Communities in Illinois can take lead against climate change
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While President Donald Trump steps back from the landmark Paris Climate Accord, mayors across our country, including here in Chicago and Cook County, have committed to step up and fill the void. Now is the time for these municipal declarations of support for the Paris Accord to become real solutions. Effective actions must be taken to reduce carbon pollution in ways that achieve environmental and economic development goals together.
Chicago, Elgin, Evanston, Highland Park and other Illinois municipalities have pledged to fill the void left by Trump and seize opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
Growing local solar energy, storage and energy efficiency creates jobs, saves money, attracts investment and avoids carbon pollution. Local energy production keeps energy dollars in our communities, instead of paying to import electricity generated by coal, gas and uranium. Clean electric vehicles and buses in municipal fleets reduce fuel and maintenance costs, and avoid pollution. Improving energy efficiency in city buildings saves taxpayer money, reduces pollution and lessens maintenance costs.
Chicago is moving forward. For example, the city has committed to power all municipal buildings with renewable energy by 2025 and has an energy efficiency plan in place for public buildings. The city’s climate action plan adopted in 2008 calls for reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and new clean technologies provide even more opportunities for progress.
Here are three ways that all of our cities can transform their public commitments into meaningful climate actions:
- Achieve 100 percent renewable energy for municipal electricity needs by 2022. The Midwest has abundant wind power, and solar energy and energy storage capacity is accelerating as prices fall while technologies improve. Illinois cities can achieve 100 percent renewable energy by using locally produced solar energy plus storage, purchasing clean renewable energy from third parties, and securing renewable energy credits from new Illinois solar and wind projects.
- Clean up municipal fleets. All new purchases should be electric vehicles (except in special cases). Our nation’s transportation sector now produces more greenhouse gas pollution than the electric power sector, which is finally moving on a cleaner path. Illinois cities should buy electric vehicles or other zero-emission vehicles for non-emergency fleets. Cities can create demand to drive the EV market forward while reducing pollution. EVs have fewer moving parts and lower maintenance costs than internal combustion engine vehicles. EV operating costs are lower and more predictable. Using wind and solar energy to power EV charging stations accelerates a cleaner transportation system. Chicago has joined 29 other cities to jointly explore purchasing 114,000 EVs.
- Smart energy efficiency investments produce cost savings and less pollution. Why wait – many payback periods are short and the savings come fast. Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a cost-saver and pollution-reducer. Antiquated HVAC systems and old appliances waste money and allow more pollution. Smart energy efficiency products, technologies and controls are available. The time has never been better for cities to reduce their energy bills and cut pollution through energy efficiency improvements.
Illinois cities are leading by saying that they’ll step up with climate actions while President Trump isolates our nation from global solutions. Cities can seize climate action opportunities by moving forward with these three specific initiatives for clean energy, clean transportation and energy efficiency that will produce significant pollution reduction results. Let’s work together to turn words into deeds, achieve economic and environmental benefits together, and help advance the Paris Climate Accord goals.
Howard A. Learner is executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.