Champion of transit, climate initiatives picked for HUD post

Obama’s choice to be Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development is the latest member of his uber-green team.

In a statement announcing his selection, Ron Sims, the county executive of King County, Washington says his work “highlights the connection between urban development and curbing global warming.” Greenwire (subs. req’d) has full story:

Ron Sims said his work in Seattle He also cited “HUD’s critical role in protecting our economic prowess and improving the quality of life for the residents of our metropolitan centers while cutting emissions and preparing us for a warmer world.”

Sims’ nomination follows Senate confirmation of HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, a green building proponent who oversaw New York City’s $7.5 billion affordable housing plan as commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. He is credited with championing energy-efficient affordable housing.

Obama’s picks for leadership roles in several agencies, including HUD, suggest that his environmental agenda will permeate throughout the federal government as agencies look for ways to incorporate it into their central missions.

Sims has made a name for himself as an environmentally conscious government official. He points to his work to reduce traffic congestion by focusing on encouraging walking, biking and transit in King County. As a part of this, the county transit agency, Sound Transit, is developing a light rail system, expanded regional bus service and commuter train service to surrounding communities.

Sims has also pushed for new fuel technologies; his county is the largest purchaser of biofuels in the state. He has protected more than 100,000 acres of green space in King County and increased the county’s trails to 175 miles.

“Here in King Country, he’s been a leader on the issues of climate change and the environment, and he’s been an advocate for transit, as well as being particularly passionate about low-income housing,” said Sudha Nandagopal, spokeswoman for Washington Conservation Voters.

Nandagopal pointed to his efforts to make affordable housing close to where people work as a way to reduce air pollution while providing support for low-income families.

Sims’ focus on affordable housing has won initial support from some urban-development experts. Jorge Vanegas, director of Texas A&M’s Center for Housing and Urban Development, said Sims seems to be a positive choice because of his experience with urban environmental issues.

“You cannot deal with aspects of housing and development issues without having an awareness and sensitivity to environmental issues,” he said.

Vanegas cautioned that the push to develop in ways that are environmentally sound often meets stiff opposition from a variety of groups, meaning that Sims faces enormous challenges within HUD, a sprawling bureaucracy with a nearly $39 billion budget and 8,500 employees.

“He’s one of those that could easily polarize people, but maybe that’s not so much him but what he does,” Vanegas said….

Jason Hartke, director of advocacy and public policy for the U.S. Green Building Council, agreed that Sims faces a tough road but said he is a leader of a growing movement of people supporting the notion that green and affordable housing can help improve the bottom line.

“Across the country, folks are embracing the idea that the transition to a green economy will strengthen the overall economy,” Hartke said. “Over time, he [Sims] has shown these are proven opportunities that help the triple bottom” by protecting the environment, strengthening the economy and preserving affordable housing.

Born in Spokane, Wash., Sims graduated from Central Washington University and then worked on consumer protection issues at the Washington state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission.

Sims became King County executive in 1996. King County is the 13th largest county in the nation, with 1.8 million people. The county government employs more than 13,000 workers and has an annual budget of $4.4 billion.

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7 Responses to Champion of transit, climate initiatives picked for HUD post

  1. Frank says:

    But have they all paid their taxes? We don’t want to get our hopes up prematurely.

  2. paulm says:

    I think its time we start concentrating on survival here on earth rather than spend resources and brain-power exploring places like mars…

    Google Earth provides dizzying 3D views of Mars

  3. Aaron d says:

    Being from Seattle, I know to some extent the work he’s done. I can say that Seattle is one of the most bike friendly towns I’ve seen. Bike lanes are on most major streets, and if you’re in biking distance, you can definitely take the bus just as easily. I’m moving to LA soon, which should bring an entirely new experience riding to work. Or so I’ve been told…

    Anyhow, congrats to Ron and the Obama administration. Great choice IMO.

  4. I live in Seattle also, and I can attest to Ron Sim’s green credentials. One interesting thing is he actually opposed the Sound Transit light rail initiative that recently passed easily in eco-conscious Washington State. He felt the money should have been spent on more buses rather than the light rail. I’m not sure what that tells us, other than that he prefers buses over light rail, which I think is unwise.

  5. Joan says:

    I am not familiar with his work, but it seems as if Obama is living up to his promises so far, which in itself is enough to keep the optimism going.

  6. red says:

    “I think its time we start concentrating on survival here on earth rather than spend resources and brain-power exploring places like mars…”

    This is off-topic, but I’ll make a few points.

    1. Exploring Mars and similar places is highly relevant to survival here on Earth. Even if you limit “survival on Earth” to climate issues and science, it’s still relevant. The history of the mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere on Mars alone is a good case study to compare to the Earth. Then there’s the runaway greenhouse on Venus … those are just the tips of the iceberg, so to speak.

    2. The technologies to explore Mars are highly relevant to monitoring the Earth. They use the same launchers, the same types of satellite subsystems, etc. Push a remote sensing technology for Mars and you can use it here, too. Again, Earth remote sensing is just an example. There are many others in the environment and energy areas that these efforts encourage.

    3. There’s no reason why we can’t do both. I don’t think it would be wise, for example, to discourage music with lyrics that are irrelevant to survival on Earth. It’s not an either-or situation.

    4. The Google Earth 5.0 rollout that you mentioned is a really bad example to criticize on a climate basis. In addition to the Mars features on GE 5.0, there are major new features related to the Earth’s oceans that may bring “GIS to the masses” for the marine environment like GE already does for the land. I imagine Joe would be interested in these. There are also features to allow historical views of Earth imagery. That should make it easy for the public to see for themselves what has changed over the last few decades in snow and ice cover, etc. See for more. It’s a huge opportunity for making Earth environment data accessible to the public, and it’s easy. On the political front, I imagine most readers of this blog would be more favorably inclined if they know that Al Gore was in the GE 5.0 rollout.

    5. Even if the Mars features were irrelevant (which they aren’t), they help draw interest to the other GE features, which is of benefit to the “survival on Earth” effort. From a more general perspective, exploration like that on Mars gets the public and especially students interested in science. Most of them don’t actually end up working on Mars exploration, so their talents become available for energy and environment work. This effect isn’t dominant now like it was in the era of Sputnik and Apollo, but it’s still there. Larry Page and Sergei Brin of Google are probably examples of this (after all, consider the ticket to the Space Station, the Google Lunar X PRIZE, the SpaceShipOne replica at Google Headquarters, etc). Elon Musk (Tesla, Solar City) is another example, and he specifically has the goal of opening up Mars with his commercial rockets.

    6. On the other hand, ceasing to explore physical and intellectual frontiers (of which Mars represents both) is not a good idea for any civilization that hopes to survive.

    7. Google has pretty good environment and energy credentials.

    Now, if you criticized NASA’s plans to build government rockets to go to the Moon and some decade go to Mars with astronauts at over a billion dollars per launch, I might agree with you. I’m not fond of the Shuttle or Ares, and I think the government should get out of the launch business which is not exactly one of its core competencies and use commercial launch services (which would again be very helpful to NASA and NOAA environment satellite efforts). I’m also not fond of cost-overruns like NASA has on its big new Mars rover when we haven’t gotten the benefits of the type of smaller Mars rovers we already have built and could now crank out for pennies on the dollar. But criticizing Google Earth Mars features doesn’t make sense to me at all.

  7. Karl says:

    Also he is a co-chair of the Transportation for America coalition (or was) that advocates for a dramatic shift in our transportation funding priorities. Hopefully he’ll have some kind of impact on the upcoming transportation bill.