President Obama and Minneapolis: Standing Together To Fight Climate Change

Last week was a REALLY big week. From the Supreme Court striking down DOMA and its ruling on California’s Prop 8, to the severe thunderstorms and massive power outages here in Minneapolis, and then gearing up for Twin Cities PRIDE this past weekend, there were lots of news-worthy events. 

With all of that, something happened last week that deserves extra attention. This past Tuesday, President Obama outlined his climate action plan (http://www.whitehouse.gov/share/climate-action-plan) to cut greenhouse gases and prepare us for the impacts of climate change that we’re already beginning to face.

We’re feeling the effects of climate change right here in Minnesota.  We’re seeing more extreme and unpredictable weather patterns year-round. Drought, severe flooding, and extended heat waves are soon to become the “new normal.”  Last week’s thunderstorms and the resulting power outages showed us just how much extreme weather events and changing weather patterns impact our daily lives. And there’s more of that to come. (Here’s a report on climate change impacts in MN from the White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/state-reports/climate/f_minnesota_fact_sheet.pdf).

Luckily, the President’s Climate Action Plan will do a lot to move us forward.  The biggest component of President Obama’s commitment is implementing new federal carbon emission standards for power plants, which are the largest major source of emissions in the U.S.  The plan also outlines other strategies to cut carbon pollution, including investing in clean, alternative energy, building on his already-won tough vehicle fuel economy standards, and improving energy efficiency in homes and businesses across the board. 

This plan is a big deal. Creating carbon emission standards for power plants, currently an all but unregulated industry, is an extra big deal.  I am so thrilled about this plan and grateful for the President’s leadership.

Even with President Obama’s great work, the deadlock in Congress severely limits the amount we can do right now on the national stage. The President will do everything he can, but it’s going to take a lot of work on the local level to make change happen. In order to support the President in his efforts to address climate change, we need to stand behind him by not only pushing Congress to act but also by being leaders ourselves.

The good news is that Minneapolis isn’t new to this work. Minneapolis is internationally recognized as a leader for a healthy environment and a sustainable future. When I first ran, I ran on this issue, weaving sustainability into every part of our work here at City Hall. I’m proud to be one of the first mayors in the nation to sign the Kyoto Protocol, when former President Bush refused to do so.  From our transit investments and bikeshare programs, to making our public buildings some of the most efficient in the country, to growing our local foods economy through the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative, we’re doing a lot of good work and we’ve been doing it for a while. . All decisions on the city level are guided by our goals of promoting livable communities and healthy lives.

Unlike the do-nothing Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, our City Council recognized the problem long ago and took action. Thanks to them, Minneapolis adopted one of the nation’s first greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in 1993. Updated just last year, our goal is to reduce citywide emissions 15 percent below 2006 levels by 2015 and 30 percent below 2006 levels by 2025. The City Council continues to play an important role in making sure we reach this goal.  Which brings me to my exciting news.

Early last year, the City embarked on a process to develop our own Climate Action Plan. We’ve spent the last year conducting multiple stakeholder groups, public meetings and surveys. The City convened experts in energy, transportation, land use, waste, and recycling. We created an Environmental Justice Working Group to make sure any plan of ours to combat climate change helps build social and environmental equity.

Last week, after a year of hard work, the City Council passed the Climate Action Plan for Minneapolis. The plan outlines specific strategies to help us achieve our aggressive goals, including improving building energy efficiency, increasing our use of local, renewable energy, reducing our city’s waste, and reducing emissions from vehicles by boosting public transit and making the city more bikeable and walkable for everybody. You can take a look at the full plan here: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/sustainability/climate/index.htm.

This issue’s a tough one. Climate change is something that requires the leadership and collaboration of everybody, from national, state and city government, private industry, non-profits, and all of us. We all have to help because we all have a stake in it, and we all have the power to change things. That’s why I’m so proud that President Obama and the City of Minneapolis are standing together to combat climate change. It’s still not too late to make this world and our city an even greater place for our kids and generations to come.

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