Renewed Push on Energy Efficiency Bill, But It’s Not Over Yet

There is little to get excited about in Congress these days, but the reintroduction of a bipartisan energy efficiency bill is welcome news. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) reintroduced their marquee energy efficiency bill, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, with the addition of ten bipartisan amendments and ten new sponsors (five Republicans and five Democrats) in an effort to demonstrate broad support and garner the 60 votes necessary to pass anything.

With the addition of specific provisions aimed at improving energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings, schools and federal buildings located in communities, among others, NLC is pleased to offer our support. NLC urges Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act up to the Senate floor for consideration, and we urge all senators to support the bill.

The building sector accounts for 39 percent of the nation’s energy use, 72 percent of its electricity use, one third of all global greenhouse gas emissions and represents the single largest, most accessible opportunity for deep emissions cuts in the United States. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is the most cost-effective way to achieve reduction goals; it will save homeowners and businesses money by reducing utility bills and create thousands of local jobs.

With regard to homes, the average homeowner spends more than $2,500 each year on energy costs – more than on either real estate taxes or homeowners insurance, both of which are regularly accounted for in mortgage underwriting. On average, these energy costs amount to more than $70,000 over the life of a 30-year mortgage. That’s why NLC is particularly pleased that the reintroduced bill includes the Sensible Accounting to Value Energy (SAVE) Act, sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). This provision will provide lenders and homeowners with more flexible federal mortgage underwriting rules that would include a home’s expected energy cost savings when determining the value and affordability of the home. The SAVE Act will address the blind spot in mortgage lending, giving a more complete picture of the costs of homeownership and a borrower’s capacity to service debt. Over time, the bill will drive growth in energy efficient home construction and energy efficiency upgrades in existing homes.

This energy efficiency bill is critical to helping cities meet their overall sustainability goals, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is a positive example of bipartisanship that will have a tremendous impact on cities and ripple effect throughout the economy. But first, cities need Congress to act.

Without getting too much into the messy details, the fact is the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act was on the Senate floor last September but fell victim to the amendment debate and the need to focus on debit and appropriations issues. While Sens. Shaheen and Portman believe they now have the votes, the Majority Leader has not yet made a commitment to bring it back to the Senate floor for a vote and non-germane amendments could once again be an issue. But let’s savor the bipartisan effort for now and work toward a positive outcome.

When you are in DC next week for the NLC Congressional City Conference, please tell your senators that you support the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, ask them to ask Sen. Reid to bring it up to the floor for a vote, and ask them to support the bill.

Resilient Infrastructure and Energy Savings to be Focus of 3rd Annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, April 1-30

This post was written by Steve Creech, Executive Director of the Wyland Foundation.

In 2013, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver, Colo. are recognized for their water conservation efforts.

In 2013, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver, Colo. are recognized for their water conservation efforts.

The facts about water shortages are indisputable. Yet, by and large, we tend to think of these shortages as temporary problems, without giving thought to the fact that a changing climate, growing populations, an aging water delivery infrastructure and increasing demands for a finite resource now requires a drastic change in how we consume water. The annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, April 1-30, was created to promote a long-lasting mindset of water conservation across a broad swath of our population. Now in its third year, the challenge is widely recognized as one of the most engaging, zero-cost outreach tools especially designed for cities and water utilities to encourage conservation in the United States.

At its most basic level, the challenge asks residents to take a series of informative, easy to use pledges online to conserve water, energy and other natural resources on behalf of their city. Cities with the highest percentage of residents who take on the challenge in their population category win eco-friendly prizes for their residents. Past participating cities have included Atlanta, San Francisco, Tucson, Los Angeles, Washington, Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles.

The approach is designed to reward residents for positive conservation behavior, provide immediate feedback with real time results that can be measured against neighboring cities, set achievable goals and put a spotlight on public role models to encourage behavioral change.

A mobile learning center is used to educate residents on the importance of water conservation.

A mobile learning center is used to educate residents on the importance of water conservation.

The pledges that consumers make may seem simple, yet they have been carefully designed to harness four key drivers and result in the following benefits:

  • Save costs for consumers
  • Save infrastructure and operating costs for cities
  • Promote drought resiliency
  • Protect watersheds and ecosystems
The Wyland Foundation assists cities with promotional materials to help spread the word.

The Wyland Foundation assists cities with promotional materials to help spread the word.

Elected officials are encouraged to use their leadership position to actively inspire residents to make pledges and support their city’s conservation efforts. Officials who add their name to the online endorsement page receive a comprehensive toolkit with resources including animated broadcast-ready PSA’s, graphics and blogs. Past mayors have held kickoff events, pledge drives at local libraries, created their own videos to display on their city’s website, sent utility bill stuffers, set up electronic road signs to encourage residents to take on the challenge and asked neighboring cities to participate. The challenge supplements the city’s efforts with a national public service advertising campaign.

Americans use over 150 trillion gallons of water a year in total. Moreover, according to the River Network, the U.S. consumes about 13 percent of its energy exclusively for water-related purposes, including moving, heating and treating water. Clearly, how we use this resource is having a greater and greater impact on our economy and our future quality of life. But shifting attitudes takes time, cooperation and wide recognition that a conservation mindset is one of the best, most powerful tools available to ensure the future availability of this indispensable limited resource. The National Mayor’s Challenge For Water Conservation offers another way for cities to keep this important issue top of mind.

The 3rd Annual National Mayor’s Challenge is presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, in association with the National League of Cities, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, the Toro Company, Bytelaunch Inc., Wondergrove Kids, WaterSmart Software. Learn more about the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

Building on What Works to Create Opportunity for Young Men of Color

During his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama called on the philanthropic and business communities to help his Administration come up with solutions to the myriad challenges faced by young men and boys of color. He stated, “I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.”

Making good on this pledge, President Obama recently announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and held a convening at the East Room of the White House today to kick off this important work, beginning with the establishment of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. The initiative will focus on implementing practical, results-driven strategies to ensure that young men of color are on equal footing with their peers in having access to opportunities to achieve the American dream. President Obama enlisted a wide cross-section of support for this groundbreaking public-private partnership. In the room were foundation leaders, corporate executives and local leaders such as NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn.

My brothers keeper

In acknowledging that these young men face unique challenges and pledging to take action to address on them, President Obama made visible an often overlooked crisis among young men and boys of color – no other segment of society is plagued by such disproportionately high rates of violence-related deaths, incarceration and unemployment. This sorry state of affairs has resulted in not only to daily tragedies for young men of color, it also threatens the health and prosperity of the nation as a whole.

This is an issue that is near and dear to our hearts at the National League of Cities. We have been working for a number of years with partners such as Casey Family Programs and the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Achievement to expand opportunity and prevent violence among young men of color.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter speaking at the Cities United inaugural convening in New Orleans.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter speaking at the Cities United inaugural convening in New Orleans.

Along with our foundation partners, we have worked with Mayor Michael Nutter in Philadelphia and Mayor Mitch Landrieu in New Orleans to spearhead the Cities United initiative, whose inaugural convening is currently taking place (February 26th – 27th, 2014) in New Orleans. Cities United is an initiative involving mayors across the country who are taking on the problem of youth violence in our city streets. The initiative is designed to assist mayors and municipal leaders create safer, healthier communities by working across multiple sectors with a broad set of partners to identify achievable, commonsense solutions to ending the high levels of violence that affect too many African-American men and boys. Obama acknowledged this good work in his address. “A bipartisan group of mayors called Cities United has made this an issue across the country,” he said.

Across the country, as evidenced by initiatives such as Cities United, we are seeing increasing numbers of local elected officials, entrepreneurs, foundations and corporations realize the great potential embodied by men and boys of color.

My Brother’s Keeper is focused on action-oriented partnerships with stakeholders to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential. The newly established My Brother’s Keeper Task Force will be assessing and suggesting improvements to federal policies, regulations and programs that apply to boys and young men of color, and will provide recommendations to President Obama on ways to ensure this effort is sustained for years to come within government and across public and private sectors. “This is an issue of national importance, it’s important as any issue I work on, it goes to the heart of why I ran for President,” Obama emphatically stated.

We couldn’t agree more with the president that 2014 must be a “year of action” on this issue. And cities are ready to lead the charge. At the Cities United convening, we had nearly 20 mayors in attendance from large and small cities across the country. From Birmingham and Louisville to Milwaukee and Oakland, cities are working to reduce violence and violent deaths among young men of color in their communities and to break down remaining barriers to equality. I encourage you to learn more about and join us in this important work.

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About the Author: Clarence Anthony is the Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow Clarence on Twitter at @ceanthony50.

Supreme Court Greenhouse Gas Case has Implications for Local Adaptation, Resilience Efforts

As the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments today on a case that could have implications for the Administration’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, cities continue to seek federal policies and programs that will support their local climate adaptation and resilience efforts.

The question in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA is whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may regulate greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources, like power plants and factories. Last September, EPA announced its first steps under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution from new power plants. With the President’s most recent State of the Union address, where he reiterated his plan to “go it alone” on climate change, the proposed greenhouse gas rule is a cornerstone of his plan.

The case stems from another high-profile Supreme Court case—in 2007 the court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that EPA has the authority to regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act. Subsequently, in 2009, EPA issued an “endangerment finding” that found that greenhouse gases endanger human health. Since then the agency has relied on the finding as a basis for its other greenhouse gas regulatory actions, in this case targeting power plants.

The Local Government Role

For the past several years the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee has focused on the topics of climate change, adaptation and resilience, looking at linkages among preparing for more extreme weather events, building resiliency, disaster mitigation, and the need to protect critical infrastructure, such as water and transportation systems.

In 2013, NLC updated its policy position on climate change, specifically urging “the federal government to develop a multi-pollutant strategy to reduce emissions from power plants, mobile sources and other major sources to provide significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

In 2014, supporting community resilience is one of NLC’s key federal policy issues. By raising awareness on the issue of climate change, the local impacts, and why and how local governments should think about resilience, NLC aims to spur additional action at both the federal and local levels.

The President’s Climate Action Plan, not only outlined administrative actions to reduce carbon pollution, but also focused on how to help communities become more resilient to the effects of climate change. The Climate Action Plan created the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, comprised of state and local officials to advise the President on ways the federal government can assist local efforts to address and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

NLC 1st Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City, Utah, is NLC’s designee on the President’s Task Force. NLC is working with Mayor Becker and task force members to help gather input from local officials on federal policies and programs to support local efforts on adaptation and resilience.

As our work with the President’s Task Force continues, we’re keeping a close eye on the Supreme Court’s decision and EPA’s rulemaking process — as a national policy it will have a tremendous impact on cities’ ability to meet their own greenhouse gas reduction goals, adapt to the effects of climate change and become more resilient.

As many cities set greenhouse gas reduction goals, which are typically one aspect of a city’s overall climate adaptation plan and resilience-building efforts, and have made progress benchmarking and measuring progress, they will benefit from a national policy that supports their efforts.

While cities continue to lead the way on climate adaptation, they are calling on the federal government to support local efforts by helping local governments to better understand the effects of climate change and extreme weather on their communities, incorporate these effects into their adaptation and resilience planning, and provide financial and technical assistance for local climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Teaming up to Capitalize on Natural Beauty: Knoxville and Knox County, TN

In honor of the 4th anniversary of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative this week, we are reprinting a series of blog posts from the Lets Move! blog. Below is the third post in this series, written by  Madeline Rogero, Mayor of Knoxville, TN and Tim Burchett, Mayor of Knox County, TN.

We’re moving in Knoxville, Tennessee! Located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, at the confluence of three major rivers and with gorgeous natural landmarks, it’s no wonder the favorite pastime of our 432,000 residents is outdoor recreation! We have made physical activity a priority in our community. Together, the City of Knoxville and Knox County governments are collaborating on Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC) efforts with great success!

We’re especially excited about the progress we’ve made on LMCTC Goal V: Active Kids at Play, which promotes and develops policies and strategies to increase physical activity and play in Knoxville and Knox County!  We worked with Legacy Parks to open the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center, a downtown recreation hub located on a 16-mile system of connected greenways adjacent to the Tennessee River. Here, outdoor enthusiasts can rent bicycles, paddleboards, and kayaks.  This center is tied to the 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness Corridor across the Tennessee River, which connects 10 parks, four historic Civil War sites, more than 40 miles of recreation trails, Ijams Nature Center and unparalleled natural features.

Girls in the afterschool program paddleboard at Fort Dickerson Quarry through the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center.

Girls in the afterschool program paddleboard at Fort Dickerson Quarry through the Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center.

We’ve also worked with Knox County Schools and the Knox County Health Department to promote active transportation. We’re particularly proud of the “Walking School Bus” program that our Safe Routes to Schools committee created. Parents, police officers, transportation experts and teachers alike work together to create programs in which adults escort children to school on foot, rather than commuting with vehicles.

The Knox County Health Department, who leads the Safe Routes to Schools Committee in Knoxville, partnered with Knox County Schools and the Knoxville Police Department to create the “Walking School Bus” program in the Lonsdale community for youth to get to Lonsdale Elementary.

The Knox County Health Department, who leads the Safe Routes to Schools Committee in Knoxville, partnered with Knox County Schools and the Knoxville Police Department to create the “Walking School Bus” program in the Lonsdale community for youth to get to Lonsdale Elementary.

And, the Knoxville Area Coalition on Childhood Obesity, the Knoxville and Knox County governments and the University of Tennessee have implemented a program to give lessons on riding bicycles to children in the City recreation centers and other local afterschool programs. City recreation officials and University of Tennessee student volunteers take the children to tour various greenways in town.

Kids ride their bikes on the City of Knoxville’s Third Creek Greenway, one of over 130 miles of trails in the Knoxville/Knox County greenway system.

Kids ride their bikes on the City of Knoxville’s Third Creek Greenway, one of over 130 miles of trails in the Knoxville/Knox County greenway system.

Our work with LMCTC has solidified and strengthened our community partnerships and helped us work more productively, particularly by honing the focus of our programs and pulling more partners together. The initiative galvanized pride in our communities as we achieve national recognition, together.

We’re looking forward to furthering the health of Knox County and Knoxville through our work in LMCTC!

Learn more about LMCTC, and how to become more involved with the initiative, here.

President’s Task Force Supports Local Efforts to Address Climate Change

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.

The majority of California is currently blanketed in "extreme drought." Photo credit: Amber Tsuchida, Flickr

The majority of California is currently blanketed in “extreme drought.” Photo credit: Amber Tsuchida, Flickr

News of California’s epic drought continues to reverberate around the nation. Not only have millions of Californians been cut off from their usual water supply, but the drought is threatening the state’s multi-billion-dollar agriculture and tourism industries.

To learn about the impacts of the ongoing drought first-hand and discuss how the federal government might help, President Obama will travel to Fresno this Friday. In addition to his visit, the President’s Task Force on Climate Resilience and Preparedness will convene in Los Angeles, California today for the next round of meetings to determine ways the federal government can assist local efforts to address and prepare for the impacts of climate change. Made up of more than two dozen governors, mayors and tribal leaders from around the country, the group represents a significant opportunity to bridge the gap between local and federal climate action.

California’s Drought Threatens Communities and the Economy

California experienced its driest year on record in 2013, receiving less than one-third of its average annual precipitation. Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in mid-January, and the State Water Project – the main municipal water distribution system for roughly 25 million people and 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland – suspended service for the first time in its 54-year history. Even after last weekend’s heavy rainfall, most of California is still blanketed in “extreme drought.”

Citizens both inside and outside of California are feeling the effects. The drought is not only threatening the viability of the nearly 50 percent of U.S. fruits and vegetables produced in-state, but is already impacting California farms and ranches. These farms and ranches generated $44.7 billion in gross income in 2012 alone. The ripple effect of these impacts could affect grocery stores around the nation in the coming months.

Tourism in California may also take a hit from the drought. With the Sierra Nevada snowpack being recently reported as only 12 percent of its average, the state’s $1.4 billion winter sports industry and the 24,000 jobs that rely on it are under threat.

Drought and the Climate Change Connection

As extreme as this drought is, though, it may be a harbinger of what’s to come. Studies suggest that the drought over the last decade in the western United States represents the driest conditions the region has experienced in the last 800 years. As the world continues to warm, more frequent and intense droughts are projected for the region. Furthermore, the combination of more frequent and intense droughts and warmer temperatures are expected to contribute to an increase in wildfires throughout the state. This is concerning for a state that witnessed seven of its 10 largest-recorded wildfires since 2003.

California is certainly not alone in feeling the impacts of a warmer world, however. From record forest fires and historic floods in Colorado, to coastal flooding in Florida, to threatened water resources from reduced snowpack in Utah, local communities across the United States are truly at the forefront of climate change.

Bridging the Gap Between Local and Federal Climate Action

These local communities tend to also be at the forefront of climate action. From the 10 mayors who recently joined an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by boosting energy efficiency within city buildings to the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, growing local leadership is establishing models for community-level action elsewhere in the country. But while these local initiatives are an encouraging sign, they must be met with complementary and comprehensive action from Congress and the administration if the United States is to truly rise to the climate change challenge.

The Task Force on Climate Resilience and Preparedness is one such initiative working toward this goal. When the Task Force meets today in Los Angeles, California, they will take the next step toward generating recommendations on how the federal government can both remove investment barriers to local resilience initiatives and create the tools and information communities need to prepare for and adapt to climate impacts. Once formally submitted to the government, these recommendations should not only help those in California deal with the impacts of future droughts, but assist communities throughout the nation in overcoming future climate impacts.

The Task Force represents a critical opportunity for the federal government to both learn from and enhance local climate action. But, supporting these communities also means following through on comprehensive federal initiatives—such as putting ambitious emissions standards in place for existing power plants. Only through collective action at the local, state, and national levels can the country effectively adapt to and mitigate the growing impacts of climate change.

Improving Access to Healthy, Affordable Foods in Rancho Cucamonga, CA

In honor of the 4th anniversary of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative this week, we are reprinting a series of blog posts from the Lets Move! blog. Below is the second post in this series, and was written by L. Dennis Michael, the Mayor of the City of Rancho Cucamonga, California.

As a Let’s Move! City, Rancho Cucamonga, California is addressing health and wellness in a holistic and comprehensive way. The City Council incorporated Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC) to be a part of Healthy Rancho Cucamonga (Healthy RC), a comprehensive, community-driven initiative dedicated to encouraging healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

Through LMCTC, we are:

  • developing policies, programs, and partnerships to encourage healthy, sustainable lifestyles;
  • transforming the way Rancho Cucamonga does business by putting health at the forefront of every decision; and
  • building a healthier community.
A mother educates her children on the importance of eating healthy.

A mother educates her children on the importance of eating healthy.

One way Rancho Cucamonga is implementing our “Health-In-All-Policies” approach is through LMCTC Goal IV: Model Food Service, which focuses on improving access to healthy, affordable foods by implementing nutrition guidelines that align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in city-owned or operated food venues.

In partnership with the community, we have implemented several key strategies to address and improve healthy food access. First, we implemented Rancho Cucamonga’s Healthy Food and Beverage Policy, which requires all city facilities to meet nutrition standards in city-owned and operated vending machines and any food provided by the city. Additionally, the city developed a toolkit for partner organizations to adopt similar policies in order to create consistent healthy messages throughout the community.

Healthy Food and Beverage Campaign –At Rancho Cucamonga’s Preschool program, a healthy vending machine is stocked with healthy snacks, drinks and supplies geared for children.

Healthy Food and Beverage Campaign –At Rancho Cucamonga’s Preschool program, a healthy vending machine is stocked with healthy snacks, drinks and supplies geared for children.

The city also works with local restaurants to increase access to healthier food when dining out. The Healthy RC Dining Program collaborates with San Antonio Community Hospital’s Registered Dieticians to review restaurant menus and help develop and design healthier meal options for children and adults. Since October 2012, 14 restaurants have joined the program, and it continues to grow.

And last, Rancho Cucamonga modified zoning codes to expand the number of areas that allow for farmers’ markets, and as a result, two farmer’s markets were established bringing access to fresh, affordable, locally grown produce to residents. In addition, the city implemented the “Bringing Health Home” program. This program provides residents with incentives (up to $50 a month match) to purchase healthy foods at farmers’ markets.

Rancho Cucamonga is excited to continue advancing LMCTC’s goals and building a healthier city! You can read more about our efforts here. Learn more about LMCTC, and how to become more involved with the initiative, here.