Policies That Thrust Cities Forward
(Rankings by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy)
Blog #84 CaliforniaGeo 2-8-22
An individual person’s wish or dream is an aspiration that may or may not be fulfilled over time. Sometimes priorities change. The equivalent for governmental jurisdictions are referred to as policies. They are aspirational and out in the open for all to see. They often involve steps and timelines for accomplishment—showing a more permanent commitment. They are also elements within our politics, as in candidate X will approve certain policies or terminate others. “Vote for X if that’s what YOU want!” In that sense, policies can approach the fickleness of an individual who quits after striving for the same goal for too long.
America and the world today-
The world’s population is not unified on every issue. While international associations of scientists and governmental officials have made progress on recognizing global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions and what it’s doing to climate stability, there are forces still aligned against reductions in fossil fuel use.
There are those who would support the equivalent of subsidizing the manufacture and sale of buggy whips in an economy that moved on to automobiles long ago. Policies responding to changing conditions or wishes of the public or government can get push-back from those protecting their self-interest. A common euphemism for this is the “sacred cow.”
The proponents of the sacred cow of fossil industries have been exposed as cynically protecting their business models through various marketing manipulations while knowing all along that they’re hiding the truth of global warming that the rest of us understand. As odious as this might be, it’s still just an expression of self-interest, as long as it doesn’t violate a law.
When it comes to efforts to tame global warming emissions and protect against climate change, individual cities are making efforts through policy that often look more nimble than that of states or the federal government. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reviews and ranks those efforts, many of which are impressive.
An example of their classification of cities is at right. It stretches across the country in groups based on size and rate of growth.
From there, ACEEE examines the policies of cities based on five areas of concern. All of these are potential actions that can have a measurable effect on emissions reduction and better energy efficiency.
The table above shows the top achieving cities in each of the measured five criteria.
A report is then built that shows the ranking of 100 cities across the country. San Francisco performed well enough to top the list. Portland and Seattle both landed in the top five. In the ranking report, each city is also compared to the median score of its peers as an illustration of how close or far ahead it is from those peer communities.
In the ACEEE’s lengthy written report on these comparisons, information is also covered for each city in terms of whether its rank is equal, better, or worse than the previous year.
San Francisco is one of 50 California communities that has adopted a policy to ban natural gas use for newly constructed, occupied buildings. The California Energy Commission itself on 1/1/21 finally dropped its mandate that new buildings must hook-up to gas within gas distribution territory for heating and hot water. Housing is second only to transportation in the generation of global warming emissions and both are among the five criteria used for the ACEEE rankings.
The midwest’s Minneapolis did well, and on the east coast, Boston and New York City were standouts. Of course, if we’re looking at a total of 100 rankings, there will be other communities near the bottom of the list.
Take a look at Augusta, Georgia. Its ranking as 95th has lots of room for improvement. You can see that its median peer cities aren’t much to crow about, yet they’re still doing far better than Augusta.
An Era of Limits-
There could be many reasons for this policy performance. The state of Georgia may not encourage or help with funding for its individual cities. Or, citizens may just not care and are fine with their local environment the way it is.
The city may have green ideas but can’t muster a council majority or the funding to make a start. Greater understanding of this situation will be possible when compared to its future rankings.
Augusta could also be under the same influence as Austin, Texas, where regional gas companies wrote the policy on gas abandonment themselves and lobbied hard enough to get it passed. Austin can’t increase its green transformation at its previous desired pace. Gas companies are using the “stranded assets” argument effectively in many jurisdictions like Austin across the country. Briefly outlined, it says that the gas infrastructure investment must get to the end of its planned useful life to pay off, and rate payers must compensate gas utilities for that investment.
The same argument has been made with some success to the shut-down of fossil-based electric generating plants. While they keep running, more emissions contribute to atmospheric warming. This is a difficult policy and regulatory situation when renewable generation can be cheaper and cleaner by far than older fossil facilities. Policies or laws could tip the scales here using the argument of emissions limits. In that case, polluters can clean up or be forced out of business.
While some of these elements of resistance to green policy are disappointing, it is important to remember that compared to ten years ago, global warming and climate change are in the minds and on the lips of many more Americans. Citizens are thinking, buying, and acting greener than ever before. And as they become a majority in their communities and states, self-interested fossil businesses will have to clean up or yield to renewables and an ethic of sustainability across a wider swath of American life.