Over at top-notch young Seattle news site Publicola, Erica Barnett brings news of what could be a momentous decision by the Seattle City Council: to set about making Seattle a carbon-neutral city.

From the Council’s 2010 Priorities:

CARBON NEUTRALITY
Adopt a carbon neutral goal for Seattle with specific milestones and implementation steps, along with a plan for adaptation to the effects of climate change.

No specific timeline is mentioned but sponsors Mike O’Brien & Richard Conlin have talked about 2020 or 2030. The first time I heard about the idea was from Alex Steffen, who challenged the city to adopt the goal at his two-night Town Hall engagement (you really should watch the videos at that link). For more on what it would mean, see “Defining a ‘Carbon Neutral’ City” on Worldchanging.

I thought newly elected mayor Mike McGinn’s response to the Council struck just the right note:

“Let’s be very clear,” he said. “I support carbon neutrality as a goal. But we’ve been down this path of politicians setting ambitious goals and not following through before”–a reference to his predecessor Greg Nickels’ vow to reduce emissions below 1990 levels, in line with the Kyoto Protocols, by 2012.

“We have a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we’re building a bigger 520, we’re building an auto-only facility on our waterfront, we’re not funding the bike master plan,” which is on track to be underfunded by 70 percent. “The question isn’t what the goals should be. The question should be, how do you get there?”

Exactly. This is a welcome statement of commitment from the Council, but the real test will be the individual battles on the ground. Will the Council support the Mayor in his power struggles with Olympia for local control over transportation infrastructure decisions? Will they help him overcome the neighborhood NIMBYs? Targets are noble but they’re relatively easy. We’ll see if McGinn and the Council can get it together to really make it happen.

Sure would be cool though.