June 23 (BNA) -- Both Democratic and Republican mayors are taking steps to deal with the impacts of climate change on their communities, rather than arguing over the science behind it, according to speakers at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual meeting.
“There's a recognition that we have made a mess of our environment and we need to clean it up, without even getting into the climate science, without even having the debate,” Republican James Brainard, mayor of Carmel, Ind., told Bloomberg BNA June 23 following the meeting.
Brainard said he has focused instead on what his constituents are worried about: the public health impacts of climate change. One of the ways Carmel has cleaned up its air is by installing more traffic roundabouts than any other U.S. city, which helps cut down on automobile idling to save gasoline and reduce emissions.
Bill Finch, the Democratic mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., said politics haven't been a point of disagreement for the conference's climate task force, which he co-chairs with Brainard.
“We're not arguing over climate change so much as we're trying to find ways to get off of foreign oil and mitigate climate change in some way, shape or form,” he told Bloomberg BNA. “Nobody on my committee ever said they want to breathe dirty air. We're thinking a little more pragmatically,” he said.
Brainard and Finch joined other members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors during their annual meeting June 20-23 in Dallas in agreeing to take local action to reduce energy use, prepare for climate effects and support grassroots conservation efforts. About 90 mayors have signed the agreement so far.
Cities Seen Implementing Kyoto Protocol
The mayors' agreement updates a 2005 commitment, which was signed by more than 1,000 mayors, to meet or beat the greenhouse gas emission reduction target suggested for the U.S. in the Kyoto Protocol in their own communities.
More than half of U.S. cities have made formal pledges to cut their carbon emissions, and most of those cities are making progress toward their goals, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (77 ECR, 4/22/14).
Cities are on the “front lines” of climate change, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said at the mayors' meeting June 22. The impacts of climate change “are really making a significant difference in your communities, and they're actually creating risks that you need to address,” McCarthy told the mayors.
Urban Areas Called Susceptible
Urban areas are particularly vulnerable to disruptions in essential infrastructure services—such as water systems and power plants—from rising sea levels, storm surges, heat waves and extreme weather events, according to the recently released National Climate Assessment (87 ECR, 5/6/14).
The mayors' climate agreement called on federal and state governments to enact bipartisan legislation, policies and programs that can support local initiatives to fight climate change.
Some of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' top priorities are receiving full funding for the energy efficiency and conservation block grant program, increasing investment in state revolving funds to update the nation's water infrastructure and permanently extending renewable energy tax credits, according to resolutions considered at the meeting.
Preparation Called Key
Preparing communities for the impacts of climate change is also a priority for mayors and other state, local and tribal officials who are part of a White House task force providing advice to the federal government on how it can better serve communities' resiliency needs. The task force is expected to hold its final meeting in July before it readies its recommendations (95 ECR, 5/16/14).
Brainard, one of four Republicans on the 26-member task force, said if he hadn't known beforehand which party each task force member belonged to, “I wouldn't know” from the meetings.
“These meetings aren't focused at all on partisan politics,” he said. “They're focused on how we help people by cleaning up the air they breathe and cleaning up the water they drink.”
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