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Glacial Pacing in the Halls of Congress

by Art von Lehe, ICLEI Policy Analyst Aug 30, 2009

Capital in Washington, D.C.

Capital Corner is ICLEI's regular update on federal climate and energy policy, viewed through the local government lens.

September is finally here, which means the end of a long recess for Congress. Senate staffers have been hard at work quietly drafting the beginnings of a bill in anticipation of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s timeline of September 28. That date certain is no longer. On Monday, a spokesperson for Reid explained that the Senator “fully expects the Senate to have ample time to consider this comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation before the end of the year,” as reported by Reuters. Senators Kerry and Boxer, who are currently crafting a bill which was expected to be unveiled on Sept. 8 in Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee, have set the date back to later in the month citing the Senate’s work on health care, the passing of Senator Kennedy, and Senator Kerry’s recent hip surgery. This marks the second time climate legislation has been postponed in the Senate this summer, and could perhaps make the climb to 60 votes for passage even more difficult.

However, the EPA has stated its intention to declared C02 a "dangerous pollutant" in the near future, a move that could push the climate bill forward. Related to this announcement, EPA recently sent a draft rule to the White House that would effectively regulate the same entities that Waxman-Markey sets out to cover -- large industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions. This threat of regulation was one of the motivating factors for industry to come to the table as the House drafted Waxman-Markey and may perhaps have the same effect on the senate side.

Yes We Cap (and Trade, Perhaps)

The majority of Americans support President Obama’s plan for energy and climate, this includes his plans to sign off on cap and trade legislation, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that counterbalances the President’s eroding support for health-care proposals. Conducted Aug. 13-17th, to the poll found 55 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of energy issues with 52 percent of Americans back a cap-and-trade scheme.

Meanwhile, the struggle over climate legislation has been playing out across the country despite the overwhelming interest in the health care debate. In opposition to climate change legislation, some industry groups have become engaged in what many criticize as theatre, waging a grassroots style campaign that so far has seemingly outpaced the efforts of environmentalists – as outlined in a recent leading Washington Post article.

Another layer of complexity surrounding climate legislation exists where it matters most - in Congress. While the House vote for Waxman Markey represented a paper thin margin, the Senate poses an even more difficult equation for federal climate legislation passage. The steep climb to 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster is proving to be a daunting task for proponents of the bill. Democrats are not aligned and efforts to bridge differences between colleagues across the political divide are being made. The rocky landscape in the Senate is described well in this recent Slate article and in even more detail in this regularly updated analysis of each Senator’s position as compiled by E&E News.

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30 U.S. Cities Most Vulnerable to Extreme Heat

by Don Knapp Aug 26, 2009

Thermometer Temperature Rising

Recall for a moment the most oppressively sweltering summer days you’ve ever felt. If you were in a city, you remember the stifling heat radiating off the pavement, the thick air that was hard to breathe, and then the TV reports of seniors without air conditioning succumbing to the triple digits. Think Chicago in July 1995 (when temps peaked at 106 F), or the European heat wave of 2003 that killed 30,000 people.

Extreme Heat report coverThat level of heat is about to become dangerously common, with potentially disastrous effects in cities across the United States. As global warming kicks up the thermostat over the next century, urbanites – particularly the poor and elderly – will be the most vulnerable to its effects, primarily because of the urban heat island effect, according to a report released last week by the National Wildlife Federation and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

More Extreme Heat Waves: Global Warming’s Wake Up Call” ranks 30 large U.S. cities according to their extreme heat risk factors (see below), and describes the ill effects of regular heat waves, including exacerbated air pollution due to increased smog-forming ozone; increased incidence of illnesses like asthma, especially among the poor and people of color; and more heat-related deaths among the elderly who can’t afford air conditioning.

The Extreme Heat" report joins what you could call a hot list of similar findings over the past two weeks: that muggy days are becoming more common in California, and that the number of August days above 95 F will soar across U.S. cities, and that the Midwest will see a large temperature increase by the end of the century.

30 cities extreme heat chartSource: More Extreme Heat Waves: Global Warming’s Wake Up Call Report

The two obvious takeaways for all local governments – not just these cities – are the need for continued mitigation efforts to slow the overall warming trend, and the need for adaptation planning now to deal with extreme heat and other impending impacts. NWF’s report adds a bit of good news, that cities can cool their neighborhoods by creating more green spaces (parks, green roofs) and putting in place public health measures to cope with extreme heat events.

I spoke with Rebecca Carter, ICLEI’s Adaptation Manager, who added this about the need for local government action:

There’s no doubt that this report contains scary information. Extreme heat is one of the impacts that we can predict with greater certainty -- and it will lead to more deaths and illness. But this is also an impact with effective solutions that are not always expensive to implement. Take, for example, City of Chicago’s program in which neighbors check on their elderly neighbors during heat waves, or its cooling centers where people without air conditioning can find relief.

Chicago is a great role model for other local governments to follow, since its planners have conducted an extensive risk assessment and implemented a range of adaptation tactics to prepare for extreme heat events and manage the heat island effect.

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Local Action Roundup

by Don Knapp Aug 26, 2009

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Building Efficiency with ACES, Part 2: Follow the Money, and the Power

by adrianacostellodougherty Aug 17, 2009

Guest blogger: Art von Lehe, ICLEI Policy Analyst

Downtown San Francisco, CA, Houses 








This post is the second of a two part series on building code provisions contained in Waxman-Markey or the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), recently passed in the House and being considered in the Senate.  In my first post, Why Bother?  Policy Carrots and Sticks, I covered enforcement and allowances set out in ACES for building efficiency.  This post goes into more detail about the allowances allocations and touches on possible preemption issues. 

The Basics

ACES mandates baseline building efficiency targets for new construction which must be achieved through increasingly more stringent building codes enacted at the state and local levels.  The bill incentivizes compliance through allocation of allowances to jurisdictions meeting national efficiency targets.  Allowances are not money, but have value and act somewhat like stocks.  These allowances are intended to build capacity to reach the energy efficiency targets.

Follow the Money

States meeting the efficiency targets would be eligible to receive, by formula, a portion of the 0.5% of total US emissions allowances set out in the national cap and trade program for buildings efficiency.  Funds resulting from the sale of these allowances could be used to cover a reasonable portion of the expenses associated with the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of building codes that meet the national targets.

States are first in line for these allowances, but must be in compliance.  In states where local governments provide substantially all building code enforcement, at least 50% of the value from these allowances must be distributed to localities as a function of relative population.  Where state and local governments share enforcement duties, allowances must be shared according to the number of building inspections performed by each level of government, with localities receiving funds relative to their populations.

Where a state fails to meet the efficiency targets through their codes, localities that do meet the targets will be able to apply directly to DOE for compliance certification.  If certification is granted, the local government could then directly receive a share of these allowances set aside for buildings efficiency from the federal government.

Who gets the Power?

ACES does not speak to the ability of states to preempt local codes where a state is in compliance – representing no change, as states currently reserve this power.  However, localities that want to leapfrog their non-compliant state by adopting their own local codes that meet or exceed the national targets will be interested in looking at Section 201 of ACES, subsection (e)(6)(B) which reads “LOCAL COMPLIANCE: In any State that is out of compliance with this section … a local government may be in compliance with this section by meeting all certification requirements.”

In the event that the building codes section of ACES becomes law, questions will arise for localities concerned with possible preemption issues. Will states that currently leave the decision to localities to define their own codes decide to preempt localities by creating new state-wide codes?  Would ACES bar a non-compliant state from preventing localities from enacting their own more stringent code to meet the federal targets?

What’s Happening in the Senate?

By the time ACES had passed the House, the Senate had already been at work in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where the American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACEL) passed out of committee and is the most likely contender to be part of the larger climate bill expected soon to hit the Senate floor for a vote as early as this fall.

ACEL’s targets for increased building energy efficiency are:

  • 30% in 2010
  • 50% after 2016 (maybe - this is a soft target that the DOE can adjust)

Compared with the targets in ACES:

  • 30% in 2010
  • 50% in 2014
  • 5% additional reduction in 2017 and every three years after.

Reading the Crystal Ball

The crystal ball remains cloudy at the moment.  It is yet to be seen if the building codes provisions as outlined in ACES will remain intact, change or disappear during the long and difficult process outlined by congressional procedure.

If legislation makes it through the Senate this session, both Houses will enter into a conference made up of a relatively small number of Senators and Representatives handpicked by the leadership in the committees responsible for crafting the bills, including members like Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).  The “conferees” would then combine the two bills into one piece of legislation and it would go back for another vote to both chambers and then on towards the President’s desk for signature.\

Going Retro

Making new buildings more efficient may seem easy when compared to making retrofits available for the legion of existing buildings.  This important territory has largely been braved by local governments, and Congress has noticed.  I’ll explain in my next series looking at ACES through the local lens.

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ACES Funding for Energy Efficiency, by State

by Don Knapp Aug 09, 2009

Action Resources IconInvestments in energy efficiency will be a key to making the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) of 2009 work well and keep costs low. The current ACES climate bill provides funding for energy efficiency, and Environment Northeast has compiled the estimated ACES funding for each state. View the list here.

While we're on the topic, it's also worth reading SolveClimate's blog post from last week on ACES and energy efficiency. While the media and Congress focus on ACES' cap-and-trade system, it's important to remember that ACES contains provisions to spur major progress in home and business energy efficiency.

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Local Action Roundup

by adrianacostellodougherty Aug 09, 2009

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Local Action Roundup

by adrianacostellodougherty Aug 05, 2009


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On-Demand Webinar: Boulder's ClimateSmart Loan Program

by adrianacostellodougherty Aug 05, 2009

Boulder ClimateSmart Loan Program LogoFor years, Boulder, CO, has inspired other local governments with its deep commitments to climate protection and its innovative programs and policies. Its ClimateSmart Loan Program is a prime example, which is why ICLEI included it in our webinar series on municipal energy financing models.

ClimateSmart has been an extremely effective program, providing a voluntary mechanism for commercial and residential property owners to obtain financing for renewable energy and/or energy efficiency improvements to properties in Boulder County.

Check out the recorded version of ICLEI's August 4, 2009 webinar on ClimateSmart. Learn how the program works, lessons learned through its creation, and how a similar model could be created in your community.

>> View the Webinar

NOTE: In order to properly view the presentation, you need to download the plugin

>> View the Webinar Slides


And don't miss our upcoming energy financing model webinars:

Recent recorded webinars in this series:

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Burlington Gets Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Right

by Missy Stults Aug 04, 2009

Globe Shopping Cart

Burlington, VT, is one of the latest cities to adopt an environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) policy, and while these policies are becoming common among ICLEI members, Burlington’s is worth a closer look – and a round of kudos.

  • Burlington undertook an impressive stakeholder buy-in process to make sure that the City's various purchasers were informed and bought in to the new policy.
  • Burlington was a key participant in ICLEI's New England Cities Project. As part of this Project, Burlington assisted ICLEI with reviewing our Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guidebook (see below). From this process, combined with the City’s commitment to green purchasing, and with further assistance from ICLEI, Burlington was able to develop its new environmentally preferable purchasing policy.
  • Burlington’s EPP policy contains some innovations and ideas that other local governments might consider replicating. For example, the City is working to replace distributed purchasing with centralized purchasing for City Hall and having truck deliveries made only once a week. Staff are also working to provide a tote service that would eliminate use of packaging materials such as cardboard and bubble packs.
  • A comment from Mayor Bob Kiss offers more detail on what makes Burlington’s policy stand apart:

    While cities around the country have adopted similar policies, including Boston, New York, Chicago and others, Burlington is unique in its commitment to implementation.  In mid-June, 22 City purchasers from 12 departments gathered to review the policy and begin implementation. Assisting them was Dr. Kevin Lyons, a nationally recognized EPP specialist and Director of Purchasing at Rutgers University, along with Jessica Frank, the city’s CFO Executive Secretary.  Indeed, since the training, Jessica has met with her colleagues to organize joint buying as a way to save money and limit truck deliveries to City Hall.

  • Prior to adopting this policy, Burlington had already begun taking steps toward environmental sensitivity in their purchasing, including purchasing Green Seal Certified cleaning products, washroom towels and toilet tissue made with 100% recycled fiber, and even testing an electric mower for use in the City’s pocket parks.

More resources:

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Albuquerque Releases Proposed Climate Action Plan

by Don Knapp Aug 03, 2009

Mayor Martin Chavez encourages Albuquerqueans to participate in the ongoing process
to finalize the proposed climate action plan.

The City of Albuquerque, NM, a leader in local sustainability, has just released a proposed climate action plan with a range of strategies to help the City meet its short, medium, and long-term emissions reduction goals, including 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050.

To meet these goals, the climate action plan contains 49 strategies across categories such as carbon-neutral buildings, transportation, and livable neighborhoods.

Something to note about the plan as it stands right now: Mayor Martin Chavez stresses that it is a proposed plan and a first step -- not a document written in stone. The goal is to engage community members to share their thoughts and submit their input to shape the finalized version of the plan. Here's how the City is collecting that input:

  • 10 town-hall meeting are scheduled during August to bring together community members to discuss the plan.

  • Residents who can't attend the meetings can still fill out an online survey to submit their feedback.

This proposed climate action plan was engineered by a 60-member all-volunteer Climate Action Task Force designed to represent the diverse interests in the Albuquerque community. The Task Force included environmentalists, engineers, scientists, business professionals, political action groups, government staff, and others. The Task Force's first draft of the climate action plan was reviewed by peer groups, and will now be reviewed and refined by community members before being submitted to the City Council for formal approval.

>> Read the Climate Action Plan



Extra: Another climate action plan worth checking out is Portland's Draft Climate Action Plan 2009


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