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ECC’s 2014 Climate & Energy Summit Emphasizes Local Action

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As national and local staff of the Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC) and members of ECC local councils – allies from labor, business, government, community organizations and academia – gathered in Washington, D.C., June 10-11 for ECC’s 2014 Climate & Energy Summit, it became clear that Capital Hill gridlock won’t deter advancement of ECC’s “triple bottom line” of environment, economy and equity. That’s because ECC is already focusing on local and state policy while developing and executing local, regional and statewide energy-efficiency projects.

At the same time, the“devolution” of federal policies into local policy development and implementation was one of the summit’s overriding themes, with intense dialogue on how to ensure that state and local policies to curb climate change and increase energy savings also bring high-road job opportunities to low-income communities of color.

Still, ECC staff didn’t abandon national-level advocacy, holding meetings with congressional staff on June 13 to push key priorities:

  • A bipartisan energy efficiency bill;
  • A bipartisan bill to help companies find and train skilled workers for jobs in high-growth fields; and
  • A bill to leverage public and private dollars for infrastructure projects that create good jobs, reduce carbon pollution and prepare communities for the impacts of climate change. 

A Wealth of Ideas
Also discussed at the Summit:

  • Curbing tax incentives for fossil fuels;
  • De-coupling utility profits from energy sales to encourage utility efficiency programs; and
  • Working in sustainability areas beyond building retrofits, including transportation, (turning the federal Highway Trust Fund into a broader “Transportation Trust Fund”), water and even food. 

Value Chain of Efficiency
Eric Mackres, ECC board member and manager, local policy and community strategies at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said quantifying the many benefits of energy efficiency – electricity reliability; improved air quality that curbs respiratory illness; lower home energy bills that allow injection of money into local economies – could increase understanding and support for the “value chain of energy efficiency.” 

He suggested targeting the “cash- and credit-poor sectors” of low-income communities and small businesses for the economic development benefits of energy efficiency and urged local governments to lead by example by:

  • Adopting energy-saving goals;
  • Actively managing and tracking energy use;
  • Enabling access to data on energy usage;
  • Adopting policies to improve building efficiency;
  • Partnering with utilities; and
  • Encouraging location-efficient development and more travel mode choices.

PLAs are Key
Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel, ECC board member and deputy director of the Partnership for Working Families, stressed the importance of PLAs and/or Community Work Agreements, given that union apprenticeships are one of the best ways to put low-income people on high-quality career paths. 

She suggested incorporating PLA requirements into local ordinances and spelling out particulars (what project size triggers a PLA; where targeted workers are by ZIP code; total work hours; percentage of hours going to targeted workers) to make them expected, familiar and non-controversial. She added that reserving 30 percent of total hours for targeted workers is a good start and some get to 40 percent, but more than 40 percent is usually unrealistic. 

Mulligan also emphasized the need to “sync up” training programs with the seasonal construction cycle and with project timetables, so apprentices don’t complete their training on electrical work, for example, after that work has been completed. 

Building a Base
Michael Blake, vice president for public policy at Green for All, and Leslie Fields, the Sierra Club’s national environmental justice director, noted the importance of using grassroots organizing to achieve local sustainability and equity goals. They recommended:

  • Seeking allies in unlikely places;
  • Using broad health issues as an organizing focus; and
  • Using local cultural and recreational events to draw supporters.

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