Green Plan takes milder approach

Charleston's Green Plan goes to City Council tonight, detailing actions the city could take to address climate change.

The Charleston Green Plan, detailing local steps the city could take to address climate change, returns to a skeptical City Council today with some of its more controversial points removed.

Gone is the suggestion to inspect people's garbage for recyclable materials. And never mind the part about taxing vehicles based on how much they pollute.

When City Council first considered the plan in December, there was division about whether to vote for a resolution endorsing the document. This time, City Council will be asked to accept the plan without a vote.

Mayor Joe Riley has asked that council "receive the plan" with the understanding that council could vote at a later date on any ordinances required to implement the recommendations.

The plan itself is not legislation and has no force of law, but a council committee has been proposed to study ordinances that could follow.

"If we don't develop sustainable practices, then our civilization -- whether you believe the climate change data or not -- is at stake," Riley said in December at a council meeting.

When the Green Plan was brought before City Council that month, opponents that included members of the Charleston Tea Party decried the document as a plan for new, intrusive regulations.

Some opponents said they thought climate change, the reason for the plan, to be a hoax.

City Council was divided then about whether to adopt a resolution in support of the plan and decided to postpone action until this month so that they could finish work on the city budget and other matters.

The centerpiece of the Green Plan is the development of a city initiative to help residents finance energy-efficient improvements to their homes and businesses. That idea, similar to a plan that South Carolina electric co-ops are pursuing, has been overshadowed by controversial parts of the plan.

"The energy-efficiency partnership is probably one of the best things we can do," said Brian Sheehan, the city's Director of Sustainability. "It's an element of the plan, but I think that if nothing happened with the Green Plan, we would still have that resource to work with."

With a reported 800 volunteers participating in committee meetings over the course of two years, the 181-page plan became somewhat of an environmental wish-list, sprinkled with policy suggestions beyond the usual scope of South Carolina municipal government.

Examples include the suggestion that vehicles with high emissions should be taxed at a greater rate than other vehicles, the idea of inspecting garbage for recycling and the suggestion that impact fees could be used to encourage certain development and building practices.

All of those proposals, and others singled out for criticism by the Charleston Tea Party, have been deleted or revised.

The plan no longer suggests that a statewide tax on real estate sales be created in order to fund local tree-planting programs, and a call to reduce the use of wood-burning fireplaces also has been deleted.

"Every request (for a change) that was made to the green committee in writing has been addressed without exception," said committee Chairman James Meadors, a local construction company owner.

When the Green Plan was first unveiled, the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors criticized what it described as "mandates on private individuals" and "proposed tax increases," and called for a financial impact study.

The Realtors particularly disliked any suggestion that the city might develop a fee related to the impact developments in different areas might have, they objected to a proposal to disclose utility bill information to potential home buyers and chafed at a proposed requirement that businesses in the city have mandatory waste-reduction and recycling plans.

Like the parts of the plan the Charleston Tea Party singled out, the portions that drew fire from the real estate industry were revised or deleted.

"We look forward to (City Council) recognizing the Charleston Green Committee tomorrow night, and then helping them move forward with regulations that are helpful for everybody," Ryan Castle, the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors' government affairs director, said Monday.

Among those who attended the City Council meeting in December and objected to the Green Plan was Craig McLaughlin, who ran for council last year but lost to incumbent Kathleen Wilson.

"I just don't think we need it," McLaughlin said Monday. "It's government going where government doesn't need to go."

"I would love to save energy," he said. "I run around the house turning off lights and setting the thermostat to 65 degrees, but not because of the government tells me to."

The Charleston Tea Party has been rallying members to attend today's council meeting and so have the supporters of the Green Plan.