ITHACA, N.Y. — Dozens crowded into Common Council chambers Wednesday to voice their enthusiastic support for the city’s Green New Deal. Commenters praised the city’s commitment to meeting ambitious energy and emissions targets while asking for assurances that climate measures would advance social and economic justice.
Common Council unanimously passed a Green New Deal resolution that sets goals for the city to be carbon neutral by 2030 with 100% of government operations using renewable electricity by 2025 and emissions from the city’s vehicle fleet reduced by 50% by 2025.
Adopting language proposed by community member Margo Hittleman, council amended the text Wednesday to “place equity at the center of carrying out the plan by establishing accountability measures to ensure that the investment, infrastructure, job creation, health, and other social and economic benefits of the Green New Deal accrue equitably to all segments and demographic groups, ensuring that those in the demographic groups who will bear the brunt of increasing climate crises (i.e., young people, low-income people, people of color, immigrants, etc.) have a meaningful and significant voice in planning and decision-making.”
More than 20 people, including several young people involved in the Sunrise Movement Ithaca, spoke during public comment to call attention to how climate change disproportionately impacts marginalized communities. Several commenters also pointed to the overlap between the city’s housing crisis and climate change, calling for affordable housing that would shorten workers’ commutes and the codification of the city’s green building policy.
By the time Wednesday’s meeting began, all Common Council members had already indicated their support for the Green New Deal, which Mayor Svante Myrick first announced at a meeting coordinated by the Sunrise Movement Ithaca in May. Some raised questions about how the city would achieve the lofty targets. It’s been several years since the city’s vehicle emissions were comprehensively measured, for instance, making it difficult to assess the impact of new measures, and vehicles like construction and emergency response trucks might be difficult to replace with greener options.
Representatives agreed, though, that high aspirations would help spur the city to action and ensure that Ithaca is a leader when it comes to green government policies. They said staff would have to come up with creative technological and fiscal ideas while developing detailed plans, possibly including shared services with surrounding municipalities and state and federal grant funding. Those plans will include provisions to advance equity, they said.
Several public commenters mentioned the importance of including affordable housing in a Green New Deal, and Myrick said Wednesday that he agrees wholeheartedly. He pointed to increasing housing density as a strategy that would help address the area’s housing shortage while minimizing the environmental impact of new construction.
“We can’t have, on the one hand, an emergency in which the status quo is ruining our planet,” he said, and on the other, “refuse to change the status quo.” Increasing urban density will help bring down the cost of housing, save green space and curb emissions from long commutes, he said.
In addition to the city’s Green New Deal, the Tompkins County Legislature passed a resolution earlier this week urging the state to pass comprehensive climate legislation in the 2019 term. The resolution relates to two separate legislative initiatives in Albany – the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act and the New York State Climate Leadership Act. Legislator Anna Kelles shared the resolution with Common Council on Wednesday and invited them to pass their own version.
Featured image: Global Climate Strike on the Ithaca Commons, March 15, 2019. (Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice)