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Cities Can’t Go It Alone: They’ll Need State Help to Meet Paris Climate Goal

| June 10, 2017

Antarctic ice: On one of the continent's largest ice shelves (not related to the picture above), Larcen C, a segment is preparing to crack away from the shelf front and turn into one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. It may be the size of Delaware. 'Higher temperatures in the region are hastening the ice shelf’s retreat,' The New York Times reports. (Scott Ableman)

Antarctic ice: On one of the continent’s largest ice shelves (not related to the picture above), Larcen C, a segment is preparing to crack away from the shelf front and turn into one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. It may be the size of Delaware. ‘Higher temperatures in the region are hastening the ice shelf’s retreat,’ The New York Times reports. (Scott Ableman)

Just minutes after President Donald Trump announced his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris pact to fight climate change, mayors began announcing their plans to stay committed to it.


“As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future,” Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted last Thursday as Trump concluded his announcement. Six days later, over 280 mayors, from Sunnyvale, California, to Hoboken, New Jersey, had made the same pledge.

Despite Trump’s decision to withdraw, U.S. cities could achieve about 36 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions reductions required to meet America’s share of the goal international leaders set in Paris two years ago, according to research from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a nonprofit network of major cities around the world.

But many cities may be hamstrung by Republican governors and state legislatures that are less supportive of policies that would reduce fossil fuel emissions. 

[In Palm Coast, Mayor Milissa Holland has received requests from some constituents to join the pledge: “As a citizen and voter of Palm Coast, I urge you to consider adding Palm Coast to this list of mayors,” Rev. Melissa Porri wrote her on June 5. “Our children and grandchildren are depending on us to do the right thing.” Three days earlier, Angelle Madeleine had written: “As a resident of Palm Coast, I hope we will soon see your name added to this list.” Holland’s position may not be as simple as adding her name, as she is part of the Palm Coast City Council: she cannot speak for the council absent consensus there. The five members have not discussed that possibility yet.]

If the dozen major U.S. cities affiliated with C40 were to implement the emissions-reduction projects they have total control over, they would only reach 8 percent of their portion of the reductions the U.S. committed to in Paris, C40 said.

Moreover, there are some ambitious ideas, such as charging road users higher fees during rush hour, that cities can’t act on without cooperation from state and regional policymakers. State lawmakers can approve or kill an idea through legislation. They also craft much of the larger policy environment, from rules utility providers must follow to decisions about whether electric vehicle owners get a tax break. 

The fact that most big cities are controlled by Democrats, while most states are controlled by Republicans, increases the odds of political conflict. Lawmakers’ disagreements about the scope of the problem, and how to use policy to address it, often fall along partisan lines.   

Many state lawmakers are leery of city proposals that would hold back private industry, said Jon Russell of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a membership organization of state legislators who favor limited government.

For instance, if city leaders found they had authority to regulate the carbon emissions of local businesses, “I suspect you would see a snap back from the state to take away those powers,” he said.

“Stationary Sources”

Carbon dioxide is the most common gas known to trap heat and raise the planet’s temperature, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There are three main sources of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States: burning fossil fuels to create electricity; burning fossil fuels to power cars and other sources of transportation; and burning fossil fuels to power industrial processes.  

stateline logo analysisFor cities, the picture is a little different. In New York, an ultra-dense city where many people use public transportation, C40 says most emissions actually come from stationary sources like apartment buildings — carbon dioxide emissions that are a byproduct of heating and cooling buildings, for instance, or methane emitted by organic trash as it decays.

Less than 24 hours after Trump’s announcement, Peduto, a Democrat, issued an executive order that laid out the steps Pittsburgh would take to meet the Paris goal, including action items the city committed to back in 2015, when Peduto went to the Paris talks.

Pittsburgh can implement most of the steps on this list on its own, because they involve city assets. That includes plans to make sure municipal buildings and vehicles rely solely on renewable energy, divest city pension assets from fossil-fuel-based companies, and find ways to recycle and reuse city waste so nothing gets sent to a landfill.

Retrofitting city infrastructure to make it more energy-efficient is a no-brainer, mayors say. “These decisions make financial sense,” said Annise Parker, a Democrat and former mayor of Houston. She says that she always made sure her constituents knew the decisions she was making, such as replacing lightbulbs at more than 2,000 intersections, saved the city money. The lightbulb change went on to save Houston about $10,000 a day.

Some of the other action items on Peduto’s list, however, require help from others. The city must work with the local utility to make the electrical grid more efficient, for instance. It needs local business owners to buy in to its efforts to make sure all buildings in the city use less energy.

That’s a common theme for cities that have made grand plans to fight climate change. Twenty-five cities have pledged to work with utilities to make sure all the electricity used within city limits eventually comes from solar, wind and other renewable sources, for instance.

Such promises, like the Paris agreement itself, are not binding rules and regulations. They’re goals. The point is to make a grand commitment, and then work with partners — local businesses, nonprofits, foundations — to meet it, says Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities, a nonprofit that prepares cities to face environmental and other shocks.

The Role of States

The Pittsburgh mayor’s office argues that nothing on the executive order requires legislative approval. But other cities have found that they need help — or at least noninterference — from states and the federal government to move forward on elements of their climate action plans.

Cities need outside funding for new rail lines and other major transit projects, for instance. “Any construction project requires federal and state and local sources of money,” said Cooper Martin, program director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

Click on the chart for larger view.

Transit agencies often aren’t city-run, requiring city leaders to get buy-in from other policymakers. And ambitious plans to limit vehicle emissions citywide may need legislative approval.

Then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg came up against the limits of his power in 2008, when he tried to get legislators to agree to raise tolls paid by drivers coming into lower Manhattan during the workday — a congestion pricing policy that has reduced traffic and emissions in London and Singapore.   

The proposal got nowhere. State lawmakers who represented New York City’s outer boroughs and suburbs opposed the increase, saying it would hurt their constituents. Then-Bronx Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., a Democrat, said at the time that it was “morally reprehensible and unconscionable” to charge Bronx residents higher costs for driving into Manhattan without also guaranteeing no transit price increases.

State law also shapes city plans to adopt more solar and wind energy. Atlanta, a partner of 100 Resilient Cities, is funding the installation of solar panels on city buildings partly through a financing scheme called a power purchase agreement — a contract the state government began allowing in 2015. “Without that, we would not be able to finance the city solar program,” said Stephanie Stuckey, Atlanta’s chief resilience officer. 

State lawmakers and regulators decide if solar panel owners can sell the electricity they generate back to the grid and how much they get paid for doing so. If the price is too low, it won’t make financial sense for homes and businesses to put solar panels on their property. Utility regulators can also block cities from creating their own incentives, such as a rebate for installing a solar system.  

And although cities have substantial control over zoning and land use, state lawmakers have the final say. Last year, Arizona lawmakers banned cities from requiring local businesses to track and disclose their buildings’ energy and water use — a requirement Phoenix had been considering.

California, Washington state and several cities, including Pittsburgh, require certain privately owned buildings to measure their energy use and compare it to the average for similar buildings. Asking property owners to track their energy and water use can nudge them to find efficiencies and lower emissions.

The preemption law Arizona legislators passed said that requiring property owners to measure and report their energy use was “a matter of statewide concern,” and that small businesses would be hampered by the cost of compliance and inconsistent rules across the state.

Martin of the National League of Cities says that cities temper their plans to counter climate change in states where lawmakers aren’t likely to be supportive. “You see a lot of proposals that might have been bolder, or might have gone a little bit farther, if the city had had its way,” he said. 

–Sophie Quinton, Stateline

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13 Responses for “Cities Can’t Go It Alone: They’ll Need State Help to Meet Paris Climate Goal”

  1. Ws says:

    As a citizen of Palm Coast I opt out of the London goal. Leave us alone thank you very much!

  2. Frank says:

    And yet our traffic lights are still not synchronized. Nothing but hot air is coming out of their mouths.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Go for it. Idiots. Let China and India pollute more while the U.S. reduces its pollution. Pay the offenders billions. And reduce man made global warming by .002 degrees over 10 years. See what it gets you. While you are losing your jobs. LOL.

  4. Veteran says:

    Climate change is BS.

  5. Stanley Wolak says:

    If you are so concerned about Global warming just think how hot this world would get if North Korea sets off a Nuclear Bomb at the USA and the rest of the world.WAKE UP AMERICA!!! Start paying more attention to World Current EVENTS! The snow flakes of this country are the only ones who should be worrying about Global Warming, because I’m sure it will cause them to melt, I hope!.

  6. Anonymous says:

    liberal nonsense

  7. Yeah says:

    How many watt hours are Used by website server farms spewing drivel all over the Internet? Would we limit that to prevent global warming?

  8. Veteran says:

    Totally agree Stanley Wolak. Let’s concentrate on ISIS, jobs and the economy.

  9. Sherry says:

    Not that any of the trump supports care about “Scientific FACTS”. . . but just in case. . . take a read regarding what NASA has to say about climate change: https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

  10. RigidPrinciples says:

    Socialism is the root cause of global warming. If you want to minimize anything “man-made”, then simply minimize man. Socialism + open borders = even worse global warming. Want to end global warming? End socialism while at the same time ending the creation and consumption of all energy types except for nuclear power. While there are a few people left out there who have fallen for the whole “clean energy” with wind and solar idea, anyone who actually lives out west, knows that both of those energy types are colossal wastes of money. Only 1 out of a 1000 wind mills are ever actually turning at any given time. Whenever you hear folks pushing wind/solar, know that they know that equates to natural gas. The current mentality is “coal is bad”, so folks argue for wind/solar because it sounds good at the time, but because of socialism wind/solar cannot even provide .001% of the power needs of the rust of earth we call Homo sapiens. So 100% of the time wind/solar equates to natural gas. And we all know how good it is for the environment to actually obtain all of that natural gas. Anyone want to guess which industry is pushing wind/solar so much? Anyone? You guessed it…the natural gas industry. Anyways…until we end the whole idea of hitting the lottery by figuring out the great mystery of how to ejaculate and produce offspring, then we will continue to be plagued by the issues caused by overpopulation. I can assure you going to the polls and pulling the level for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is not going to make a difference. Democrats and Republicans are both socialist parties. Obamacare and Medicare are in alignment with the same socialist principles. In my humble opinion, a little bit of socialism is just as bad as a lot of socialism.

  11. Sherry says:

    @ RidgidPrinciples. . . have you ever even been to a Socialist country? Please cite FACTUAL EVIDENCE that Socialism is the “root cause of global warming”.

    Now for some actual FACTS about Solar and Wind Energy from Australia:

    *It would take only around 0.3 per cent of the world’s land area to supply all of our electricity needs via solar power.
    *The area of roof space available in Australia is enough to provide all of the nation’s electricity, using solar panels.
    *Weight for weight, advanced silicon based solar cells generate the same amount of electricity over their lifetime as nuclear fuel rods, without the hazardous waste. All the components in a solar panel can be recycled, whereas nuclear waste remains a threat for thousands of years.

    *Solar and wind power systems have 100 times better lifetime energy yield than either nuclear or fossil energy system per tonne of mined materials

    *The amount of energy that goes into creating solar panels is paid back through clean electricity production within anywhere from 1 – 2 years, depending on where they are used. This compares with a serviceable life of decades.

    *The theoretical limit for silicon based solar cells is 29% conversion efficiency. With the addition of solar concentrators, The efficiency of photovoltaics is eventually likely to rise above 60 per cent.

    *The Earth receives more energy from the sun in an hour than is used in the entire world in one year
    120,000 terawatts of power from the Sun flows through to the Earth – 10,000 times more that flows through our industrial civilisation at any given time.

    *There are now nearly 1.4 million home solar power systems installed in Australia
    *The retail value of the electricity generated by small solar power systems in Australia as at April 2015 is estimated at AUD $4.6 million a day – or more than $1.68 billion a year.

    *Wind is a form of solar power, created by the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface.
    * At the end of 2014, worldwide capacity of wind turbines in operation was over 369,553 MW
    *Solar radiation and related energy resources including wind and wave power, hydro and biomass make up 99.97% of the available renewable energy on Earth

    *The world’s largest wind turbine in commercial operation is the 8MW Vestas V-164 . A single turbine can power 7,500 homes.

    * Global annual photovoltaic installations increased from just 21 megawatts in 1985, to around 40,000 megawatts in 2014

    *Manufacturing solar cells produces 90% less pollutants than conventional fossil fuel technologies
    *The solar industry creates 200 to 400 jobs in research, development, manufacturing and installation for every 10 megawatts of solar power generated annually.

    *Contrary to popular belief, solar panels can still work in cloudy conditions, although output is compromised
    *Silicon, the major component of a solar cell, is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust (about 28% by mass) after oxygen.

    *A 5kW solar panel system is large enough to produce the electricity requirements of an average 4 person Australian household.

    *By December 2014, 19 per cent of Australian households used either rooftop solar panels or solar hot water systems; up from just 5% in 2011

  12. Becky says:

    Peer Reviewed. Impact of Current Climate Proposals.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1758-5899.12295/full

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