by Carolyn Berndt
At its recent fall meeting in North Little Rock, AR, NLC's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources (EENR) Steering Committee continued to focus its policy work on energy and sustainability issues including natural gas production and the hydraulic fracturing process. The meeting, hosted by North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays and held at the offices of the Arkansas Municipal League, was led by EENR Committee Chair Michael Sesma, councilmember, Gaithersburg, MD. Sesma opened the meeting and welcomed presentations from several speakers whose areas of expertise nicely complement the work at hand.
In one dynamic session, EENR members heard from local representatives from the natural gas industry, state regulatory bodies, and the environmental sector on the process of natural gas drilling and production, industry best practices, pertinent federal regulatory statutes, state regulatory oversight and authority, and potential environmental threats and impacts of natural gas production and the hydraulic fracturing process.
John Peiserich, partner at the law firm Perkins and Trotter and a board member of the Arkansas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, shared the industry perspective. Ryan Benefield, Deputy Director, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and Shane Khoury, Deputy Director/General Counsel, Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, spoke about their roles with two of the three state regulatory agencies holding responsibility for overseeing activities related to the natural gas industry and production. Finally, Joyce Hale, there representing the Arkansas Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters of Washington County, and Arkansans for Responsible Gas Development, offered an environmental perspective on natural gas and hydraulic fracturing and raised questions that challenged the industry perspective.
The EENR Committee also took advantage of the many sustainability-related programs underway in the city and heard from several local speakers, including Bernadette Rhodes, North Little Rock's Fit 2 Live Coordinator, who spoke about the city's Fit 2 Live program, which focuses on healthy eating and active living to address the obesity epidemic in the community. Additionally, Mike Russ, General Manager of the North Little Rock Electric Department, and Dr. Marty Matlock, a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas, together gave an overview of the city's sustainability program, including how the city established a carbon emissions baseline to determine the carbon emissions reduction potential and overall potential impact of various activities that informed the development of the city's sustainability plan and priority areas of focus.
Finally, Hilari Varnadore, Director of the STAR Community Index, based in Washington, DC, gave an overview of the nation's first framework for evaluating, quantifying, and improving the livability and sustainability of communities. The NLC Congress of Cities and Exposition in Boston will feature a pre-conference training on the STAR Community Index where city leaders will learn about the STAR framework, hear about cities that have been involved in its development, and see a demonstration of the STAR Online Reporting Tool.
Another highlight of the meetings was a mobile tour of the community led by Mayor Hays, with visits to Central High School in Little Rock, the site of the Little Rock Nine desegregation protests; the Murray Hydroelectric Power Plant; Big Dam Bridge, which connects the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock; Burns Park; the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum; and the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, which houses the submarine USS Razorback, a veteran of World War II, the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
During the policy portion of the meeting, the Steering Committee approved NLC policy changes relating to sustainability, climate change, climate change adaptation, energy efficiency, natural gas, transportation and energy, product stewardship, and invasive species and harmful infestations. The committee also approved a new policy section pertaining to health-focused local food systems. Additionally, the committee made recommendations for renewal or expiration of each of the nine current resolutions, recommending that four be expired, and approved two additional resolutions pertaining to consumer protection in natural gas rate cases and hydraulic fracturing and the protection of municipal water supplies. These policy changes and resolutions will be presented to the full EENR Policy and Advocacy Committee during the NLC Congress of Cities for consideration.
Details: Additional information on the meeting in North Little Rock, including speaker presentations, is able on the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee page under the Resources tab.