NLC Energy, Environment Committee Meeting Focuses on Climate Change and Resiliency

September 30, 2013

By Carolyn Berndt

Recent extreme weather events, such as the recent flooding in Boulder, have brought renewed attention to the need for cities to anticipate, prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

How local governments can take action to prepare for and adapt to climate change and build community resiliency were the focal points of NLC’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resources (EENR) Steering Committee at its recent meeting in Pinecrest, Fla.  

Chaired by Mayor Matthew Appelbaum, Boulder, Colo. and hosted by Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, the committee spent two and a half days discussing how local governments, and in particular the South Florida region, are experiencing the impacts of  a changing climate. 

The foundation for local government action was laid out by Dr. Harold Wanless, Professor and Chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami. He gave an overview of sea level rise and the impacts on South Florida. Focusing on the Miami-Dade County Central District Wastewater Treatment Plant on Virginia Key, which is currently vulnerable to storm surge. Wanless explained that the plant will become more vulnerable as the sea level rises due to higher tides and more extreme weather. This is also a principal concern for many communities in South Florida including Key Biscayne, an adjacent community that is facing the same sea level rise challenges. 

A centerpiece of the meeting focused on the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, a joint commitment of Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties to mitigate the causes and adapt to the consequences of climate change. 

Mark Woerner, Assistant Director of the Office of Metropolitan Planning, Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources for Miami-Dade County and Jason Liechty, Environmental Projects Coordinator at the Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department for Broward County provided an overview of the Compact, described how the local governments in the region are working together to foster climate resilience, and how they developed a coordinated legislative and policy agenda for state and federal advocacy.

James Murley, Executive Director of the South Florida Regional Planning Council, discussed how cities and counties in the region are forging ahead with sustainability goals and practices and climate adaptation despite little action at the state and federal levels. Harvey Ruvin, Clerk of the Courts for Miami-Dade County and founding member and current board member of ICLEI, discussed how local governments in South Florida have been leading the way on sustainability issues since the 1990s. 

Presenting the federal perspective, Bryan Myers, Energy and Climate Change Coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta discussed actions the Agency is taking to advance President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, including an Agency-wide adaptation plan and individual regional implementation plans. which will both be released in the coming months. Myers also discussed the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Taskforce Report and the recommendation to ensure that funding is used to promote better planning and reduce vulnerabilities. Myers also provided an overview of adaptation funding opportunities and assessment tools for local governments.

 The final presentation on climate change came from Caroline Lewis, Founder and Executive Director of The CLEO Institute and a White House Champion of Change. She discussed The CLEO Institute’s campaign to educate and engage the public on the science and solutions of climate change. 

The committee also heard from Joe Spector, Vice President of Operations at Ygrene Energy Fund Florida on the state’s first recently-launched Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. The program enables property owners to finance renewable energy, hurricane protection measures, and efficiency upgrades over the long-term through their property tax bill. The cities of Miami, Miami Shores, South Miami, Pinecrest, Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay and Coral Gables jointly formed the Clean Energy Green Corridor to provide economic, community and environmental benefits to the region. 

It wasn’t all just meetings though. Committee members got a first-hand look at one of the country’s most valuable ecosystems, the Florida Everglades. Through a guided tour, committee members learned about the impacts of climate change on the park, and heard how protecting and restoring the Everglades will protect the drinking water supply for the entire South Florida region. Current Everglades restoration efforts aim to reestablish the natural flow of water by removing barriers to natural water flow. An increased flow will not only provide more drinking water to the region, but will help protect the aquifer from salt water intrusion, a result of sea level rise.   

Policy Changes and Resolutions

In addition to discussing climate change impacts on the region community resiliency efforts, the EENR Committee reviewed and voted on policy changes and resolutions. Specifically, the committee recommended changes to the NLC National Municipal Policy section on climate change, updating the section to reference the scientific basis of climate change and to include a sense of urgency in taking action. 

With regard to the existing 2013 resolutions, which are annual statements of position that sunset at the end of the policy year unless action is taken, the committee recommended that most be renewed for the coming year, to let one resolution expire, and to let one resolution expire and incorporate language into standing policy. Additionally, the committee approved a new resolution pertaining to adaptation planning and resiliency building to prepare for the effects of climate change and extreme weather events. 

These policy changes and resolution recommendations will be presented to the whole EENR Policy and Advocacy Committee during the NLC Congress of Cities and Exposition (CoC) in Seattle, and will then be voted on at the Annual Business Meeting that concludes CoC. 

The committee meeting materials and speaker presentations are available on the NLC EENR webpage under the Resources tab.