Connecting state and local government leaders
Collaboration between mayors and organizations will make or break emissions targets.
WASHINGTON — U.S. mayors, throughout their 2018 winter meeting in D.C., stressed the importance of coalition building in the effort to maintain global climate change mitigation goals.
President Trump jeopardized those goals when he withdrew the country, one of the world’s largest carbon polluters, from the international Paris Agreement nearly eight months ago.
Carmel, Indiana Mayor Jim Brainard, a Republican, sought to distance his party from its anti-environment, energy dominance agenda at the federal level—calling it a “passing phenomenon.”
“Mayors, without any help from the federal government … can make certain the United States meets their [climate] goals,” Brainard said, during a Thursday meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Energy Independence & Climate Protection Task Force he co-chairs. “I think there's a special responsibility that falls to people in the Republican Party right now to get out and explain that.”
The Paris Agreement aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to between 26 and 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025 with the current decrease at 12 percent. Mayors are under no illusions they could easily miss the mark if the Trump administration reverses course on environmental policies like the Clean Power Plan.
Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is working to withdraw and rewrite the plan after implementation was delayed in court, with the public comment deadline being April 26. The public comment period on potential, future rulemaking to alter greenhouse gas emission limits on existing power plants ends Feb. 26.
“What you’re seeing in local governments throughout the country are investments in electric transit buses and trains … the deployment of electric charging stations, efforts to dramatically increase deployments of solar through [property-assessed clean energy] and other financing programs,” San José, California Mayor Sam Liccardo told Route Fifty in an interview. “These are the kinds of initiatives that move the needle in the battle against climate change, regardless of what this administration or this Congress does.”
Los Angeles’ purchase of 95 buses on its way toward an emissions-free fleet was praised on multiple occasions because Mayor Eric Garcetti engaged sheet metal workers and the environmental justice community in reaching a deal that can be easily replicated elsewhere.
To the north, Toronto is similarly building out an emissions-free fleet that’s made entirely in Canada and ensures 25 percent of the resulting jobs go to local residents, while Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan tracks the jobs its climate initiatives and companies are creating.
"Cities and regions are indispensable partners of a grand coalition toward the full and rapid implementation of the Paris Agreement,” said Bonn, Germany Mayor Ashok-Alexander Sridharan, a guest at USCM. “Local and regional action will help close the emission gap.”
Sridharan praised Des Moines, Iowa; New York City; Pittsburgh; California; Oregon; and Washington for sending officials to the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference in his city, and was pleased to see the Chicago Climate Charter signed a week later.
In September, UCSM’s Energy Standing Committee met in New Bedford, Massachusetts and agreed on a set of principles for cities like diversifying sources of renewable energy and experimenting with energy generation.
“In view of the natural disasters that our country had last year, there is a lot of work to do in stabilizing the [energy] grid, making the grid more resilient and doing it with renewable sources,” said Mayor John Mitchell. “We believe strongly that Congress has a role to play in supporting those efforts.”
Mitchell further predicted that the offshore wind industry is about to emerge on the U.S. stage in a big way. For the past 25 years the industry has been maturing in Northern Europe, which boasts 84 utility-scale offshore wind farms to the U.S.’s 0.
Wind farms account for 50,000 direct jobs across Germany, the U.K. and Denmark, and soon they’ll be found of the coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Honolulu, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes.
As the technology has evolved it’s become cost-competitive with fossil fuels, Mitchell said. Because offshore wind is deployed from ports and cities, mayors will play a key role in scaling reliance—as is the case with most other mitigation efforts.
“There are practical solutions available both locally and globally that are vital to climate change, to environmental protection and to reducing our pollution,” said Salt Lake City, Utah Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “Collaboration will only speed up deployment across this country, and we need to seize this moment together."
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C. Mitch Herckis contributed to this report.