Grants to grow green
Cities and counties are implementing climate protection initiatives ranging from emissions reductions to energy-efficient construction. More than 500 mayors have signed an agreement to lower emissions of carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — in their communities to below 1990 levels by 2012.
Despite that progress, local governments would like assistance in reducing their carbon footprint and have been working with the U.S. Congress to enact legislation that would create grants to help fund their initiatives. “I believe it is crucial that cities have the means to implement the plans we are striving to fulfill,” says Tulsa, Okla., Mayor Kathy Taylor.
The Senate energy bill that passed recently includes a measure that would establish a block grant for local governments to fund energy-efficiency initiatives. In addition, an Energy and Environment Block Grant Act also was introduced recently in the House by Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., and is expected to be considered soon by a key committee.
Wynn’s bill asks for a formula-based grant scheme similar to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to fund local initiatives, including building and home energy conservation programs, fuel conservation programs, support for alternative fuels, building retrofits to increase energy efficiency, “smart growth” planning and zoning, and alternative energy programs.
“The creation of a CDBG-styled federal program to help implement the city of the future is a necessary step in order to live up to the spirit of the [U.S. Conference of Mayors’] Climate Protection Agreement,” Taylor says.
Trenton, N.J., Mayor Douglas Palmer said in a statement that the bill “will result in actions by communities … throughout the country that will seriously begin to address the global warming crises before this nation and the world.”
Pat Hogan, an energy analyst, says that with the significant number of local governments that are voicing support, the bill will at least be taken into serious consideration. Hogan, a fellow at the non-partisan Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says federal support is important because, “while cities and towns can do a lot, they cannot reach the economies of scale that are necessary to reach the required reductions.”
At the local level, Hogan says, these initiatives can serve as model programs that work. The obvious benefits from green projects include reducing local air pollution and saving money through reduced annual energy and fuel costs, he says.
Maricopa County, Ariz., Supervisor Don Stapley, who serves as first vice president of the Washington-based National Association of Counties, says that the organization has been working with federal officials to develop a “national contract” with a manufacturer to produce hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles and sell them to local governments across the country, expediting the conversion of their fleets.
“We could become proactive, not just talk about it,” Stapley says. But, he adds, federal involvement is necessary for this and other initiatives, such as tax incentives for manufacturers. Without that, he says, it will be too expensive to move forward.
The author is the Washington correspondent for American City & County.