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Council asks city staff for ideas on local Green New Deal, EVs

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

City Council unanimously approved its own Green New Deal resolution last week in response to the devastating consequences of the climate crisis, from record temperatures to the historic flooding seen in Austin and Central Texas over the last decade.

Council Member Leslie Pool sponsored the resolution, while Council Member Alison Alter said the intent is to work toward broader climate goals at the local level “in the absence of federal action.”

On top of the city’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, quadrupling citywide transit use by 2039 and moving Austin Energy to 55 percent renewable sources by 2025, the resolution directs City Manager Spencer Cronk to conduct a literature review of climate resilience plans in Austin’s peer cities and return recommendations for a plan by August 22.

“It’s really important to me in the strategic planning process that we pay attention to the environmental goals that we have as a city and understanding that you can be pro-environment and be economically responsible and socially responsible,” Alter said.

Austin is one of 94 C40 cities (a global organization that Mayor Steve Adler said plans to visit Austin in summer 2020) working collaboratively to implement the goals of the Paris Agreement at the local level, in addition to the city’s own stated goals.

“If every city would follow Austin’s example, we could make a huge dent in adjusting our climate change needs,” Alter said.

Data from 2016 estimated the combined Austin-Travis County greenhouse gas emissions to be equivalent to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, with 77 percent of emissions coming from transportation and electricity production.

Though the Austin-area population is expected to roughly double to nearly 4 million by 2040, the city is hoping to lower its emissions to 11.3 million metric tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) by 2020.

To meet that goal, Council’s resolution asks Cronk to provide various funding options to hire a “chief resilience officer” and staff or work with a consultant to draft and implement a climate resilience plan.

Following the vote, Council unanimously approved an additional resolution, sponsored by Alter, asking Cronk to provide an analysis of transportation electrification planning and progress in anticipation of the final Austin Community Climate Plan to be presented by Oct. 1, 2020. Transportation accounts for about 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Austin and Travis County.

Council asked staff to consider the city’s various goals – such as those outlined in the Smart Mobility Roadmap, the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Project Connect vision – to draft a plan for the integration of electric vehicle technology as part of a climate and transportation solution.

In addition to boosting demand for electricity and tempering transportation emissions, Alter said an electrification plan will help the city “leverage investments we’ve already made in renewables” by integrating EV infrastructure with the conditions on the ground.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Council Member Alison Alter as the sponsor of the climate resolution. The article has been updated.

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