20 january 2017

U.S. mayors to Trump on climate: 'Don't get in our way'

Erika Bolstad, E&E News reporter, Published: Friday, January 20, 2017

They're starting to sound a little cocky, the mayors of America.

But they truly believe they will be the ones to lead on climate change in America, especially if one of Donald Trump's first acts as president is to yank the United States out of its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If so, cities like Los Angeles, Seattle and New York are prepared to pick up the slack.

"The federal government can't force me to make my buildings more polluting and emit more energy or use more water," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) said yesterday. "They can't prevent us from taking our own utility and completely getting off coal, which is what we're doing.

"So I think we have a lot of power to exercise," he said.

Garcetti is joined in that sentiment by other U.S. mayors, including some climate-friendly Republicans, who gathered in Washington, D.C., this week at the annual winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Mayors from around the country spent the week trying to anticipate how they'll interact with the incoming Trump administration. Immigration and repeal of the Affordable Care Act top their list of concerns, but so does climate.

"It's not just major cities in America," said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D). "More and more mayors, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, are starting to pay attention here."

Mayors from both parties were quick to point out that climate issues, whether they involve reducing emissions or adapting to climate impacts, transcend partisanship. Any mayor who isn't thinking about the efficiencies of LED lighting or electric vehicle charging stations for residents isn't a good mayor, said Garcetti.

There's also a business and job creation case to made for acting on climate, said Jim Brainard, the Republican mayor of Carmel, Ind. That's how they plan to frame their work to the new administration at least, Brainard said.

Their authority over building codes and, in some locales, utilities is one of the first places to start, said Brainard, who is best known as an international advocate for traffic roundabouts. His city, with more than 100 of the roundabouts, has made the case that they reduce emissions by reducing idling time and cut down on electricity needed for traffic lights.

"These things can be done in a nonpartisan way if we focus on the right issues and look at alternative ways to get to the same endpoint," he said.

He and other mayors are encouraging the Trump administration to consider green jobs among the high-paying jobs of the future. Otherwise, those jobs will go to China, South Korea or Europe, Garcetti said. Energy growth might be even bigger than digital technology growth, he said, and the Trump administration ought to take note.

"I think we've taken some steps backwards on some very important things that are clearly about the Trump agenda: for national security and for manufacturing jobs, for batteries, for electric vehicles, for solar, wind power," Garcetti said. "We can cede those to only being done in other places, or we can try to retain those jobs here."

To a degree, they're waiting to see what happens in the first hours, weeks and months of the Trump administration. The cleanup of Boston Harbor got its start under the George H.W. Bush administration, Walsh said, so he's hopeful that the Trump administration might prove open to environmental issues.

"I think that the administration's not really sure where they are in a lot of different areas, where they're going to go," he said. "I think over the next three months, we're going to get a better snapshot of where we're going as a national government."

But the mayors acknowledged that they're uneasy about how the administration will respond to the growing adaptive measures needed to address the consequences of increased precipitation, heat events and other possible effects of climate change. In California, in particular, drought is also an issue.

"It's really to be determined," Garcetti said. "We don't know who our allies and collaborators will be.

"I guess part of our message is, 'Don't get in our way.'"

>>> Back to list