Cities and counties take climate action


While the climate emergency is being ignored or even worsened by our current federal government, local governments across the nation are acting with appropriate urgency and increasing effectiveness.

Last Monday, the Climate Action and Resilience Committee was honored to host an online forum for innovative municipal officials working to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. With council members asking insightful questions of the expert panelists, the County of Maui is better positioned to create a just transition to restore a safe climate, in accordance with Resolution 19-209.

The committee first heard from Lylianna Allala, climate justice director for the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment, which was created two decades ago.

Seattle’s vision of climate justice includes environmental protection, access to healthy food and social equity. It provides inspiring guidance on how the council may engage in climate action while supporting a feminist economic recovery plan for COVID-19, as we committed to in Resolution 20-84.

Allala highlighted the Fresh Bucks program, which has provided over 30,000 residents more readily access fresh produce, with a $2 million impact for the local economy.

City-wide development includes an emphasis on green-building design, open space, urban forestry and clean transportation. Seattle has added more than 100 all-electric buses, installed several hundred charging stations and deployed its first electric garbage truck.

Next, the committee received a presentation from Susie Strife, director of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience for Boulder County, Colo., on the county’s 2018 Environmental Sustainability Plan, a localized compost facility and climate action through both regulation and voluntary, incentive-based programs for industries to decrease greenhouse-gas emissions.

Strife noted her community is similar to Maui County in the reverence residents have for the natural environment, a statewide commitment to renewable energy and support of regenerative agriculture.

Lara Cottingham, chief sustainability officer for the City of Houston and a former Hawaii resident, shared how Houston is making progress in climate action, despite being a vehicle-oriented city that is economically dependent on the energy sector.

Cottingham said the city’s goals are supported by an array of implementing actions, including the granting of five-year contracts to 100 percent renewable energy power city properties, establishing a new building code in 2021, enacting a “walkable places” ordinance and reducing minimum parking requirements. She emphasized community engagement and support as critical to success in these endeavors.

Caitlin McCoy, staff attorney with the Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program provided insight from her study of New York City’s building policy as reflected in local laws adopted from 2009 through 2019, including Local Law 84 requiring “benchmarking” by large buildings to report their annual energy consumption and Local Law 85 requires compliance with the most current energy standards when buildings were renovated.

The city also adopted the “80 x 50” plan in 2014, which required citywide greenhouse-gas emissions to be reduced by 80 percent by 2050.

Though New York is obviously much different than Maui County, McCoy said the city’s efforts offer leadership lessons for all municipalities:

• Use publicly owned buildings as proof-of-concept models for sustainability.

• Use benchmarking to identify areas for improvement.

• Prioritize the largest, most energy-intensive buildings for reductions.

The final presentation came from Hilary Papendick, climate change program manager for San Mateo County, Calif. Like Maui County, San Mateo County has declared a climate emergency, with a special concern for sea level rise.

San Mateo County has committed to the following actions:

• Attain carbon neutrality before 2045.

• Enact resiliency policies and plans and policies to address climate change.

• Include health, social-economic and racial-equity considerations.

• Provide risk assessment for all county-owned and operated assets.

• Include climate adaptation and resilience in its local Hazard Mitigation Plan.

• Award “resilience grants” to support private-sector mitigation efforts.

Collaborating with experts across the country provides inspiration and possible pathways forward. A replay of the meeting is available at tinyurl.com/ClimateExperts.

Please send your thoughts on the aforementioned to: car.committee@mauicounty.us.

* Kelly King holds the council seat for the South Maui residency area. She chairs the council’s Climate Action and Resilience Committee. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.


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