all, to slash emissions below 1990 levels by 2012, businesses would have to do a little more than plant a few rain gardens.

Sure, the promise to “meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol target” is right there as the first bullet point of the U.S. Mayors’ agreement that Barnes signed in 2005. But, hey, this trendy tenderloin knows that hard targets are so last year. So, with the city’s environmental chief, Dennis Murphey, and Barnes staffer, Donovan Mouton, intent on keeping the business community happy, they replaced the pledge to meet the international standard with a vague aim to simply “establish goals to significantly reduce global-warming pollution.”

But even the watered-down draft proved too much for the Chamber of Commerce to swallow. In late July, the group posted an online action item, urging members to e-mail the city and urge council members to “allow community stakeholders, including businesses, more time to provide input before officially endorsing the policy statement in this resolution.”

The next week, the resolution made its way to the Council’s operations committee. Before that committee met, Vice Chair Chuck Eddy assured the Strip, “When we get it, we’ll pass it out of committee.” But perhaps this meathead misunderstood the councilman, because what he apparently meant to say was, We’ll pass it when the Chamber of Commerce says it’s OK.

When the committee met on August 2, a parade of supporters turned out in favor of the resolution. E-mails among environmentalists heralded the coming of a “historic moment.”

Not so fast, greenies. Chamber folks were there again, too.

“I want to say how much we appreciated the good-natured, productive work this past week with city staff,” said Kristi Wyatt, the Chamber’s senior vice president for government relations. “We feel the revised language is very positive and workable.”

What’s in the new language? A new promise to reduce greenhouse gases only so far as that effort doesn’t get in the way of “economic development, transportation options and the ability of responsible producers of energy to provide a stable and cost-effective energy supply.” (Hello, coal plants in Weston!)

Even then, Wyatt said, “I’m here to specifically ask for a little patience.”

Cripes, lady — we’re all fryin’ here. How much time do you need?

Wyatt told the committee that some business leaders on the Chamber’s 35-member board of directors wanted to take the resolution back to their companies and, she said, “run it through their technical people.” Give us two weeks, she said, and “we’ll come back with a definitive position on this matter.”

This burnt end can’t wait to see what happens to Kansas City’s version of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement after the Chamber’s “definitive position” gets written into it. Cough, cough.

Categories: News