The legendary rivalry between the US west coast and east coast has spread to climate action. Earlier this month, mayors from five cities representing all three west coast states joined together in a pledge for “bold” action on climate change, creating a virtual “green wall” all along the Pacific. What now, east coast?
Five cities doesn’t sound like that big of a deal considering that the three US mainland west coast states — Washington, Oregon and California — span thousands of miles of coastline and include hundreds of cities (not including Alaska and Hawaii). However, the Energy Department is all over the idea that cities can lead on climate action, so this relatively symbolic pledge could have a real impact on the pace of change in the US, regardless of climate obstruction at the federal level.
Five Cities Join Climate Change Pledge
The new climate change pledge was announced on December 11 by mayors from Seattle (Washington), Eugene and Portland (Oregon), and San Francisco and Los Angeles (California). Four of those are major population centers, and if you’re wondering why smallish and oddly named Eugene is on this list, it’s home to the University of Oregon.
As a group these five cities are well known for urban sustainability initiatives, most recently demonstrated by a fossil fuel pledge referenced in the announcement, in which Portland’s City Council passed a resolution opposed to new infrastructure dedicated to the storage or transportation of fossil fuels within its limits and adjacent waterways.
The announcement followed a summit during which the mayors identified targets for action, including completion of the West Coast Electric Highway as well as municipal-centered goals for energy and water conservation, renewable energy, and electric vehicles for city fleets.
As for the old “put on your sweater and turn down the heat” approach to energy management, all five cities are thriving cultural and economic centers that demonstrate how climate action is at the very least compatible with strong growth.
What A Climate Change Pledge Can Do
San Francisco provides a good example of the progress that an urban center can make within its borders, when public policy is focused on specific targets and goals. Here’s Mayor Ed Lee describing his city’s effectiveness:
We are showing that local action can combat climate change. San Francisco is the first large city to phase out petroleum diesel in its entire municipal fleet and replace it with renewable diesel, an estimated 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. With our aggressive climate action strategy, San Francisco will see zero waste sent to the landfills, 50 percent of all trips rely on non-auto transport and 100 percent of energy from renewables.
As for the effectiveness of city-based action on statewide carbon emissions, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory took a look at the situation and determined that because cities have a large energy footprint, their actions can help states achieve the new Clean Power Plan goals — even if state level policymakers are dragging their heels.
…And Can’t Do
That’s the good news. The problem is that in general, energy production and infrastructure policy is set at the state level, not the local level.
For example, the Texas oil patch city of Denton recently decided it had enough of fracking, only to be steamrolled by a new state law preempting the city’s ban.
Another recent example is TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which state policymakers along its route would have allowed despite considerable, sustained local opposition.
The project only came to a stop on November 6 when President Obama exercised his federal authority to deny a cross-border permit, but hold on to your hats. Just a week later, our friends over at FuelFix.com were reporting that TransCanada is determined to complete the pipeline…eventually! We’re guessing that the company will play its cards if a Republican wins the White House next year, which at this point means either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz (I know, right?).
That brings us right around to the 1970’s-era US ban on oil exports, which was just lifted as part of the new federal budget deal. While on its face the policy change looks like a bad choice for climate change, some industry observers predict that in terms of the global marketplace the result will be more of a swap than a significant addition to fossil fuel production.
That’s all well and good in terms of global climate management, but that’s not such great news for cities and other local governments that are trying to stop the growth of fossil fuel infrastructure within their borders, as US crude producers begin looking for new pathways into the global market.
That’s a pretty tall order. If you’ve been following the efforts of the Koch brothers to steer climate change policy in the US, keep in mind that fuel pipelines are a major sector of Koch Industries. The company already has 4,000 miles of pipe under its belt, and the death of the crude export ban could bring more.
As for that east coast-west coast rivalry, hold on to your hats. Despite some Koch-related obstruction, the Obama Administration is plowing ahead with plans to exploit the massive offshore wind resources of east coast states. What now, west coast?
Photo (cropped): EcoCar in Seattle via US Department of Energy.
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