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Climate action plan blows past committee

Thursday, May 28, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Climate action advocates can rest assured that a proposed 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emission plan will go before City Council in June, though it will not come with a committee recommendation.

Due to a lack of quorum, the Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee was unable to vote Tuesday on a recommendation to Council for a proposed resolution that would adopt the Austin Community Climate Plan and direct staff to move forward with certain recommendations within a year of passage.

Council Member Leslie Pool, who chairs the committee, told the Austin Monitor that she will work to move the item forward anyway. “We have enough sponsors to have it added to the Council agenda, so we’ll be working to formalize that and add it to an agenda before the July break,” she said. “I think the first opportunity is June 4, so I’ll be aiming for that.”

Council’s final meeting before it goes on vacation for most of July will take place on June 18.

Pool called the plan a “visionary document” and said she fully supports the efforts to develop and implement it. “I always have, and I think Austin continues to be a leader in its environmental concerns and its initiatives, and this just underscores that effort.”

In addition to adopting the plan, the resolution would direct staff to identify and prioritize the resources and funding necessary to integrate the first year of recommendations into the upcoming budget, develop performance metrics for relevant departments and provide semiannual progress updates to Council, the first of which would take place by Sept. 15.

The resolution would also direct staff to create a Joint Sustainability Committee tasked with overseeing implementation of the plan and to submit a document authorizing the city to continue participating in the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

The C40 group is an organization whose representatives of 40 of the world’s largest cities collaborate and discuss climate change. Leaders for each of the cities, including the mayor and a staff member, meet at biannual summits held in various locations. Though Austin is not as large as many of the other member cities, it is included as an “Innovator City.”

The proposed Joint Sustainability Committee would consist of appointees from several city boards and commissions and would meet regularly to discuss implementation of the plan, request information and make recommendations to Council and staff. Chief Sustainability Officer Lucia Athens recommended that the group meet on a quarterly basis.

Though the Parks and Recreation Board is not listed as participating in the committee in the resolution proposed by staff, board Chair Jane Rivera said she would like it to be included.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, the only other Council member present during the discussion about the plan – and a likely co-sponsor – openly expressed her support for it. “I’m certainly supportive of all of the items we talked about today moving forward to the full Council for action,” she said.

Other items the committee discussed but did not vote on include staff’s proposal to revise the parkland dedication fee structure and a proposed Onion Creek Metropolitan Park Master Plan.

Council Member Delia Garza has not yet returned from maternity leave, and Council Member Don Zimmerman left the meeting as it was in progress and did not return before its conclusion.

Zimmerman did not announce the reason for his absence or return a request for comment from the Monitor about the meeting. He argued in April, however, that carbon dioxide does not cause climate change.

The plan, which the Office of Sustainability primarily developed and published on April 30, includes 130 recommendations for the community as a whole to follow in order to reach its goal by 2050, with interim targets for 2020, 2030 and 2040.

Though it aims for net-zero emissions, the plan would allow for carbon offsets to make up 10 percent of all of its targets, meaning the community could compensate for certain emissions in other ways.

Recommendations for the first year of implementation include exploring financing mechanisms to encourage building-related energy innovations, working with large employers and academic institutions on trip reduction programs and adopting recycling and packaging requirements for city purchases.

Other recommendations include determining the feasibility of creating carbon-impact statements – analogous to fiscal-impact statements – for major Council decisions, looking into developing a local carbon fee or trading program and continuing climate change research and climate resiliency planning.

The plan does not appear to address the fiscal impact of adhering to such goals and recommendations, which will likely be a major discussion point for Council when it takes up the proposed resolution.

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