Securing Climate Protection

10 things Mayor Wynn could do now

Mayor Will Wynn's signature policy has been the Austin Climate Protection Plan. He provided the vision, has been its lead City Hall champion, and has emphasized the need to institutionalize its goals so that city progress survives his council tenure. In reporting this story, many ideas were raised for what the mayor could do to tighten council's tracking of its policy, provide clear policy direction to the city manager, and help secure climate-protection success – as well as Wynn's legacy.

In a recent conversation, Wynn expressed his support for most of the ideas below. He steps down June 20; after that, the job will fall to less certain climate-protection policy leadership by the new mayor and council.

• Instigate a comprehensive council review of progress toward meeting ACPP policy goals. It's timely for members to dig into the details: the translation of their goals into a workable plan, the program's successes and failures, why some goals haven't been met, the changing national and economic landscape, new scientific data, impending federal regulation, and more. If council reviews the ACPP office two-year strategic work plans, it could provide more informed and up-to-date policy direction.

• Formally link the city's land-use and transportation policy to its greenhouse-gas reduction goals. Enact a resolution marrying the policies and explicitly state that rail transit is needed to reduce regional greenhouse-gas emissions. Direct the Transportation to provide a quarterly report to council and the ACPP office (and appropriate city boards) with metrics and recommendations, showing how each proposed and current transit/bike/pedestrian/road project can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

• Get council to support a city sustainability director position in the 2010-2011 budget. An idea already evaluated and favored by the city manager, the new position would work across departments to efficiently maximize greenhouse-gas reductions and energy savings. The officer would have citywide authority for policy implementation; a direct report to the city manager is needed to effectively drive interdepartmental efforts and community/regional outreach. (A model is the city's new transportation director.) The position would need to save the city more than it costs; in principle, an effective sustainability officer could cut millions in municipal energy expenditures annually, within two to three years.

• Bring the climate protection office more fully into the city organization. Explore housing the climate protection team at City Hall, close to council and city management, instead of over at Austin Energy. (Lee Leffingwell has pointed out that, like the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, it could reside on the second floor beside council yet still be funded by AE.) Establish regular meetings between council staff and climate-protection staff. Bring staff under direct supervision and performance evaluations by the city's sustainability officer and city manager.

• Direct that council receive a quantitative ACPP report at least biannually. It should show progress against established milestones in the office's strategic plan. This would allow council to more meaningfully track policy implementation and the program's fiscal impact. (The city of Chicago has a good quantitative reporting model.) Share Austin's report with all 935 cities that have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement – and ask them for tips on anything they're doing smarter or better.

• Express council support for making greenhouse-gas emission reductions and energy efficiency a performance measure for all city departments. Ask the city manager to make recommendations on this and on how standard departmental performance measures should apply to the ACPP office. Departmental success in lowering emissions should also become criteria for each department director's annual performance review and annual budget approval.

• Express official council support for a climate-friendly city purchasing policy. (It's already in development.) Require certain items that come before council with a fiscal note to also have a greenhouse-gas emissions note (where practical), citing the proposal's impact on both municipal and citywide/regional emissions.

• Direct staff to utilize long-range, life-cycle costing in evaluating all proposed initiatives that can lower the city's greenhouse-gas emissions. Many changes require an initial capital investment but yield greater cost savings on energy over time. Ask for 10-year analyses that factor in energy savings. (The same kind of thinking justifies the sustain­a­bil­ity officer's salary.) AE helps residents and companies obtain low-interest loans for energy-efficiency improvements, yielding monthly electric-bill savings greater than the note payment; the city could seek similar financing.

• Establish clear regional leadership by starting an intergovernmental climate protection group. Ideally, it would be inclusive of the five surrounding counties, smaller cities, the Capital Area Council of Governments, Capital Met­ro, and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. And/or establish a joint city-county Climate Protection Policy Board, similar to the new Sustainable Food Policy Board, to provide citizen oversight and recommendations.

• Ask the next mayor to continue Wynn's traditions. Walk (or bike or ride transit) to work, and dim the lights in the mayoral office!

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Austin Climate Protection Plan, Will Wynn, City Council, Austin Energy

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