Trickle up: Combatting Federal Inaction

Trickle up: Combatting Federal Inaction

This post first appeared on Rasky Baerlein's blog. In December 2010, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, released the Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020. Mandated by the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in August 2008, the plan sets the statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions limit for 2020 at 25 percent below 1990 levels. It's worth noting that Massachusetts is one of 34 states in the union to address climate change through statewide regulation.

The cynics among us may not recognize the importance of these state level initiatives, dismissing them as too small-scale and too piecemeal to have any lasting effect. After all, can better bike lanes really make a difference when the greatest cause of increased GHG concentrations are the burning of fossil fuels and rampant deforestation? Absent an overarching national or international policy, it seems that modest, local and state initiatives may help move us in the right direction. Consider the alternative: waiting for Democrats and Republicans to "reach across the aisle" on one of the most divisive issues of our time. Or waiting longer, still, for countries in the developed and developing world to magically align; finally enabling world leaders to support a compromise that will shape our collective economic future.

But starting small may just be the answer. The fact is, a great deal of progress can be made at the local and state levels. If communities can convince their state leadership that reductions in emissions are feasible through practical means, and if those states can demonstrate progress to US policy makers, it will be difficult for Congress to ignore the de facto climate policy that already exists. Equally important, advances at the city and state level have the potential to make a significant impact, prompting federal legislation and perhaps leading to change at the international level.

The City of Cambridge, Massachusetts serves as a good example for municipalities around the country. In May 1999, the Cambridge City Council voted to join Cities for Climate Protection (CCP), an international consortium of communities working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For an eight year period, from 1990 - 1998, Cambridge assessed its greenhouse gas emissions and in 2002 adopted the Cambridge Climate Protection Plan. This innovative plan set an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by the year 2010. With this plan in place, Cambridge began addressing climate change nine years before Governor Patrick signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, and six years before the Kyoto Protocol (notably lacking US participation) took effect.

Since 2002, Cambridge has been executing a long-range plan designed "to take responsibility for its share of the problem and to demonstrate that taking action is feasible and desirable." The idea of one community taking responsibility for its carbon footprint is powerful, especially when the results are real and measurable.

Fast forward to December 2010: judgment day for the Cambridge Climate Protection Plan's engineers. Despite a decade of hard work, Cambridge failed to meet its ambitious emissions reduction target. And now that the Patrick Administration has laid out its own climate protection agenda, what will the role of municipal initiatives be? During the committee meeting I attended last week, defeat was not the mood. Rather the sense was that Cambridge has something very valuable to offer the state: real life lessons on what works and what doesn't. With a ten year lead on Massachusetts in the climate protection arena, the new Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Richard Sullivan Jr., might consider a diplomatic visit across the river to the People's Republic of Cambridge.

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Lea Cademenos

Lea is Senior Public Affairs Associate at Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications.