Report: The Country's Top Cities for Clean Energy Policy

New York City took first place for the first time, thanks largely to a package of environmental legislation approved last year that requires large buildings to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

New York City took first place for the first time, thanks largely to a package of environmental legislation approved last year that requires large buildings to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions. Shutterstock


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New York City, Boston and Seattle top the 2020 Clean Energy Scorecard, which ranks 100 cities on local efforts to implement clean energy policy. But only 20 cities are on track to meet their own community climate goals.

New York City ranks first for local efforts to implement clean energy policy, according to an analysis of 100 cities released Tuesday.

The city’s first-place ranking was “spurred in part by a new law ensuring upgrades to many inefficient buildings,” according to the 2020 Clean Energy Scorecard, an annual report compiled by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis and San Francisco round out the top five cities. The report, first released in 2016, examines local energy efficiency efforts in five categories, including building and transportation policies, energy and water utilities, community-wide initiatives and local government operations. The 100 cities—up from 75 last year—include the “central cities” of both the largest and “next-largest” metropolitan statistical areas, ranging from population centers (Washington D.C. and Los Angeles) to smaller cities (McAllen, Texas and Toledo, Ohio).

City-level efforts to transition to clean energy are “more important now than ever,” the nonprofit organization said in a statement. “During the Covid-19 recession, many people are spending more time at home. They are seeing their utility bills rise and their pocketbooks shrink. Clean energy can create good, local jobs, cut energy bills, reduce harmful pollution, build resilience in the wake of extreme weather and lessen the impacts of climate change.”

New York City didn’t place in the top five last year but took the top spot in 2020 largely due to the Climate Mobilization Act, a package of legislation approved by the city council last spring. The initiative centers on a requirement that buildings larger than 25,000 square feet cut climate emissions by 40% over the next 10 years, which the report labeled a “cutting-edge” policy tool. 

Washington, D.C. and St. Louis were the only other two cities in the rankings to implement similar building standards. St. Louis, which adopted its own Building Energy Performance Standard five months ago, was one of two “most-improved” cities cited in the report, moving from 36th last year to 28th now (St. Paul, Minnesota, was the other, climbing to 16th from 31st).

Other notable cities include Minneapolis, which earned the most points for “integrating equity into its clean energy planning and program delivery.” The report highlighted in particular a city initiative that establishes “green zones” led by community residents who advise the city on the “implementation and evaluation of climate action work plans.” The city was also credited for working with utility providers to offer programs for low-income customers and prioritizes transit-oriented development, ensuring that all neighborhoods have access to clean and efficient transportation.

Nationwide, 63 cities have community-wide climate goals, and 20 of those are on track to achieve them, nine more than last year, the report said. But there’s more to be done, it concluded.

“If municipalities are to scale up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions broadly, more cities throughout the rankings will need more comprehensive policy accomplishments,” it said. “The challenge going forward for many communities is to prioritize the energy efficiency and renewable energy activities that will have the most impact … Each city will need to develop or refine its own plan for advancing efficiency and clean energy based on its own needs and priorities.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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