How Counties Are Taking Climate Action
In June of 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would begin the process of withdrawing from the historic Paris Agreement. In the absence of federal action, communities stepped up to fill the void. Counties nationwide are coming together as part of the County Climate Coalition to reaffirm their support of the Paris Agreement and take action at the local level to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Members of the County Climate Coalition have all passed resolutions to take results-oriented steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whether through transitioning to 100 percent renewable electricity or improving sustainability in county operations. By joining forces to do so, member counties have created a nationwide network that can raise its collective voice in support of a healthier, more-sustainable tomorrow.
To find out more about how counties are leading the way, we asked Santa Clara County, the county that created the County Climate Coalition, and two member counties what they’re doing to address the climate crisis and meet the goals of the coalition and the Paris Agreement? Read what they had to say below.
SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
Carbon neutrality, 100 percent renewable electricity, and collaboration are central to Santa Clara County’s plan for tackling the climate crisis.
In June 2017, at the request of Supervisor Dave Cortese, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution affirming its commitment to the Paris Agreement. As the originator of the County Climate Coalition, Santa Clara County is not only focused on its own local greenhouse gas reduction targets, but has also offered a vision of what counties across the United States can do together to fight climate change.
Locally, Santa Clara is committed to achieving 100 percent carbon neutrality by 2045. To meet its targets, the county has named renewable energy a top priority. The county’s board of supervisors has committed to getting 100 percent of its operational electricity from clean, renewable sources by December of this year. It’s also begun a “Renewables for Revenue” (R4R) project, consisting of six ground-mounted and carport solar photovoltaic systems on its properties.
These systems are expected to put an additional 11.24 megawatts of renewable electricity on the grid, and earned the county nearly $3 million in renewable energy credits.
With 100 percent renewable electricity at all county facilities already within near-term reach, the County of Santa Clara is now tackling other sources of GHG emissions.
In September 2018, the board of supervisors adopted a resolution endorsing Diesel Free By '33, a Bay Area-launched initiative pledging to eliminate diesel fuel from county operations by the year 2033.
The county is also committed to reducing GHG emissions from transportation. Driving to Net Zero, a county-led multi-jurisdictional project, provides resources to local governments seeking support in the deployment of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and charging infrastructure. Available resources include a best practices guide, interactive siting map, zoning code recommendations, and a GHG calculator and cost effectiveness tool, all of which are publicly available on the county’s office of sustainability website.
“To date, the county has converted almost 30 percent of its vehicle fleet to hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles and a transportation demand management study is currently underway to identify additional strategies to reduce employee commuter emissions,” explains Susan Gilbert-Miller, director of the Office of Sustainability for Santa Clara County.
WASHTENAW COUNTY, MICHIGAN
In 2018, the Washtenaw County Commission took a step toward addressing the climate crisis by creating the Washtenaw County Environmental Council. The council’s mission includes protection of the county’s air, water, and soil, as well as development of recommendations to achieve net-zero emissions for county operations by 2035.
Current Environmental Council Chair Michelle Deatrick led the initiative to create the council while she served as a county commissioner.
“Climate change is an alarm clock that’s been going off, ignored by those in power, for years,” she told Climate Reality. “I’m glad that Washtenaw County is taking the lead on this issue. I view the project to achieve net-zero county operations as a pilot for a much broader effort, collaborating with other local and regional governments to achieve the paradigmatic change that’s necessary to save our Earth. Time is running out.”
The county has also achieved significant energy efficiency improvements under the leadership of its energy coordinator, April Baranek. Over the last eight years, the county has seen its electricity use drop by 24 percent, and it’s using 33 percent less water. The result? A 17 percent drop in its total carbon footprint.
“The energy and sustainable program within Washtenaw County has empowered and inspired our organization to reduce our negative impact on the planet all while saving taxpayer dollars,” Baranek states. “There are multiple benefits that come from practicing and implementing a sustainable business model. Fresher air, cleaner water, and an overall healthier planet can be achieved if we all work together and strive to be more sustainable in our everyday activities.”
These recent efforts build on the county’s longtime commitment to environmental justice. That commitment is embodied in programs that include free weatherization services for income-qualified owners and many renters, green purchasing policies for county operations, such as a ban on plastic straws and some single-use plastics, and a land conservation program protecting over 3,000 acres of natural area and farmland.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
As the largest county in the United States, Los Angeles County in California is leading the way to address transportation emissions, renewable energy, and environmental justice.
LA County is a founding member of the Transportation Electrification Partnership, a collaboration with the California Air Resources Board, Metro, the City of Los Angeles, and several utilities to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission transportation technology. The county is working to create a pathway to zero-emission technology to be deployed along its I-710 freeway corridor that connects ports on the Pacific Ocean to inland warehouses. Thousands of trucks use this corridor each day, creating one of the most significant environmental justice issues in Los Angeles, and the county is working to eliminate the toxic diesel emissions impacting vulnerable communities along the route.
In a step to modernize their plan to fight climate change, Los Angeles County released a draft of its new sustainability plan, OurCounty, on April 5, 2019. This plan sets a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 through ambitious strategies such as getting to 100 percent clean electricity, converting its transportation system to zero-emission vehicles, decarbonizing the building sector, and phasing out oil and gas operations in the county. It has also established the Clean Power Alliance, the largest community choice energy program in California.
As a result of the OurCounty plan, Los Angeles County is conducting an assessment to identify populations and infrastructures that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
“We already know that it is low-income communities and communities of color – as well as the elderly and outdoor workers – that are the most at risk from more frequent, more intense, and longer heat events, as well as from other climate impacts”, says Gary Gero, chief sustainability officer for the County of Los Angeles. “The county plans to identify more precisely the potential impacts to these communities and develop just strategies to reduce these risks and improve community resilience.”
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 localized 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.