NewDEAL Members Join Colorado Leaders to Launch National Climate Initiative

May 7, 2019 by Dan McCue

More than 40 of the nation’s most innovative state and local officials gathered in Denver Monday to launch a national climate change initiative aimed at driving the policy agenda to address climate change.

The NewDEAL Forum Climate Change Policy Group will leverage the expertise of the public and private sectors and the non-profit community to identify the most effective solutions and strategies deployed on the local level to date.

The policy group, which was announced in Denver at the NewDEAL’s annual Ideas Summit, will then compile its finding in a report similar to one previously prepared by the NewDEAL Forum Future of Work Policy Group.

It will then be circulated among the other members of the NewDEAL, a network of carefully-selected state and local officials below the level of governor.

On Monday, Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan and Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who are co-chairing the initiative, noted that whether one lives on the coast or in the heartland, in an urban or a rural community, they are subject to the dramatic impacts of climate change.

In the face of this new reality, they agreed, state and local are on the front lines of building up local resilience to climate impacts, reducing harmful carbon emissions, and “creating the new energy economy and writing our energy destiny for the future of cities and states.”

Playing Catch-Up After Eight Years of Republican Intransigence

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes

Later, Lieutenant Governor Barnes, a Democrat and NewDEAL member, told The Well News that his home state, was “pretty behind the ball in terms of climate action,” under former Republican Governor Scott Walker, who led Wisconsin from 2011 to 2019.

“The previous administration simply put any kind of response to climate change on hold, and as a result, when we took office earlier this year, we found that when it came to addressing climate issues and things like renewable energy, we were effectively operating as if we were back in 2011,” said Barnes, who was inaugurated in January alongside Democratic Governor Tony Ever, and made history in the process by becoming Wisconsin’s first-ever African-American lieutenant governor.

Among the issues the new administration in Madison, Wisconsin faced was that the state hadn’t increased its renewable energy portfolio in any meaningful way during the previous eight years.

It also found itself dealing with an historically harsh winter which saw the Badger State repeatedly set new snowfall records.

“When you look at the severe weather events that are taking place in Wisconsin and other states across the country, it is easy to see how important it is for to get ahead of and stymie the impacts of climate change, but at the same time, it is also important look at the economic impact that we could see in a state like Wisconsin,” Barnes said.

“We don’t have oil or gas in Wisconsin, but we should be doing a much better job of generating our own energy from other, renewable sources,” he said. “Not only would this help us reduce carbon emissions which are causing the more extreme weather, but it would stimulate our economy, especially where we have to make up for widespread losses in manufacturing.

“Those jobs don’t exist anymore and the manufacturing jobs that do remain, simply don’t pay as well as the jobs that disappeared. Renewable energy is how we can make up some of the ground that we’ve lost.”

It turned out Barnes was only warming up on the topic.

“Renewable energy is a job creator,” he said with emphasis. “Just look at the number of components it takes to build a wind turbine. And there’s solar manufacturing … solar installation. There’s the upkeep of these facilities. And then you also have to look at the research portion of it, which is where our university system could play an integral role.

“We can get back to our manufacturing roots in Wisconsin. We have everything we need to be a leader in renewable energy manufacturing, We just need to create a climate, no pun intended, that makes that possible,” Barnes said.

One of the biggest obstacles to bringing all this to fruition in the Wisconsin state legislature. The body is still controlled by a Republican majority that continues to reject climate science and any Democrat-driven policies that might derive from it.

“There is a lot of unnecessary resistance in the legislature right now,” Barnes said. “There are folks who don’t seem to understand the urgency of the moment that we’re in, and at the same time, are ignoring the fact our economy is in need right now, that there is a gap that has not been filled, and that renewable energy is the way to address it.”

“Renewable energy, as an industry sector, is growing and growing quickly. Yet a state like Wisconsin has not been able to tap into that growth … for political reasons only,” he said.

As Barnes continued to talk about Wisconsin politics his frustrations with those across the aisle was unabated.

“It’s tough, often times, because in a lot of places you have elected officials who have the luxury of living in their own bubble, which is self-drawn,” he said, referring to the state’s legacy of partisan gerrymandering favoring the GOP.

“When you have a system like that, you don’t necessarily have a need to respond to the will of the people or in a way that reflects the will of the people. That’s what’s most frustrating about the ongoing gerrymandering issue.”

Yet for all his frustration, Barnes said he firmly believes in bipartisanship. “There should be many more opportunities for bipartisan cooperation, especially on issues like criminal justice reform … and climate change,” he said.

“Climate change should be a completely non partisan issue. It impacts everybody,” he added.

In Norfolk, Va. History of Flooding Primed Climate Fight

Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan

Elected to the Norfolk, Virginia City Council in May 2016, Andria McClellan wrestles not with a recalcitrant legislature, but rather with persistent, regular flooding in her coastal city that is only expected to get far worse.

According to estimates adopted by the city, local residents will see an one-and-a-half foot rise in sea level by 2050, a three-foot rise by 2080, and a four-and-a-half foot rise in sea level by 2100.

“That’s pretty significant,” McClellan said. “So, of course, we’re lobbying to get state and federal dollars — billions of dollars — for huge infrastructure projects intended to save the city, but at the same time, we’re also implementing a new zoning code in Norfolk that we believe will make our community one of the most resilient in the country.”

The new measures include requirements that new building projects include a plan for retaining water on site, rather than have it simply flush into the Norfolk’s storm drain system; the planting of native grasses; the inclusion of charging stations for electric vehicles, a plan for solar panel implementation; and the city now provides stormwater credits to developers and residents who incorporate rain barrels, rain gardens and bioswales into their properties.

“We have also started an initiative in which we’re getting our citizens to sort of crowd source and assist our public works department to ensure that our storm drains are clear to reduce our incidents of street flooding,” McClellan said.

“Another focus of ours is green infrastructure. So we’re constantly looking to implement projects that both provide flood mitigation and improve our water quality and environment,” she said. “When we can identity these dual benefit projects, we always make them a priority when allocated the limited public works money we have.”

Norfolk’s struggle with flooding is complicated by the fact it is home to one of the east coast’s premiere cargo ports and a huge Naval base. While the city has the ability to mandate broad flood control rules almost anywhere it wants, any city’s budget can only go so far.

To comprehensively address its flooding issues, Norfolk needs state and federal assistance when it comes to mitigation on the access roads to the port and the base.

“So we’d like to get more state funding to deal with flooding and climate change impacts on the port access roads, and we’d like to get the military to pay for improvements outside the base, which is something it doesn’t do right now,” McClellan said.

“We’re also working to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to invest more in local communities before a disaster happens,” she said. “In essence, we’re trying to get the federal government to realize what FEMA has already said: that for every dollar we spent on pre-disaster mitigation, you save as much as $7 on post-disaster recovery.”

In that regard, one might expect McClellan to take solace in last week’s initial infrastructure talks between the president and congressional Democrats.

But the local lawmaker said she believes success on this front depends very much on how projects are defined and discussed.

“I think you need to differentiate between climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation,” she explained. “I think it is very likely that we could get funding and support for infrastructure projects that are adaptive in nature.

“For instance, we know here in Norfolk that flooding is occurring now, so we quite possibly could get funding for road work and sea walls and so on,” she said. “And basically, the argument is, we need to take these steps to ensure that our sailors can get on and off the base, that trucks can get in and out of the port with floods, that citizens can get to work and to the Targets and Wal-Marts where we all shop … and that children can get to and from school.

“Flooding that prevents those things is a universally acknowledged problem. I don’t think discussions about those things are politically-charged. But if you try to start talking about climate change mitigation and support for solar and wind, and so on, I imagine it’s going to be a bit more of a challenge.”

McClellan said she applies the same rule of thumb to discussions in her district.

“I would say I definitely talk a little less about climate change when I’m talking to my constituents, and talk more — and more specifically — about flooding, because flooding is one of the top three issues in the region and it effects everybody. Flooding is not city or community specific, it’s watershed specific. Water doesn’t know geopolitical boundaries. Everybody agrees flooding is a huge problem,” she said.

But McClellan cautioned she was not implying people in her district don’t care about addressing the broader implications of climate change.

“What I would say is that the concern about climate change mitigation and energy efficiency and using more renewable energy comes from a subset of the local population, but that that subset is growing,” she said. “Certainly the youth of our city is really clamoring for these things.”

In addition to announcing the formation of the NewDEAL Forum Climate Change Policy Group, the Ideas Summit also featured a panel led by Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, which focused on dramatic developments on the climate front during the state’s just-completed legislative session.

Led by Colorado Senators Jeff Bridges, Kerry Donovan, and Brittany Pettersen — all NewDEAL Leaders — the Colorado legislature passed more than a dozen clean energy and climate bills, including legislation to reduce emissions, enact energy efficiency standards, and require collection of greenhouse gas emissions data to allow the state to meet its reductions goals in a cost-effective way.

“I think to the extent that we can really localize climate change as something that makes a difference in people’s lives, that helps to change the dialog,” Toor said.

In addition to climate change, this year’s event also focused on solutions for the future of work and K-12 education policy, featuring discussions on the impact of automation and ways to ensure students and workers have pathways to good jobs in a rapidly changing economy.

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