Opinion: Climate Justice Alliance Urges Accelerated Action in Town Manager Climate Goals


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Local and Green

Darcy Dumont

The following column appeared previously in the Amherst Bulletin.

The Amherst Town Council will soon be developing the Town Manager’s goals for 2024. This is a key opportunity to see that appropriate local climate action is a priority in the coming year. The Amherst Climate Justice Alliance (ACJA) lauds and endorses the 2024 Town Manager Goal Recommendations made by the Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC), an Amherst town committee, and  encourages the Town Council to include all of the recommendations. It also encourages the Town Council to reaffirm and include goals from the 2022 and 2023 lists that have not been completed.

Here are goals recommended by the ECAC and endorsed by the ACJA.

In order to have any chance of achieving the town climate targets for 2025 adopted in 2019, we must accelerate the level of support provided to the Town’s Department of Sustainability. This would include funding two additional professional staff members for the Department. There is a need for one of these positions to focus on the implementation of the Town’s Climate Action, Adaptation, and Resilience Plan (CAARP). The second position should be a grant writer and specialist in accessing state and federal monies and expertise. The hiring of these two staff positions will enable the Director to plan and work across all Town departments to increase the pace of the transition. 

Part of making a commitment to climate action is adopting a climate lens in our decision-making. ACJA agrees with ECAC that the Town Manager goals should include incorporating a climate lens in hiring and appointments. Interview questions for town committees and other appointments should include questions addressing climate goals and justice. The climate lens should also be incorporated in department level decision-making. The Manager should meet with each department head to discuss and review relevant climate impacts and discuss ways to mitigate, reduce, or reverse those impacts.

In the area of greening our buildings, the ECAC recommends facilitating the implementation of the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program for multifamily and business retrofits and new construction, through outreach to tenants and landlords. This program can help owners finance improvements designed to reduce energy consumption, and to install renewable energy systems and the funding of energy efficiency retrofits in multi-family apartment complexes. With existing ARPA funds, ECAC also recommends establishing a Residential Heat Pump program and a training program for community champions and leveraging Inflation Reduction Act funds for municipal projects.

Accelerating the energy transition is critical. The ECAC recommends that the Manager advocate with our legislators for prompt approval by the Department of Public Utilities and prepare for the implementation of Valley Green Energy electricity aggregation. It also recommends developing a strategic plan to install solar projects on town facilities, including schools and associated parking lots.

For transportation, ACJA endorses the ECAC recommendation to install an Electric Vehicle DC fast-charge station in FY24, collect and analyze data on bus ridership, and reestablish an e-bike network. It further recommends completing a residential and town fleet inventory and a timeline for the transition of the municipal vehicles to electric.

Goals that carry over from previous years would include creating a Climate Goals/Community Dashboard, and completing a municipal building inventory of HVAC systems and timeline for change to electrification, completing the Joint Powers Entity Formation associated with our joint electricity aggregation and supporting the work of developing a solar bylaw. It would include maintaining a list of future road and sidewalk repairs that incorporates the bike and pedestrian plan, and taking necessary steps towards developing a waste-hauler bylaw that is feasible and meets the goals of offering universal curbside compost pick-up and pay-as-you-throw fee structure and, if adopted, start implementation. 

The unfinished goals from 2022 and 2023 include using “a climate lens when making budgeting, construction, repair, hiring, and other decisions that involve energy” and including “in the Capital Inventory a timeline for the transition of municipal buildings, vehicles, and equipment from the use of fossil fuels”. 

ACJA has added a few more goal recommendations to those set out by ECAC. They include:
researching innovative financing for locally sourced, owned and controlled renewable energy; facilitating the use of Community Climate Bank funds for building retrofits in affordable housing projects; facilitating energy coaching for residential property owners; and publishing the 2023 update to the Greenhouse Gas Inventory. ACJA recommends requiring quarterly reports that include the amount of progress achieved toward meeting the Town’s 2025 Interim Climate Action Goals. 

These goals are only a small portion of those actions planned for in the CAARP, but are high priority, emissions-reducing goals. Their accomplishment requires additional professional level staff. Meeting the climate challenge requires making this type of commitment. 

Darcy DuMont is a former town councilor and sponsor of the legislation creating the Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee. She is a founding member of Zero Waste Amherst, Local Energy Advocates of Western MA, and the Amherst Climate Justice Alliance and a non-voting member of Valley Green Energy Working Group. She can be contacted at dumint140@gmail.com.

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