Texas may­ors fo­cus on costs of cli­mate change

Moves to tackle is­sue can be more palat­able if they save res­i­dents money.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - METRO & STATE - By Philip Jankowski

Im­ages of glaciers dis­in­te­grat­ing or a soli­tary po­lar bear swim­ming in the Arc­tic are no doubt evoca­tive, but when it comes to dis­cussing cli­mate change with their lo­cal con­stituen­cies, for Texas may­ors it’s about dol­lars and cents.

That was one of the main take­aways from a panel dis­cus­sion Satur­day at the Texas Tri­bune Fes­ti­val on how cities af­fect and cope with cli­mate change. The speak­ers were Austin Mayor Steve Adler, San An­to­nio Mayor Ron Niren­berg, for­mer Hous­ton Mayor An­nise Parker and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete But­tigieg, all Democrats or, in Niren­berg’s case, a non­par­ti­san pro­gres­sive.

“This is a lo­cal is­sue,” Adler said to a packed room in Cal­houn Hall at the Univer­sity of Texas. “Now that the U.S. seems to be pulling back from that, it just means that cities need to step up.”

Adler was one of sev­eral may­ors across the coun­try to vow to fol­low the Paris cli­mate agree­ment after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said he would back out of the 2015 ac­cord. Adler also re­cently spoke on be­half of Austin as a “pi­o­neer­ing” city de­liv­er­ing on the Paris agree­ment this month in New York City as part of the in­flu­en­tial C40 talks

For Parker, she said that amounts to some­thing she called “paradiplo­macy,” a lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tion’s abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate and en­force its own pre­rog­a­tives. For Hous­ton, that means lever­ag­ing its $5 bil­lion bud­get’s pur­chas­ing power to cre­ate mar­kets. For in­stance, dur­ing Parker’s ten­ure, the city re­placed about 168,000 street­lights with LED bulbs.

That re­duced en­ergy con­sump­tion. But to Hous­ton res­i­dents,

it was sold as a way to save money, Parker said.

Austin lead­ers up­dated the city’s en­ergy plan last month to gen­er­ate 65 per­cent of the city’s elec­tric­ity from re­new­able sources by 2027, with an as­pi­ra­tional goal to no longer use fos­sil fu­els by 2030.

Adler was quick to say that much of that is made pos­si­ble be­cause Austin owns its elec­tric util­ity, un­usual among large U.S. cities. But by cre­at­ing th­ese man­dates, cities can man­u­fac­ture de­mand and make re­new­able en­ergy a more at­trac­tive ven­ture for en­ergy com­pa­nies.

Of course, it helps if you live in Texas, the wind power cap­i­tal of the world, which makes wind power less ex­pen­sive than in other places, Parker said.

In South Bend, the city has taken a step into ad­vo­cacy. In June, after the fed­eral govern­ment scrubbed cli­mate change data from its web­site, the city took the un­usual ac­tion of ar­chiv­ing the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s on­line data and post­ing it on the city’s web­site.

“We can no longer rely on the fed­eral govern­ment to be a fact-based ar­biter when it comes to cli­mate change,” But­tigieg said.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATES­MAN

Austin Mayor Steve Adler (sec­ond from left); San An­to­nio Mayor Ron Niren­berg; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete But­tigieg; and for­mer Hous­ton Mayor An­nise Parker join Satur­day’s dis­cus­sion ti­tled “How Cities Are Tack­ling Cli­mate Change” mod­er­ated by Kiah Col­lier (left) at the 2017 Texas Tri­bune Fes­ti­val on the UT cam­pus.

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