Opinion: Local & Green. Climate Action In The New Year. A Tale Of Two Cities.
This column appeared previously in the Amherst Bulletin.
There are three things towns need in order to take bold climate action: staff, money and commitment.
Adequate staffing is needed in operating budgets to actually implement climate action plans at a meaningful pace. Climate action requires planning, organizing and implementing by professional level staff. The more staff, the faster action can take place.
Secondly, dedicated funding is needed in capital budgets to meet towns’ greenhouse gas emission reduction goals — enabling the transition from fossil fuel infrastructure in our buildings, vehicles and electricity to renewable energy — as well as other climate actions.
Importantly, capital funding is also needed to provide matching funds for grants to implement climate actions. There are at least 12 categories of funding newly available to local governments through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), some of which will require matching capital funds. Other state and federal grant programs also require matching funds. These are all opportunities to bring money into the town to accomplish our climate goals, opportunities towns don’t want to miss.
Commitment is probably the most important piece and is evidenced by how much staff and funds are dedicated to taking action and how fast it is taking place.
Northampton has set an admirable standard. As recommended by the mayor, it set up this month a dedicated climate mitigation capital stabilization fund, with $3 million to start. This will enable the provision of matching funds for grants coming available via the IRA for climate mitigation. Northampton is also considering hiring a climate emergency director.
The mayor also announced that Northampton is accelerating its goal of reaching carbon neutrality from 2050 to 2030 underlining its commitment to accelerating climate action.
In Amherst, the Town Council adopted climate action goals in 2019 that require the town to reduce its greenhouse gas from 2017 emissions by 25% by 2025, by 50% by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2050.
The town created a Climate Action, Adaptation and Resilience Plan (CAARP), in June of 2021 and started implementing prioritized parts of that plan in 2022. The Town Council sets climate action goals for the Town Manager yearly and evaluates him on the accomplishment of those goals. The November Local and Green column covered the evaluation for 2022.
This week, the council voted on town manager goals for 2023, most of which were projects the manager reported on in 2022.
Since continual progress needs to be made in order to meet our climate action goals, new initiatives were added to the town manager’s list. They include supporting the Town Council in developing a waste-hauler bylaw to offer universal curbside compost pick-up and a pay-as-you-throw fee structure, a goal supported by many organizations throughout town and endorsed by the town Board of Health and Energy and Climate Action Committee.
Other new goals included incorporating the bike and pedestrian plan put forth by the Transportation Advisory Committee into ongoing road and sidewalk repairs and developing a plan to increase the pace of retrofitting multi-family complexes for energy efficiency, especially those serving low- and moderate- income families.
However, the council chose not to include in the town manager’s goals a very important request/recommendation that came from the Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC). The ECAC is the official town committee charged with advising the town on climate action.
ECAC recommended that the manager promptly develop and report back to the Town Council a three-year plan to implement the Climate Action Adaptation and Resilience Plan in order to “meet Amherst’s most pressing climate goal — reducing emissions by 25% by 2025.”
ECAC requested that the plan include details on how Amherst can increase 1) funding for sustainability, 2) support for staff to implement sustainability priorities, 3) staffing level in the Sustainability Department, and 4) coordination across the town departments.
Amherst needs this plan. The Town Council, the Town Manager, and the town sustainability director should work together to make it happen, identifying the specific priority steps the town needs to take to meet the 2025 goal.
Let’s model (or exceed!) Northampton’s commitment.
Darcy DuMont is a founding member of Zero Waste Amherst, Local Energy Advocates of Western MA and the Amherst Climate Justice Alliance. As a Town Councilor, she sponsored the legislation creating the Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee.