Friday, June 5, 2015 by Jo Clifton

Council adopts net-zero community climate plan

City Council voted 8-2 Thursday to adopt the 2015 Austin Community Climate Plan to achieve citywide net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Council members Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair opposed. Council Member Delia Garza is on maternity leave.

Under the resolution, City Manager Marc Ott will be directed to implement recommendations from the community climate plan and identify and prioritize the resources needed to do so during upcoming budget deliberations.

Lucia Athens, director of the Office of Sustainability, told Council that the plan had been written with the help of about 60 members of the community as well as her staff.

“The adoption of this plan is a really important step to begin working today on a long-term plan that would take us all the way to 2050,” she said.

Athens described the plan as “very ambitious” and noted that there were interim goals in 2020 and 2030 for the city to achieve.

Council Member Leslie Pool, the lead sponsor of the resolution, told her colleagues, “This plan gathers all the city departments together. It reduces the silos and clarifies a course of action for the city. It’s been a very long time in its creation, has wide community acceptance and wide community input. It prepares us for a greener future.”

Council Member Sheri Gallo wanted to know whether the plan included regulations that would affect particular businesses currently operating in Austin. Athens said that was not the case, and if such a regulation were proposed, the matter would come before Council for a vote.

Seventeen people signed up to speak on the item, all of whom were fundamentally in favor of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Austin. Because the item had been through a committee, city rules allowed only four of the supporters to speak. Two community members signed up against the resolution, but it turned out that they were just not totally satisfied with the plan.

The resolution also authorized Ott to complete a memorandum of understanding with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and to create a joint sustainability committee consisting of members of 11 other boards and commissions, including the Environmental Board, the Electric Utility Commission, the Urban Transportation Commission, the Zero Waste Advisory Commission, the Sustainable Food Policy Board, the Parks and Recreation Board and several others.

The resolution states that the Joint Sustainability Committee will review all city policies and procedures relevant to climate protection and promote cooperation among various city boards, commissions and task forces.

Zimmerman – who recently received a great deal of publicity for his attacks on the idea of man-made global warming and his berating of a climate scientist who testified before Council – said he was concerned about the unintended consequences of the plan.

Zimmerman pointed to an Austin Energy decision to purchase power from a Nacogdoches-area chip-burning plant that has turned out to be a bad deal for the city. The decision to enter that contract was undoubtedly the result of Council direction to deal with global warming, he said, and passage of this plan could lead to similar bad policy decisions.

As we reported in April, Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist who studies climate change, was invited to address Council on city resilience. In response to her presentation, Zimmerman said, “The worst thing that can be done to humanity is to put government bureaucrats in charge of carbon dioxide emissions or whatever it would be.”

He continued, “I’m really, really upset about this political move of saying climate change – now we have to have government in charge of climate. It angers me, and I think it should.”

The New York Times, among other news outlets, reported on Thursday that scientists say the recently observed hiatus in global warming is not a hiatus at all but a glitch in measuring methods. The latest research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that there has been no slowing of the increase in the earth’s temperature.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Climate Protection Plan: Austin Energy’s plan to make the city the lead in the fight against global warming. The plan’s goals included powering all city facilities with renewable energy by 2012 and making the city fleet carbon-neutral by 2020.

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