‘Don’t get in our way’, US mayors tell federal government on climate change

19th January 2017 Jonathan Andrews

Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles and Marty Walsh, Mayor of Boston, spoke to Jonathan Andrews during a press briefing at the US Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting in Washington DC about climate change and the new Trump administration

How strong a position do mayors now have on climate change?

I’ve never felt a more stronger coalition, both globally from C40 which both Mayor Walsh and I serve on as Vice Chairs–having recently convened in Mexico City–but also here nationally through the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. It now has 72 cities that we have brought together across the United States to really use the best of peer pressure to say that we will make commitments on reducing emissions, that we will measure them, share them and find best practices among cities.

How many cities have signed on to the letter that you sent Donald Trump after his election victory?

We have 68 cities that have signed on to the letter that we presented to Donald Trump saying that climate change is not an ideological issue but an urgent one for us. It transcends partisanship with undeniable science and more importantly undeniable human impacts from wild fires in California to real estate threatened in Florida.

Are you worried at all by what a climate change denying administration might have on cities?

Even with a change in an administration, it’s not going to take away our determination or our ability to continue our progress. No national government is going to prevent me from buying electric vehicles [EVs]. We have one of the largest EV fleets in the country. All of our non police patrol cars are EVs, representing a 60 percent cost saving. Forget the impact on the environment for a second, it makes financial sense as well as climate sense. The federal government can’t force me to make my buildings pollute more or to emit more energy or use more water. They can’t prevent us from getting off carbon and burning less coal. We have a lot of power to exercise.

Mayor Walsh will host the next China-US climate leaders summit where we brought together the mayors of those two countries, which are the biggest emitters.

We will continue to make the case that it’s really about human health, this is about the safety of our cities and communities and not about where you are on the ideological spectrum. Not only is the science clear but the human impacts are very clear.

Have you had a response to the letter from Trump’s team?

We haven’t had a response yet. I spoke to him directly about it and we want to keep an open mind about things. He didn’t in any way reject what we were saying. It’s not a bunch of liberal mayors deciding that this is a good cause for us. People are demanding that we do something.

Is the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda reaching out to smaller and non-Democratic cities?

We have a tonne of Republican support on this. On other issues you might usually get one or two token Republicans supporting an issue, but this is across the board. Republicans represent a lot of outdoors people who see the change in the frontline when they are out there, and see those impacts and even having to fight them, like our fire fighters.

It’s not just major cities in America and major Republican mayors. Small towns in Massachusetts are signing on to going carbon neutral, they are starting to pay more attention. These inland towns may not have to deal with coastal erosion but they are experiencing the extremes with heat and snow. In Boston, in 2015, we set a record for the most snow in our history; in 2016 our summer set a record for the hottest and the least amount of rainfall.

These issues are also becoming more economic issues. And a lot of how we run our cities is based off of economics. ‘Can we afford to do something and can we afford to have this happen again?’

Do you think the new Trump administration might be more conciliatory now the campaign is out of the way?

A lot of the statements that were spoken about in the campaign are starting to be walked back so I think the administration is not really sure where they are in a lot of different areas, or where they are going to go. Over the next three months we are going to get a better snapshot.

If the new administration backs out of the Paris agreement cities can take it up. When Kyoto wasn’t ratified by the national government, cities took it up. The worst case scenario is that the federal government could take away 20 to 30 percent of our progress. I’d rather have 100 percent than 70 percent progress but I feel that 60 or 80 percent of progress led by cities is inevitable.

In what areas are you making this progress?

The three main areas are in buildings, transportation and energy. Getting off of coal and carbon, and retrofitting our buildings, that’s 50 percent just there.

Have you identified any potential allies in the new administration or in the new congress to support you?

We don’t know who our allies and collaborators will be. Part of my message is, ‘Don’t get in our way, let us continue getting on with it’. We’d love a federal partner to help accelerate things like EV innovation but at the very least my message to them is, ‘Don’t get in our way’.

Bush senior [George HW Bush] made the largest investment to clean up Boston harbour, and he didn’t get into office by being an environmentalist. But I think there was an understanding that Boston harbour was disgusting and dirty and polluted. All of that happened under a Republican administration, so I’m hopeful that there is going to be some positive signs.

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