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Clean Energy Works Portland Ready for Takeoff

by Don Knapp Feb 16, 2010


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Unleashing the Potential of Green Building Codes in New York City

by Don Knapp Feb 04, 2010

New York City at night (Flickr Creative Commons)

Image credit: Meironke via Flickr Creative Commons

New York City and the Urban Green Council have made a tall case for building codes as a key driver of urban environmental goals. The NYC Green Codes Task Force Report, presented earlier this week to Mayor Bloomberg and City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn, included 111 recommendations – some innovative, some common sense – to amend and update existing building codes in the City to incorporate environmental protection as a fundamental principle. If implemented, the code changes would drastically slash energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, reduce costs for building owners, and make buildings safer and healthier places in which to live and work. And one more: begin building-by-building adaptations for unavoidable climate impacts like sea-level rise and stifling summers.

The report brims with ideas and insight for other local government staff to consider. Take for example, the environmental strategy of manipulating building codes, rather than mandating LEED certification, as many other local governments have done. From the report’s executive summary:New York City Green Codes report cover

New York chose not to mandate LEED for private construction (LEED is already a requirement for public construction in New York). Rather, LEED is intended as a leadership standard (after all, the “L” in LEED stands for Leadership), not a baseline; New York City leaders want to raise the baseline to achieve large-scale change.

Greening the codes has significant advantages over mandating LEED for the private sector. Codes create economies of scale in both expertise and materials, thereby lowering costs. Codes are also enforceable, and they build on existing institutions and industry practices. They can be tuned to the priorities and conditions of a particular jurisdiction. In addition, codes allow the city to correct market failures, such as split incentives; these include landlords who do not want to pay for improvements because the benefits would go to their tenants. Finally, codes help the City achieve social equity and environmental justice. By modifying codes and driving down costs, green buildings can be available to all.

Codes that “green” a building are defined in the report as those that fall into one of four categories: the environment, human health, operational savings, and the cost of construction. The 111 recommendations can serve as a mini-library of options for other local government staff to pull from for their own code initiatives. For example:

  • Minimize air leakage through building exteriors
  • Reduce summer heat with cool roofs
  • Phase out toxic and inefficient light fixture components
  • Reduce “red tape” for asbestos removal
  • Build new homes to ENERGY STAR standard
  • Reduce indoor air contaminants by limiting VOCs in adhesives, sealants, paints and coatings.

In a city where buildings account for approximately 80 percent of GHG emissions and 95 percent of energy consumption, you can imagine the impact that these measures would have if implemented by city council, especially since an overarching recommendation is to not exempt existing buildings from a revised green code. The reality is that most buildings in NYC right now are not even close to reaching their potential in terms of energy efficiency and environmental health.

A green building is synonymous with energy efficiency, but this report reminds us that a wider interpretation is in order, in line with the principles of sustainability (environment, economy, social equity). Green building codes can be used to help achieve goals across broad categories, from climate mitigation and now climate adaptation, to sustainable construction, public health, and social justice. America’s biggest city now has a panoramic vision for green buildings.


  • Download the full report, executive summary, or draft cost and savings data here
  • On the Urban Green website (local NYC USGBC chapter), take note of the stakeholders and authors involved; City of New York engaged in a very thorough process to develop these code recommendations with the help of leading experts.
  • Visit the Playbook for Green Buildings + Neighborhoods for more insight and recommendations on green building policy levers
  • Follow ICLEI's blog for updates on New York City’s progress with building codes. It’s now up to City government to approve and adopt these recommendations.


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Southeast Explores Coordinated Adaptation Planning

by Cyrus Bhedwar, Southeast Regional Manager Feb 02, 2010

Beach on Tybee Island, Georgia (flickr creative commons)

The beach at Tybee Island, GA -- one of many Southeast local governments that
must begin to plan for sea-level rise.
Image credit: Dizzy Girl via Flickr Creative Commons


Following the recent Groton Coastal Climate Adaptation Workshop held in Connecticut, adaptation remerged as the focus of discussion several hundred miles south, at the Southeast Adaptation Planning Workshop. About two hundred participants from an alphabet soup of federal, state and local agencies as well as universities, NGOs and private partners gathered to consider the prospect of increasing coordination among the myriad adaptation planning efforts ongoing in the eight-state region served by EPA’s Region 4 Office (NC, SC, GA , FL, AL, MS, TN, KY).

For about a year, EPA Region 4 had been exploring the state of adaptation efforts in its region as well as learning about what federal agencies were up to. Their research led them to ask the question, “Would the region benefit from increased coordination of these efforts?”  The workshop, held in Atlanta on February 2-3, was designed to answer that question.

The EPA focused on two key issues -- water resources and coastal resources -- to guide discussion, and promoted discussion about what would be needed in each of those areas to overcome the identified institutional barriers to cooperation.

The workshop opened with some stage setting materials based on two papers EPA had commissioned on climate change impacts in the southeast and the state of adaptation efforts in the region. Of course, as anyone who follows this subject knows, it’s quite difficult to pinpoint the climate changes that might occur at the local level and even more so to understand the impacts that will manifest.

What each of the speakers, and several members of the audience stressed was that adaptation planning is important for a variety of reasons other than climate change. Population growth, development patterns and other factors were already stressing water resources and infrastructure, for example. Climate changes are only likely to exacerbate these issues.

So with that in mind, the audience members broke out into groups to more deeply dive into a variety of specific topic areas to brainstorm the institutional obstacles to cooperation and coordination, and then to propose solutions. The facilitators had their work cut out for them as they tried to summarize the prolific work of their energized groups. In fact, I’ll defer on trying to reproduce the themes here and instead wait until the workshop’s final report comes out later this spring. Check back for a new blog post later this year.

What I did take away is that the local perspective was a bit underrepresented as state and federal agencies excitedly discussed ways to share data and models and methodologies.  The good news is that everyone emphatically agreed that adaptation ultimately takes place at the local level and that their efforts must be “needs-driven.” They also wanted to learn more about how local governments were already adapting to conditions that might be easily predicted from the historical record.

Here at ICLEI, we would love to hear about your needs and stories. Contact Adaptation Program Manager Melissa Stults at (617) 960-3420, Ext. 303, or to share your thoughts.

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Experts Converge at the Groton Coastal Climate Adaptation Workshop

by Erica Etelson Feb 01, 2010

Groton, CT

Groton, CT, must plan for sea-level rise up to 78 inches.

It’s not often that one finds federal, state and local government representatives in the same room. But at yesterday’s Coastal Climate Adaptation Workshop in Groton, CT, 75 participants found common cause around the issue of how to work together to prepare for rising seas and other climate impacts.

The workshop was the first in a series of three sponsored by ICLEI, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and the EPA. The aim of the first workshop was to update participants on foreseeable impacts to Groton and the Northeast seaboard and to discuss how to anticipate the spiral of ramifications that projected impacts could set in motion.

>> View Powerpoint Slides From the Workshop

>> View Videos From the Workshop

Groton, for instance, could experience a 13--24 inch sea-level rise by 2100 under the low-emissions model and 13-78 inches in a worst-case scenario. This projection triggers a number of critical planning concerns, including the City’s own acquisition/retention of coastal property and wetlands and the need, from a social and revenue-protection perspective, to prevent catastrophic damage to private property.

The uncertainty of local impacts also calls for better communication between scientists and policymakers. In his presentation, Ben Guiterrez from the U.S. Geological Survey quoted from a 2009 report by the National Research Council:

Scientific priorities and practices need to change so that the scientific community can provide better support to decision makers in managing emerging climate risk. Decision makers must expect to be surprised because of the nature of the climate change and the incompleteness of scientific understanding of its consequences.

Janet Freedman, with the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, shared Rhode Island's experience in adaptation planning. Rhode Island’s initial focus is on the prospect of heavier storms, because the issue of storm damage resonates with stakeholders all too familiar with the problem. Rhode Island is encouraging coastal property owners to raise freeboards (the distance between the structure and the water at high tide) to at least three to five feet.

Other workshop participants included representatives from NOAA, FEMA, the Federal Highway Administration, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger, Groton Director of Planning and Development Michael Murphy and staff from the Groton airport. Participants found particularly valuable the breakout sessions which led them to ponder pragmatic as well as existential questions, such as:

  • What’s being done to prepare for climate impacts?
  • What’s not being done but should be?
  • How could local climate impacts change my job description?

Future workshops in March and April will focus on responding to the local vulnerabilities identified during the first workshop and creating a plan for implementing adaptation measures. Throughout the workshops, the importance of bridging the gap between the three levels of government and between scientists and policymakers will be stressed.  Ultimately, ICLEI’s objective is to facilitate the creation of a collaborative, intergovernmental approach to increasing Groton’s resilience in the face of climate change, creating a model that is replicable in other regions.

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$150 Million for Sustainable Communities Planning This Year

by Art von Lehe, ICLEI USA Policy Analyst Feb 01, 2010

Kids Planting a Tree

This year’s approved FY2010 federal budget (See our post on next year’s proposed FY2011 budget) includes $150 million to integrate transportation and housing planning decisions. The money is allocated to HUD, which is working with DOT to distribute as part of the Sustainable Communities Initiative, Obama’s innovative partnership between HUD, DOT, and EPA aimed at “breaking down the silos” that separate decisions between land use and transportation.

The Sustainable Communities Initiative, aimed at location efficiency, has devised six principles that reflect the smartest thinking around community design:

  • Provide more transportation choices. 
  • Promote equitable, affordable housing. 
  • Enhance economic competitiveness. 
  • Support existing communities. 
  • Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment. 
  • Value communities and neighborhoods. 

This year’s $150 million set aside under the Community Development Block Grants Program will be used to implement some of the best thinking emerging from the HUD, DOT, and EPA partnership. Currently, HUD is moving toward a Notice of Funding Availability to be released this month with a 60 day comment period.

  • $100 Million for Regional Planning Efforts
    • HUD and DOT will entertain joint applications between MPOs and local recipients for HUD block grant assistance to support the development of integrated state of the art regional development plans that use the latest data and most sophisticated analytic modeling and mapping tools available
    • The goal is to overcome the fragmentation caused from the patchwork of federal planning requirements between HUD and DOT
  • $40M in Community Challenge Grants
    • To entice metropolitan and local leaders to make market shifting changes in local zoning and land use rules as well as building codes.
  • $10M for Research and Development
    • Administered by HUD to engage on joint data development, information platforms, analytic tools and research.

ICLEI continues to work with the Sustainable Communities Initiative and will be supplying our members more information as details develop on this $150 million opportunity.

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Obama's Budget and Its Impact on Local Climate and Sustainability

by Art von Lehe, ICLEI USA Policy Analyst Feb 01, 2010

Front View of White House

How will President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 budget and his fiscal priorities affect local government sustainability efforts?

First, a little background. At last week’s State of the Union Address, Obama placed jobs creation and energy/climate legislation near the top of his agenda, above health care.  The President also made a statement about the budget:

Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

Obama has given a line by line review of discretionary spending revealed $20 billion in budget cuts for 2011, with many cuts touted by Obama as “common sense,” including: cutting a $115 million program to clean up mines that are already cleaned up and $20 million for a refurbishment of a DOE facility that DOE does not want refurbished.

So, what will this mean for local government suitable efforts? Obama’s budget proposal released this week gives insight – and shows a strong push for clean energy jobs despite the budget freeze.

The FY2011 Budget

Obama’s $3.8 trillion FY 2011 budget proposal is likely to experience changes in Congress, but one thing is certain – climate change and clean energy are top priorities for Obama in 2011.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the highlights that will affect local government sustainability efforts:

Energy - DOE – Increases in Low Carbon Energy Investment

  • Solar, wind and nuclear investments generally saw an increase while carbon intensive coal, oil and gas saw decreases in subsidies.
  • $31 million increase for buildings efficiency through support for buildings codes, equipment standards, energy efficiency in commercial buildings, and research and development.
  • $123 million for wind power development (a 53% increase from FY2010)
  • $ 247 million for solar power programs (a 22% increase from FY2010)
  • $300 million for clean energy research

Environment - EPA – Curbing GHGs

  • $43 million in new funding to curb GHG emissions including funds to: help states account for GHGs in certain permuting procedures, implement the new GHG standards for automobiles, and to develop best practices for GHG polluters.
  • $21 million to implement the Greenhouse Gas reporting rule, marking a $4 billion increase from FY2010 (See what the rule means for local governments
  • $58 million in new funding for air quality management grants
  • $3.3 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds that finance state and local clean water projects.
  • $138 million for brownfields cleanup efforts with a goal of having 20 brownfields projects by 2012 focus on economically distressed communities aimed at greater success for redevelopment plus $1.31 billion in cash for Superfund

Reducing VMT – DOT

  • $530 million as a part of the President’s Sustainable Communities Inititaive (see our latest briefing)
  • $1 billion for high-speed rail building on the $8 billion in the Recovery Act and the $1 billion in the FY2010 budget.

Sustainable Housing – HUD

  • $150 million for the President’s Sustainable Communities Initiative (see our latest briefing) for comprehensive regional and community planning efforts

Climate Impacts – NOAA

  • $2 billion to for satellite systems that will provide information on weather patterns, sea level rise and other climate variables that will help local governments plan for climate change

Climate Change Legislation – A Placeholder

  • $650 billion over 10 years was the estimate for revenues generated from a climate change policy for the FY2010 budget – but the new FY2011 budget proposal is silent on such a number. Obama instead calls on Congress to create a “comprehensive market-based climate change policy” that would be in line with the United State’s recent emissions targets under the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change at 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80% below 2005 levels by 2050 (see the UNFCCC’s list of national commitments). Obama leaves blank the details in this section but states an expectation for a climate bill that is deficit neutral and that funds a wide range of domestic priorities.  What would a climate bill mean for local governments?  Please see ICLEI USA’s analysis of the bi-partisan energy-climate bill’s framework.

The complete budget request is available here.

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Strategies for Successful City-County Cooperation

by Eli Yewdall Feb 01, 2010

Hands in a Circle

It's no secret that countless actions to improve sustainability require (or can be more effective with) cooperation between counties and the cities within them. City-county cooperation can reduce duplication of efforts, save more money, and increase the impact of initiatives. Think joint policy creation, data management (for a greenhouse gas inventory), and collaboration on funding applications. And just in case you're skeptical, we'll say it: Local governments really can work well together!

So what are the secrets to making this happen? An ICLEI Southeast Regional Webinar on Jan. 21 explored the topic.

A number of ICLEI members in the Southeast are developing or trying to develop city-county partnerships, and are working to strengthen and improve these partnerships, including Orlando and Orange County, FL; and Asheville and Buncombe County, NC. Staff from these two local governments shared their approaches to overcoming challenges in city-county partnerships.


>> View the Recorded Webinar (pdf)

>> View the Powerpoint Slides (pdf)

>> View a Strategy Sheet on City-County Cooperation

Strategy Tips

View the recorded webinar video or the Powerpoint slides for details, or read these basic tips below.


Find allies and start building relationships.

  • Find people who you can work with and who are willing to put egos aside.

Find areas where working together makes sense.

  • Work with existing allies on a joint venture elected leadership is interested in.
  • Strategic partnerships for data management (avoid duplicated work on inventory and make analysis consistent).
  • Find complementary skills (for example ‘soft’ outreach and ‘hard’ technical).
  • Share resources. This can be as simple as sitting in the same room to view a webinar.

Keep information flowing.

  • Monthly informal discussions.
  • Keep telling elected officials and senior administration about any information learned or resources leveraged through cooperation; demonstrate the benefits.

Practice persistence. You may have to ask and be answered “no” at times in order to get to a “yes.”

Being at an equal place makes it easier to go forward together.

  • You can start on joint action plan if both have inventory and other foundation elements in place.
  • Sharing resources can help get to an equal place.

Use any cooperation agreements made or successful joint projects as a press opportunity. The good publicity will build support for further cooperation.

Focus on what you can do.


  • Orlando and Orange County are working together on an efficiency challenge for commercial buildings. Using one program for both city and county provides a consistent message and raises the profile of the challenge.
  • Asheville had access to interns to process inventory data and made these interns available to conduct Buncombe County’s inventory as well. This allowed for consistent data analysis, and laid the groundwork for further cooperation, including consideration of a joint climate action plan.



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Less Idling Equals Forward Progress in Burlington

by Don Knapp Jan 31, 2010

Auto Car Exhaust Tailpipe (Flickr Creative Commons image)

Image credit: Simone Ramella via Flickr Creative Commons

How do you engage your community in efforts to reduce vehicle idling? There is a method, and New England local governments have helped define it. Burlington, VT, established its first ordinance in 1990 and strengthened it at the end of 2009.

Last week, in a Burlington Free Press editorial, Wayne Michaud, director of the Idle-Free VT campaign, encouraged Burlingtonians to “do the right thing and stop idling” by explaining the key benefits of anti-idling ordinances, especially with diesel school buses: cleaner air, healthier children, less fuel and money wasted.

Michaud also laid out the four basic challenges to getting community cooperation on idling reduction:

  • Increasing awareness about why anti-idling initiatives are so important.
  • Cutting through misperceptions on anti-idling (that vehicles need extensive time to warm up, etc.).
  • Understanding the small sacrifices that anti-idling may require (namely, optimal warmth and comfort in cold winter climates)
  • Motivating people to save fuel and money

The piece is worth a read for any local government staffer interested in anti-idling initiatives. ICLEI, as you may know, has been promoting the benefits of anti-idling for years, and our free Northeast Clean School Bus Initiative contains toolkits on idle reduction, diesel retrofits, and biodiesel, as well as case studies from Northeast local governments like Hamden, CT, and Brattleboro, VT.

Another great resource on anti-idling is the Idle-Free VT website.

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Tampa on the Sustainability Fast Track

by Cyrus Bhedwar, ICLEI Southeast Manager Jan 31, 2010

Green Tampa logo

ICLEI member Tampa, FL, made the news last week after President Obama chose the city as its place to announce funding for high-speed rail. This major stimulus program that would create a line to connect the city to Orlando, a significant advance for sustainable transportation in the region.Success Stories Icon

However, Tampa is no stranger to efforts that create a more sustainable future. The proposed rail line adds to a significant number of green steps the City of Tampa has already undertaken, including:

  • A policy requiring new city buildings or renovations to meet a LEED Silver rating. The city also provides reduced permit fees as incentive for green commercial and residential construction.
  • Using methane produced by the Howard F. Current wastewater treatment plant to generate electricity and power 25% of the plant's needs. The system avoids the need to purchase 1.18 million kWh per year from the grid, saving the city $83,000 in operating costs.
  • Retrofitting traffic signals with LEDs in 500 intersections, which is expected to save $840,000/year in energy costs.
  • Utilizing B20 (20 percent biodiesel fuel) in fleet vehicles since 2008.
  • Replacing lighting at Wellswood Ball Park, reducing energy use and maintenance costs by 50%.

For more information on Tampa's green initiatives, visit the Green Tampa website.

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Just the Fact Sheets on High-Speed Rail

by Don Knapp Jan 31, 2010

Chicago-Pontiac high-speed rail map

Image source:

As President Obama already announced last Thursday, 13 major rail corridors will receive funding to help develop new high-speed rail lines or to start the process of transitioning to high-speed rail. In all, a total of 31 states will receive $8 billion in funding for high-speed rail or existing rail improvements.

Read the White House fact sheets for specifics on the following major corridors:


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