Green cities need more federal help
To date, 840 mayors have vowed to make their communities “green” by signing the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors’ (USCM) Climate Protection Agreement. Officials who sign the agreement commit to addressing climate change while prompting state and federal level leaders to take action. American City & County talked with Trenton, N.J., Mayor and USCM President Douglas Palmer about the challenges of reducing carbon emissions and the role of the federal government.
Q: How can cities begin reducing emissions in their communities?
A: They need to understand that this is a real priority. We have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, also, [there is] the high cost of energy. Each city has to find [its] own way [beginning] with the engagement of their own citizens, [and] business and community leaders. We really can only achieve as much as our citizens are willing to do and support. When I talk to certain groups, [I discuss buses] idling in front of the schools [that release emissions], [areas] where you have less trees, or [power] plants that aren’t running efficiently, and [their impact on] the environment. Then, they can begin to understand why [cities] need to plant more trees and look at retrofitting buses. I can’t tell [a] corporation that they have to be energy efficient and go green if my own city buildings aren’t operating [in that manner].
Q: Many local governments have reiterated the importance of the federal government in helping cities reduce emissions. What role should the federal government play?
A: We still don’t have the broad public consensus at the national level to act, not in the same degree that we see on the local level. We don’t have the necessary resources to do a lot of the retrofitting and these things that we’re talking about. That’s why it’s important that the federal government really step up and help. First, [there should be] a national policy [that addresses climate change]. But, one of the most important acts they can take is to fund our Energy Block Grant at the authorized level of $2 billion annually. This will help expand ongoing local initiatives and also jumpstart other efforts in communities [that] are thinking about how to get started.
Q: What efforts are taking place in Trenton that might be beneficial to other cities?
A: In Trenton, I talk about green jobs and green collar careers. I came back from our [Mayors Climate Protection Summit] in Seattle where we talked about polar bears and the ice caps melting and how areas are going to be flooded. But, if I go back to Trenton and tell [residents that] we’ve really got to be concerned about [those issues], they would think I was crazy. So, I [created] the Trenton Green Initiative, which is made up of faith-based, government and non-profit officials and citizens [who] talk about something that [residents] can understand, and, that is creating green collar jobs through clean energy [and] investments in technology.
We’ve changed lighting [in our buildings]. We’re looking at our carbon footprint and determining how we can reduce [it]. We have almost 3,000 [traffic signals] in Trenton that [are] going to LED. We’ll save about $120,000 a year, and a million tons of carbon a year, not to mention maintenance costs. Mayors are starting by [making their own buildings energy-efficient]. Once we do that, we [can engage] other governmental entities, the business community and citizens.