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    August 13, 2019 | 9:56 AM

    Counties Are Stepping Up in the Face of Federal Inaction

    Even historic mistakes can have silver linings.

    Back in June of 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would begin withdrawing from the historic Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and solve the climate crisis.

    Condemnation of the move was immediate and nearly universal, with world leaders and businesses united in their opposition. But more importantly, when communities across the US saw the federal government would be stepping back from any serious climate action, they stepped up.

    One of the most exciting developments has been the fact that, in the years since the announcement, counties nationwide have been coming together as part of the County Climate Coalition to reaffirm their support for the Paris Agreement and reduce emissions at the local level.

    By working together and getting serious about slashing emissions, these counties aim to help the US meet its original Paris pledges with or without the federal government. To get there, coalition members have all passed resolutions to cut greenhouse gas emissions, whether by transitioning to 100 percent renewable electricity or improving sustainability in county operations. And by joining forces, member counties have created a national network raising its collective voice in support of a healthier, more-sustainable tomorrow.

    To find out more about how counties are leading the way, we asked three coalition members what they’re doing to address the climate crisis and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

    Read what they had to say below.

    Ulster County, NY

    Ulster County, New York has been a role model of local governments taking climate action for years. In 2014, Ulster County issued an executive order committing to purchase 100 percent of the electricity for county operations from renewable sources. Soon after making this commitment, the county expanded its commitment to sustainability by working to offset all emissions from government operations.

    The move helped make Ulster the first county in New York State to operate on a carbon-neutral basis. Along with embracing renewables, the county measures its greenhouse gas emissions each year and purchases any necessary carbon offsets in order to have a net-zero carbon footprint.

    In June 2019, newly elected County Executive Pat Ryan passed his first executive order in office, which includes community-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets as well as a commitment to implement the Ulster County Climate Action Plan. The plan continues the county’s commitment to renewable electricity by pledging to purchase 100 percent of its electricity from locally-generated sources.

    It’s an ambitious goal and to meet it, the county is moving forward on a new solar project to generate an additional 20 percent of its energy. This will be Ulster County’s second solar project – the first being a 1.9 MW facility built on the site of a former landfill that started generating power in 2018.

    Through these steps and others, Ulster County continually provides a model for its neighbors of what counties can do. And it’s getting noticed, with the county’s work now recognized by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, as well as other environmental agencies across the state and country.

    Lake County, IL

    Thanks in part to the County Climate Coalition, climate action now goes far beyond the coasts. One example is Lake County, Illinois, which has been working for years to solve the climate crisis through a multipronged strategy that includes reducing emissions from county operations, promoting renewable energy, and coordinating intergovernmental initiatives to help local communities join the fight. 

    As just one example, in the past year, the county began working to diversify its vehicle fleet with low-emission vehicles. Through this effort, the county began including installing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at five county facilities and purchasing hybrid and EV fleet vehicles. Lake County didn’t end there and today promotes the purchase of low-emission vehicles as replacements for fleet vehicles across all departments, installs additional charging stations at their facilities, and ensures many of its charging stations are open to the public to promote the development of a regional charging network.

    Lake County isn’t just focused on low-carbon transit either, and has been working on several solar energy initiatives designed to increase the availability and use of solar power in the region. As government incentives and falling prices together keep making solar power more cost-effective for residents and businesses, community interest in solar energy is surging.

    With demand growing and solar technology improving, the county recognized it needed to update local regulations. To do so, Lake County recently convened a regional Solar Energy Task Force, in partnership with 18 local municipalities and with technical support from solar industry experts, to establish best practices in regulating solar installations. Participants developed a model ordinance for communities to use in adopting state-of-the-art solar zoning codes.

    Lake County is also leading an effort to connect local governments with opportunities to install solar projects at their facilities. As the solar energy industry grows in Lake County, many local communities have fielded calls from developers asking to install solar arrays on public land and facilities, including schools, parks, and municipal property. In response, Lake County collaborated with 11 local municipalities on a joint procurement opportunity to bring solar power to county and municipal facilities, which will both lead to lower costs while providing renewable energy to power many government facilities throughout the county.

    Marin County, CA

    In October of 2017, the County of Marin launched Drawdown: Marin, a community-driven campaign to identify, develop, and implement local solutions that dramatically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sequester carbon, and prepare us for climate impacts.

    Drawdown: Marin's vision it to "reverse its impacts on climate change by implementing local solutions as we create a thriving, equitable, and resilient future for all." In practical terms, the campaign aims to reduce Marin County’s GHG emissions by 60 percent by 2030 and to "draw down" emissions below zero by 2045.

    To get there, Drawdown: Marin is working with community members, technical and policy experts, environmental advocates, and funding institutions to design solutions in six focus areas:

    • Renewable Energy
    • Transportation
    • Buildings and Infrastructure
    • Carbon Sequestration
    • Local Food and Food Waste
    • Climate Resilient Communities.

    With local support and input on these areas, Drawdown: Marin aims to develop priority solutions that will likely be integrated into the county’s next climate action plan update and (hopefully) implemented, beginning the process of actively drawing down emissions.

    Meanwhile, the county’s sustainability team isn’t waiting for a new plan, with several programs to reduce GHG emissions underway right now. For example, Electrify Marin offers rebates to single-family property owners for the replacement of natural gas appliances with efficient all-electric units, including water heaters, furnaces, ranges, and cooktops. This transition will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also improve indoor air quality and make each home in Marin a safer environment.

    The county designs these rebates to help households along a range of different incomes embrace sustainable living. It also offers further incentives to offset additional costs of panel upgrades, making practical solutions more accessible to even more residents.

    WHAT YOU CAN DO

    Want your county to lead the way in fighting the climate crisis? Join your local Climate Reality Project chapter to get involved in the fight for local climate action.

    Across the country, everyday Americans are joining Climate Reality chapters and working together for practical climate solutions in communities from sea to shining sea.

    These friends, neighbors, and colleagues are bringing clean energy to their towns, fighting fracking developments, and so much more. Most of all, they’re making a real difference for our climate when it matters – and you can too.

    Through the County Climate Coalition campaign, you and your chapter can gain insight from a growing network of counties nationwide to learn the best ways to urge your own county’s elected officials to take regional action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more now.

    Before You Go

    At Climate Reality, we work hard to create high-quality educational content like blogs, e-books, videos, and more to empower people all over the world to fight for climate solutions and stand together to drive the change we need. We are a nonprofit organization that believes there is hope in unity, and that together, we can build a safe, sustainable future.

    But we can't do it without your help.

    If you enjoyed what you’ve just read and would like to see more, please consider making a generous gift to support our ongoing work to fight climate denial and support solutions.

    The Climate Reality Project