First (Only?) Environmental Case of the Supreme Court’s Term is a Big One

This coal-fueled power plant

This coal-fired power plant is excited to receive its 15 minutes of fame when the Supreme Court rules on a complex environmental case later this term.

The consolidated cases of Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency and National Mining Association v. Environmental Protection Agency challenge a 2012 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation intended to limit mercury and other emissions from mostly coal-fired power plants.

Before regulating emissions from electric utilities, the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires the EPA Administrator to find that regulation is “appropriate and necessary” based on a public health hazards study. The simple legal question in this complicated case is whether the EPA unreasonably refused to consider costs in making its determination that regulation was “appropriate.”

In 1990 Congress required the EPA to identify stationary sources for 189 hazardous air pollutants and adopt maximum achievable control technology standards (MACT) for limiting their emissions. But the CAA regulates emissions from electric utilities differently than from other stationary sources. Before the EPA may regulate electric utilities under the MACT program, it must perform a health hazards study and determine whether regulation of them is appropriate and necessary.

In 2000, the EPA determined it would regulate mercury and other emissions from electric utilities, but it reversed course in 2005. Then in 2012, the agency issued the final rule challenged in this case which concluded that regulating electric utilities was appropriate and necessary. The EPA “rejected the 2005 interpretation that authorizes the Agency to consider other factors (e.g., cost).”

The D.C. Circuit agreed with the EPA that it was not required to consider costs. “Appropriate” isn’t defined in the relevant section of the CAA and dictionary definitions of the term don’t mention costs.  Throughout the CAA “Congress mentioned costs explicitly where it intended the EPA to consider them.”

A dissenting judge pointed that the cost of regulation in this case is nearly $10 billion dollars annually and opined that the cost of complying will “likely knock a bunch of coal-fired electric utilities out of business and require enormous expenditures by other coal- and oil-fired electric utilities.”

States are involved in this case on both sides. During its last term, the Supreme Court ruled on two significant Clean Air Act cases: EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, involving the CAA’s Good Neighbor Provision, and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, involving greenhouse gases and stationary sources.

A Mayor’s Perspective on Why Certify: An Interview with Ed Murray, Mayor of Seattle, Wash.

This is a guest post by Hilari Varnadore, executive director of STAR Communities

Seattle-Skyline

Recently, STAR Communities announced that Seattle was awarded the 5-STAR Community Rating for national leadership in sustainability. The city recorded the highest score to date, and is only the second in the nation to achieve the 5-STAR rating for its participation in the STAR Community Rating System (STAR), which evaluates the livability and sustainability of U.S. communities.

This blog post features Seattle Mayor Ed Murray reflecting on the Emerald City’s experiences with STAR — achievements that he is especially proud of and areas that the city has targeted for future investment as a result of the assessment’s findings.

How has the STAR Community Rating System enriched Seattle’s already impressive sustainability work?

The STAR Community Rating System daylighted programs delivering sustainability benefits across several different goal areas. Understanding where our investments are leveraging sustainability impact helps inform budgeting and prioritization and that is incredibly important when a city is planning investments for the future. It allows us to reliably direct resources in a manner that will continue to benefit Seattle residents and businesses well into the future.

How will STAR help you promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and well-being for all residents, now and for future generations?

The roadmap that STAR provides to a healthy, prosperous and safe community helps us create a shared vision — with the community — of what we want Seattle to be and the best ways to get there. STAR is a great tool for fostering community engagement around Seattle’s sustainability work.

What are some highlights from your city’s achievements, as reflected in the STAR certification?

Seattle has a goal of becoming carbon neutral — it was reassuring to receive maximum credit for our climate adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation work. It showed us that we are on the right path. We also received a high number of points for our leading edge energy efficiency programs and the Green Seattle Partnership – a unique public-private partnership working to restore and maintain Seattle’s forested parkland.

How has the STAR Community Rating System improved transparency in Seattle and helped you better message your sustainability work to constituents?

The very thorough processes of collecting, analyzing and reporting all of the data required for the assessment was big leap forward in terms of Seattle’s commitment to transparency. It’s hard to be transparent if you don’t have a clear means of communicating your work. STAR provides that clarity. I’m not interested in talking about generalities when it comes to Seattle’s sustainability work, and neither are our residents. We’re interested in specifics and that’s what we got with the STAR Community Rating System.

STAR Certification helped you identify some areas requiring additional work. How do you plan on addressing those gaps going forward?

The STAR equity measures showed we have some work to do in the area of Environmental Justice. To address that gap, we recently launched an Equity & Environment Initiative to explore who is and isn’t benefiting from Seattle’s environmental progress and how we can advance equity and provide opportunities for everyone to participate in Seattle’s environmental movement. STAR will be a great tool to help us track the outcomes and accomplishments of this initiative.

For other cities considering STAR certification, what would you tell them?

STAR is so much more than a recognition program. It is worth it to invest the time needed for a robust assessment. It’s a valuable tool that can help your city make great strides in sustainability outcomes.

Mayor-Ed-MurrayAbout the Mayor: Ed Murray has been Mayor of Seattle since January 2014. He served in the Washington State Senate from 2007-2013, and before that for 11 years in the Washington State House of Representatives.

 

H-Varnadore-BAbout the Author: As Executive Director of STAR Communities, Hilari is focused on advancing a national framework and rating system for sustainable communities. Previously, she served as Frederick County, Maryland’s first Sustainability Director in the Office of the County Manager and was a member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA: One Less Thing for Cities to Worry About

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Had Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA gone the other way it would be a big deal for cities.  But it didn’t.  Cities own many small stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases and will benefit from not having to obtain permits for them.

The Clean Air Act regulates pollution-generating emissions from stationary source (factories, power plants, etc.) and moving sources (cars, trucks, planes, etc.).  In 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA the Court held EPA could regulate greenhouse gases emissions from new motor vehicles.  As a result of that case, EPA concluded it was required or permitted to apply permitting requirements to all stationary sources that emitted greenhouse gases in excess of statutory thresholds.

In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA the Court held 5-4 that EPA cannot require stationary sources to obtain Clean Air Act permits only because they emit greenhouse gases.  But, the Court concluded 7-2, EPA may require “anyway” stationary sources, which have to obtain permits based on their emissions of other pollutants, to comply with “best available control technology” BACT emission standards for greenhouse gases.  Local governments own many small stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases and will benefit from not having to obtain permits for them.

The Court reasoned that permitting all newly covered stationary sources for greenhouse gas emissions “would place plainly excessive demands on limited governmental resources is alone enough reason for rejecting it.”  EPA’s regulations would increase the number of permits by the millions and the cost of permitting by the billions.  Small sources like retail stores, offices, apartment buildings, shopping centers, schools, and churches would be covered.  States, as permitting authorities, would bear part of the burden by having to hold hearings and grant or deny permits within a year.

To avoid the result described above, EPA issued the “Tailoring Rule,” which increased the permitting threshold for greenhouse gases from 100 or 250 tons per year to 100,000 tons per year initially.  The Court concluded EPA “has no power to ‘tailor’ legislation to bureaucratic policy goals by rewriting unambiguous statutory terms.”

Finally, Court held if a stationary source is already being regulated because of its emissions of other pollutants it may be subject to BACT emission standards for greenhouse gases. “Even if the text [of the Clean Air Act] were not clear, applying BACT to greenhouse gases is not so disastrously unworkable, and need not result in such a dramatic expansion of agency authority, as to convince us that EPA’s interpretation is unreasonable.”

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About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Supreme Court Makes Some Superfund Cases Harder to Bring

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Has your city even been involved in Superfund litigation either as a plaintiff or a defendant?  Or may your city be involved in such a case in the future?  If so, the Supreme Court decided a case that in some states will shorten the period of time plaintiffs can bring environmental contamination cases.

In CTS Corp. v. Waldburger the Supreme Court held 7-2 that the federal Superfund statute, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), does not preempt state statutes of repose.  So homeowners’ state law claims for water contamination against an electronics manufacturer will be dismissed.

Five states have repose periods (Alabama, Connecticut, Kansas, Oregon, and North Carolina).  Additional state legislatures may adopt them in response to this decision.  Statutes of repose cut both ways for cities involved in environmental cleanup litigation.  In some instances a cities may be accused of being the contaminator.  In other instances a city may be trying to recover from a non-government contaminator.

The Environmental Protection Agency told North Carolina homeowners in 2009 that their well water was contaminated, allegedly by CTS Corporation, which had sold its electronics plant that had been on or near their property, in 1987.  The homeowners brought a state-law nuisance claim.  North Carolina’s statute of repose prevents a defendant from being sued for a tort more than 10 years after the defendant’s last culpable act, here 1987.  CERCLA was enacted to promote “the timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites.”  Section 9658 explicitly preempts statutes of limitations applicable to certain state-law tort claims and begins the statute of limitations when the plaintiff discovers that a harm was caused by contamination.

The Court held Section 9658 does not preempt statutes of repose.  The Court began its analysis by explaining the difference between statutes of limitations and statutes of repose.  Statutes of limitations create “a time limit for suing in a civil case, based on the date when the claim accrued.”  Statutes of repose bar claims based on the date of the defendant’s last culpable act or omission.  Statues of limitations encourage plaintiffs to diligently prosecute known claims.  Statues of repose effectuate a legislative judgment that a defendant should be free from liability after a specific period of time.

The Court noted that while Section 9658 uses the term “statutes of limitations” four times, it never uses the term “statutes of repose.” While the Court concluded this isn’t dispositive, “other features of the statutory text further support the exclusion of statutes of repose.”  These include that Section 9658 describes the covered period in the singular, assumes a claim exists (statues of repose can prohibit a cause of action from coming into existence), and allows for equitable tolling (pausing) (only available under statutes of limitations).

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About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

A Mayor’s Perspective on Why Sustainability Matters: An Interview with David Narkewicz, Mayor of Northampton, Mass.

This is a guest post by Hilari Varnadore, Executive Director of STAR Communities.

North-Hampton

City of Northampton, Mass.

Last week, STAR Communities announced that Northampton, Massachusetts is the first city in the United States to be awarded the 5-STAR Community Rating, STAR’s highest possible designation, and a recognition of Northampton’s strong record instituting a wide range of sustainability practices as a means to increase quality of life for the city’s residents.

This blog post features Northampton, Mass. Mayor David Narkewicz reflecting on “Paradise City’s” strengths, weaknesses, and the reasons why he is most proud that his city is the first in the nation to reach 5-STAR certification.

What are the qualities of your community that you feel strongly about protecting and enriching through sustainability programs and practices? 

Northampton offers a lifestyle rich in natural beauty, cultural, artistic, academic, and business resources. Our downtown center is one of the most vibrant in New England. The superb quality of life in Northampton contributes to a strong and diversified economic base. Northampton is unique in the number of independently owned businesses that make up our business community.

Northampton’s blend of traditional neighborhoods, forged by the great care of generations of good neighbors, and a lively and sophisticated cultural community would make any great city proud. Located in the heart of the Five-College area, and home to prestigious Smith College, education has always been a priority. Northampton retains the historic character of downtown and the mill villages of Florence, Leeds, and Bay State.

Northampton is proud of its work to create a more sustainable community.  As a community we have embraced restoring and protecting our environment, providing housing and services to all, caring for those with the least resources of their own, and growing our economy in a way that honors our history and serves all of our residents.

Becoming the first certified 5-STAR Community is a great accomplishment. For other cities considering STAR certification, what would you tell them?

STAR lets us [Northampton] promote all the great things that we have done to make our community strong and resilient.  It is positive feedback that lets our residents, taxpayers, businesses, investors, and community partners know that we are on the right track.  The transparency and independence of the process builds confidence in our work.

Equally important, in honoring us for what we have done and in benchmarking our progress, STAR encourages a community conversation on all that we still need to do to make our community even stronger.

So, what are some highlights from your city’s achievements, as reflected inSTAR? 

Our greatest achievement is that we have a balanced approach and try to address all sustainability challenges. Our rail trails, bicycle lanes, arts, and open space serves much of our community, our economy has a strong local focus, and our residents with fewer resources have more opportunity and services than in most communities.

I am proud that STAR validated our across-the-board balanced approach.  Whether it is dealing with reducing trash or fossil fuel energy use or encouraging buy local, we are working to address all of our sustainability challenges.  Our years of hard work are paying off.

What challenges are facing your city? How do you plan to address them going forward?

The biggest challenges are always fiscal.  There are never enough resources, especially in a city where the majority of our population is struggling and our median income is far less than we would like.   That said, we need to and will find the resources to be more resilient, to continue all of our efforts, to ensure that our youth and adults both have access to the best education and training, to make our streets safer and promote travel not dependent on private cars, expand our economy, and protect our environment.

STAR Communities is a national leader in rating sustainability efforts of cities, towns and counties; its national ratings program helps communities evaluate themselves in seven areas related to sustainability, such as “Climate and Energy,” “Built Environment,” and “Economy and Jobs.”

Cities can apply this month to be considered for the Fall 2014 Leadership STAR Community Program, joining cities like Northampton, MA; Austin, TX; Des Moines, IA; Tacoma, WA and Fort Collins, CO who became certified while participating in STAR’s leadership program. 

For more information, visit www.STARcommunities.org, visit STAR on Facebook and on Twitter @STARCommRating.

???????????????????????????????About the Author: Hilari Varnadore is the Executive Director of STAR Communities, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit organization advancing a national framework for sustainable communities. She works with local government leaders to empower communities to chart a clear path toward a sustainable future.

 

 

2_MayorNorthampton (2)About Mayor Narkewicz: David Narkewicz was elected the 44th Mayor of the City of Northampton in November 2011. He previously served as Councilor At-Large and President of the Northampton City Council from 2010-2011 and Ward 4 City Councilor from 2006-2010.

 

 

 

Mayors, Residents Make Big Strides with National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation

This is a guest post written by Steve Creech, Executive Director of the Wyland Foundation.

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With cities across the United States facing water scarcity, five U.S. cities were honored today for the commitment of their residents to making water-saving choices as part of the third annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

The cities of Dallas, TX, Corpus Christi, TX, Huntington Beach, CA, Bremerton, WA, and Crete, NB, led an effort among over 23,000 people across the nation to take 277,742 specific actions over the next year to change the way they use water in their home yard, and community.

Presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, with support from the U.S. EPA and National League of Cities, the challenge had direct participation from more than 100 U.S. mayors, from San Diego to Miami, FL, who encouraged their residents to participate in the online challenge at mywaterpledge.com.

“Access to a clean and reliable supply of fresh water is fundamental to our lives,” said artist and conservationist Wyland. “Most people do not think about their water footprint and the extent to which water quality issues can impact them personally.”

The challenge comes at a time when population growth, extreme weather patterns, water shortages, and again infrastructure all threaten access to a steady, sustainable supply of water in the United States.

The National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation provides a positive way to reward residents across the country for using water wisely and controlling what goes down the drain and into their local watershed.

By sticking to their commitments, the collective efforts of these residents will reduce national water waste by 1.4 billion gallons, reduce waste sent to landfills by 36 million pounds, eliminate more than 179 thousand pounds of hazardous waste from entering our watersheds, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.3 billion pounds.

Beyond its efforts to foster environmental change, the challenge provides an opportunity for participants from the top five cities to win more than $50,000 in eco-friendly prizes, including a Grand Prize Toyota Prius Plug-In.

City leaders, sustainability directors, and utilities managers who are interested in getting their city involved in the program for 2015 are encouraged to contact the Wyland Foundation at 949-643-7070. To see this year’s final national standings, please visit mywaterpledge.com.

Watch Al Roker & Nancy Stoner, EPA Director of Water, discuss the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

Steve-CreechAbout the author: Steve Creech is executive director for the non-profit Wyland Foundation. He is the co-author of  “Hold Your Water: 68 Things You Need to Know to Keep Our Planet Blue,” a fresh look at the importance of water in our communities and throughout the world. Steve is a former environmental news reporter in southern California and currently blogs for Huffington Post.

Supreme Court Decides “Good Neighbor Provision” Clean Air Act Case

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Given the Supreme Court’s prominent role in deciding important issues of the day, it is easy to get caught up in the latest juicy Court mishap.  Justice Scalia erroneously depicted precedent in his dissent in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, which had to be corrected. But don’t let that be the reason you read this blog post.  This case is important for cities.

The Clean Air Act’s Good Neighbor Provision prohibits upwind states from emitting air pollution in amounts that will contribute significantly to downwind states failing to attain air quality standards.  In EPA v. EME Homer City Generation the Supreme Court resolved two issues related to the Good Neighbor Provision.  Justice Ginsburg wrote the 6-2 opinion.

The Court first considered how responsibility for air pollution should be allocated.  This is no easy question when “[m]ost upwind States propel pollutants to more than one downwind State, many downwind States receive pollution from multiple upwind States, and some States qualify as both upwind and downwind.”

EPA chose cost-effectiveness in its Transport Rule.  So, for example, for nitrogen oxide, all upwind states have to reduce pollution at a cost threshold of $500 per ton.  (Spending more money EPA concluded would only minimally reduce pollution.)

The D.C. Circuit held that EPA must instead consider only each upwind state’s physically proportionate responsibility for each downwind state’s air quality problem.

The Supreme Court disagreed concluding that the Good Neighbor Provision allows EPA to consider costs.  “EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind States, we hold, is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor Provision.”

EPA issued Federal Implementation Plans (FIPs) allocating each upwind state’s emissions budget.  Upwind states argued that they should have been given an opportunity to develop and implement State Implementation Plans (SIPs) before FIPs were issued.

If SIPs are inadequate EPA has two years to issue FIPs.  The upwind states in this case failed to submit adequate SIPs.  When EPA issued each state’s emissions budget it issued FIPs allocating the budgets.  The D.C. Circuit required EPA to give states a “reasonable” time period to propose SIPs implementing their budgets.  The Supreme Court disagreed noting that the Clean Air Act makes it clear that once EPA has found a SIP inadequate, EPA has a statutory obligation to issue a FIP.

States and local governments filed on both sides in this case.  Upwind states are mostly in the South and Midwest.  This case is a win for states and local governments in downwind states (and, of course, the EPA).

The Supreme Court will decide another Clean Air Act case this term involving regulating greenhouse gases emissions from stationary source.

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About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Earth Day Reflections from an Urbanophile

This is the first blog in a series on why the key to protecting our environment lies in city innovation. 

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This word cloud captures city leaders’ responses when asked to describe their commitment to sustainability.

I grew up feeling a lot of guilt on Earth Day. When April 22 of every year came around, I felt a huge pile of bricks dropped on my shoulders. How many more natural resources could we waste? How could we ignore what we were doing to our water bodies? How could I have thrown away my leftovers yesterday? For twenty-four hours, the burdens of protecting the natural environment, large and small, fell on me.

Ok, so that’s a bit exaggerated but you get my point. Earth Day often feels like this thing removed from us — a day to celebrate/reflect/commemorate “nature” as though it is a play we are not quite a part of, only a peripheral spectator (or sometimes active villain) in.

The reality, though, is this is far from the truth. The fact is the makeup of our Earth has radically changed. We have a global population steadily on the rise, over half of which currently lives in cities. Think about that — over half. And this rate is only increasing.

Yes—as a society we are responsible for resources wasted, overused and undervalued. But we are also responsible for technological innovations; creativity; and conservation efforts that have helped us make leaps and bounds in conserving natural resources, and preserving and protecting the natural environment — all the while meeting the varied needs of a growing global population.

The fact is, on Earth Day and every other day, cities matter. Cities are where unlikely partners come together to solve a problem that seems impossible. Cities are the places where people’s ideas collide to form better, more effective outcomes than any of us could imagine on our own. And cities provide the key to protecting and enhancing our natural (humans included) environment.

Take, for example, the Wyland Foundation’s National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, an annual competition, which in 2013 had participation from residents in over 1,000 cities across the United States and saved 5.4 million single use water bottles from being used—all in a month’s time. Or the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a friendly competition where small-to-medium sized local governments across the country will be competing to design replicable, scalable energy efficiency programs to win a multi-million dollar prize.

Healthy competitions like these spur creativity and innovation, but they are also capitalizing on the fact that local governments across the country are already innovating and finding creative solutions to jointly meet environmental, economic and social issues. Cities across the country are framing their priorities with a recognition of our present situation and a nod towards the future, allowing them to create comprehensive, forward-looking programs and policies that embrace the natural and human environments as inseparable.

In reflecting on his city’s commitment to sustainability, Mayor Ralph Becker, of Salt Lake City, said: “As we look ahead toward 2015, we envision continued progress to a new kind of urbanism that embraces accessibility, sustainability, diversity and culture. Sustainable Salt Lake – Plan 2015 reflects a broad and ambitious agenda to protect our resources, enhance our assets and establish a path towards greater resiliency and vitality for every aspect of our community.”

I no longer feel burdened when I think of Earth Day because I recall all the exciting activities taking place in cities to find scalable solutions to some of our most pressing problems of today. I know that I have a very real personal responsibility to protect the natural resources around me. However, reading the sustainability missions of cities across the country is an affirmation of what I know to be true; the collective—that is, cities—in fact holds the key to protecting our environment.

Raksha VasudevanAbout the author: Raksha Vasudevan is the Senior Sustainability Associate at NLC.  Through  the Sustainable Cities Institute, her work focuses on sharing innovative solutions to city sustainability challenges, from climate change and resilience to buildings and energy efficiency.  Follow Raksha on Twitter at @RakshaAmbika and the Sustainable Cities Institute at @SustCitiesInst.

WUF7: City Resiliency — Facing the Reality of Natural and Man Made Disasters

This is the sixth post in a series of blogs on the World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia.

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Throughout the week long meeting of the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia, there was clear agreement:

Our climate is changing, temperatures are increasing, sea levels are rising, droughts are worsening, storms are becoming more violent, fires are larger and more expansive, the interface between urban and rural areas seems to be disappearing, allowing diseases to spread to places where they once never existed, and other natural disasters like earthquakes are impacting more and more people.

Furthermore, as the world’s population becomes increasingly urban, as human settlements occupy more and more available land, natural and man made disasters are becoming more consequential.

But there was also agreement that population and density alone are not the reasons that natural and man made disasters are becoming more consequential. Our cities are becoming more dependent on technology to work; the infrastructures of our cities are becoming more complex; individually and collectively we are becoming more dependent on mass services for survival. If our cities are to continue to grow and become places of opportunity, they must be able to respond to the impacts of environmental and other changes, and resilient not just for some, but for all regardless of their economic or social position.

On the last day of WUF7 this message was driven home again and again in a dialogue that included Joan Clos, director of the World Urban Forum; Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation; Luz Helena Sarmiento Villamizar, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development and others intimately involved in addressing urban resiliency.

Joan Clos said that “we must create a new system of organization because of the limitations of available land. The more land we occupy the more problematic is our growth, especially if we wish to be resilient.”

Judith Rodin said that everything we do in cities must be done through the lens of resiliency so that our cities and the people who live there can adapt, survive, respond and grow no matter what the shock, and do so without regard to the economic or social position of the city or its residents. She added, “Never before has humanity faced such a threat as it does today. The sheer number of people at risk at any one time is unprecedented.”

There was also agreement that to do so takes money and innovation, and requires engaging all members of society while developing strong partnerships between the public and private sectors. And lest we think the cost is too great, the Rockefeller Foundation’s research shows that every dollar invested will save $15 in future losses. “The upfront costs are huge, but the cost of doing nothing is far greater. For example, the World Bank has shown that right now 25 percent of the businesses that fail after a disruptive event never reopen. That is too high a cost.”

What then is a resilient city? Luz Helena Sarmiento Villamizar put it this way: It is one in which the risks from climate change are mitigated, the relationship between sustainable and urban development are understood, and are done so understanding that the challenge of creating an equitable city must be the defining lens.

Therefore, it is not enough to ensure that the wealthiest parts of a city come back to life; or that the downtown business district is protected. It requires that every resident, every neighborhood, every community and ultimately the entire city come together to respond to a natural or man made crisis.

“In Colombia it means that we cannot forget that poor people are likely to be the most vulnerable. If we are to meet their needs we must include them in the resiliency planning and development process, since they are the most vulnerable economically and socially,” said Villamizar.

Kathrine Vines, director of the climate change risk assessment network of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a non-governmental organization working with 66 cities around the world to mitigate the effects of climate change, reiterated this point. “We must ensure that each city’s residents, economies, etc., can respond to the undeniable stress of climate change since cities are the first place citizens go to manage risks of climate impacts,” Vines said.

Stefan Denig, vice president of Siemens Sustainable Cities Program said “we must not forget that cities are at incredible risk of huge catastrophes. London has built barriers to the Thames. In the first 30 years the barriers were only raised twice; in the last decade they have been raised 40 times. It is likely that New York City will experience a disruptive weather event every three years.”

Denig added, “if New York City failed to move toward a more resilient city, it would lose $3 billion over the next 20 years. If it only responded with protection it would still lose money over the next 20 years. But if it moved toward resiliency, investing the same $3 billion over the next 12 years would save the city about $6 billion over 20 years.”

So what then was the lesson of this dialogue, one that also included the mayors of Lampa, and Quillota, Chile, both of which in the last ten years experienced an 8.9 earthquake, a tsunami on the nearby coast, and serious flooding; a council member from Toronto, which has begun to experience devastating winters due to a shift in the jet stream; and a representative from the World Bank who underscored the financial problems facing any efforts to create resilient cities? That time is rapidly running out to create resilient cities that can respond to and recover from the ongoing changes in climate, and the increasing urbanization of the planet, both of which are conspiring to increase the likelihood of experiencing catastrophic events. To do otherwise, is to live in a constant state of denial that can only result in catastrophic outcomes.

Neil Bomberg

About the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

Open Data: A New Tool for Building Climate Resilience

This post was written by C. Forbes Tompkins and Christina DeConcini of the World Resources Institute (WRI). The post originally appeared on WRI’s blog.

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As communities across America continue to experience increasing climate impacts in the form of rising seas, heat waves, and extreme weather, local and federal leaders are starting to roll up their sleeves. Yesterday, the White House unveiled the Climate Data Initiative, a project aimed at arming local leaders across the country with information they need to plan for climate impacts while building more resilience. The initiative provides a key tool for helping those at the frontlines of climate change—America’s local communities.

The Climate Data Initiative delivers on a key element of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, announced last June. This new initiative creates an online hub of government data on climate impacts, giving local communities a detailed look at how a warmer world may impact their critical infrastructure like bridges, roads, and canals.

The initial phase will focus on providing data and tools related to sea-level rise and coastal flooding, and later phases will include information addressing other climate-related impacts. This release of comprehensive government data will be supported by additional efforts from the philanthropic and private sectors.

Google, for example, has committed to donate significant cloud computing and storage and to work with partners to create a near real-time system to monitor drought throughout the continental United States. Intel, Microsoft, and ESRI will create various maps, apps, and other tools and programs to help local officials and other stakeholders understand the climate risks specific to their communities.

Local Communities Are at the Frontlines of Climate Change

The initiative could be an important step in preparing the country for the impacts of climate change. From coastal towns in Southeast Florida to the world’s largest naval base in Hampton Roads, VA, local communities are increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise and other dangerous effects of climate change.

Indeed, climate change is already impacting virtually every community throughout the country—and these effects are poised to worsen with every degree of warming. Consider the following:

  • The world has now experienced 348 consecutive months where average global monthly temperatures were above the 20th century average. In other words, no one younger than 29 years old has lived a month of their lives where monthly temperatures were at or below average.
  • Scientists have found that the conditions leading to the 2011 Texas drought are 20 times more likely to occur now than in the 1960s due to human-induced climate change.
  • Sea-level rise has given a springboard for storm surge and coastal flooding that has amplified the impact of coastal storms, like Hurricane Sandy. Today’s annual probability of a Sandy-level flood reoccurrence has nearly doubled compared to 1950.
  • The Western United States now experiences seven times more large-scale wildfires than it did in the 1970s.
  • Extreme precipitation events have increased in every region of the United States between 1958 and 2007.

Escalating climate impacts not only threaten human well-being, they’re causing costly damages to critical infrastructure—damages that are expected to worsen in a warmer world with more frequent and intense extreme weather.

Severe weather is already the single-leading cause of power outages in the country, causing an estimated 679 widespread power outages between 2003 and 2012 and costing the economy, businesses, school systems, and emergency agencies billions of dollars.

Urban infrastructure is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. A 2007 extreme precipitation event in New York City, for example, only lasted two hours, but caused a system of transit failures that stranded 2.5 million riders. And in Miami Beach, officials say it will cost as much as $400 million to prepare the city’s drainage system for sea-level rise-induced flooding and storm surge.

The Role of Open Data in Climate Resilience

While climate change will affect all communities throughout the United States, the type of impacts felt will vary at the region-, county-, and even city-levels. Communities cannot adapt to or mitigate these impacts without first understanding exactly how they will be affected.

Open data like that provided in the Climate Data Initiative can help provide this level of information. For instance, the climate data site will offer infrastructure and geographic mapping data sets—showing specific bridges, roads, canals, etc.—and help local decision-makers understand how this infrastructure might be impacted by things like sea level rise, drought, or extreme weather. Local governments can use this current and relevant data as a basis for developing effective plans and utilizing resources.

The Climate Data Initiative builds on other work that connects federal activities with local climate action, including a Presidential Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and the recent budget request for a $1 billion fund for climate resiliency. This latest initiative by the administration not only reinforces the President’s acknowledgement that climate change is occurring, but also his prioritization of empowering local governments to address the issue.

Helping localities throughout the nation become more resilient is an incredibly important piece in overcoming the climate challenge. But, as organizers of this initiative acknowledge, adaptation and resiliency strategies will need to be accompanied by comprehensive reductions in annual greenhouse gas emissions at the national and international levels. Adaptation combined with comprehensive mitigation action is the only way to ensure a sustainable future—both locally and globally.