This is an op-ed written by 53 people, all of whom have signed the letter at the bottom. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit op-eds, please send them to Matt Butler at mbutler@ithacavoice.com.

The undersigned Tompkins County social justice and renewable energy leaders are concerned to learn of Dr. Luis Aguirre-Torres’ resignation from his position as the Director of Sustainability for the City of Ithaca. We are writing to express our gratitude for his leadership and accomplishments and to implore the City to redouble their support for the Ithaca Green New Deal (IGND) and its ambitious – but essential – timeline.

Passed unanimously by the City’s Common Council in 2019 with a vision toward making Ithaca “the most climate forward city in New York State”, the Ithaca Green New Deal (IGND) aims to achieve community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030, while reducing historical social and economic inequities. Overall, the IGND will benefit the health and welfare of residents while creating well-paying green jobs, improving the building stock, and supporting the local economy.

The City could not have found a better match for its ambitious goals than Dr. Aguirre-Torres. According to the City’s press release, Aguirre-Torres had more than 15 years of domestic and international experience working with government, non-profit and business sectors in green technology, policy development and implementation, emissions reduction, green entrepreneurship, and related issues.

Aguirre-Torres wasted no time in setting Ithaca on the path toward decarbonization of the building, transportation, waste and power sectors. Together with Sustainability Planner Rebecca Evans, over the past 18 months they have conducted a comprehensive inventory of Ithaca’s building stock, transportation use, and greenhouse gas emissions, and from that developed a detailed 5-year climate action plan to guide the City toward its decarbonization goals. In collaboration with existing community partners, they initiated a regional green jobs program to train and employ disadvantaged workers and youth in the green economy. And they have outlined a Justice 50 vision that commits at least 50% of the economic, social, and environmental benefits from the IGND to Ithaca’s disadvantaged communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change. 

In addition, drawing on his expertise in energy finance, Aguirre-Torres attracted $100 million in private financing, as well as financial support from the US Department of Energy and New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority to help the City realize the goals of the IGND. We expect the plans they’ve developed position Ithaca well to receive support through the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

While Aguirre-Torres’ expertise and accomplishments have earned international recognition and broad-based community support, his remarks upon resigning lead us to question whether he has found similar support within the City’s leadership and administration. For example, prior news articles have pointed to an 8-month delay from when Common Council authorized a contract with BlocPower to manage electrification of Ithaca’s buildings to when the City finally executed it. In June of this year, climate activists and other community groups held a rally urging the City to act more swiftly on climate goals. 

The 2019 resolution authorizing the IGND recognized that “to be successfully implemented, the Ithaca Green New Deal must have the support of the City of Ithaca at all levels of government.”  

We are pleased to see Mayor Lewis’ statement that she is “deeply committed to fulfilling the goals of the Ithaca Green New Deal” and we agree with her well-placed confidence in Sustainability Planner Evans to deliver on them. 

After resigning, Aguirre-Torres tweeted “The commitment needed to achieve Net Zero extends to BOTH the community and city leadership, especially when it comes to social justice issues.” The undersigned community leaders emphasize the urgency of addressing these issues, and pledge to do our part to keep the momentum going to realize the IGND’s inextricably linked goals of decarbonization and social justice.  We urge the City to do their part as well.  

Signed, 

  1. Emily Adams, NYS Democratic Committee* member, 2nd vice chair Tompkins County Democratic Committee*, chair Tompkins County Progressives*
  2. Theresa Alt, Member, Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America*
  3. Sharon Anderson, retired Environment Issue Leader, Cooperative Extension*
  4. Peter Bardaglio, Coordinator, Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
  5. Anna Sims Bartel, Ithaca resident
  6. Karim Beers
  7. Laura Branca, Building Bridges Tompkins
  8. Sarah K. Chalmers, Visiting Lecturer, Grand Challenges, Cornell Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management*
  9. Carol Chock, retired County Legislator, City of Ithaca District Three
  10. Diane Cohen, Executive Director, Finger Lakes ReUse*
  11. Sara Culotta, Member, Green Jobs Corridor Advisory Committee
  12. Cait Darfler, Vice Chair, Tompkins County Environmental Management Council*
  13. Stacey Dimas, 1st Vice Chair, Tompkins County Democratic Committee*
  14. Brian Eden, former Board Chair, HeatSmart Tompkins
  15. Jeff Furman, President, Social Ventures
  16. John Graves, Ithaca Community Power
  17. Katie Hallas, Community Food System Planner, Tompkins Food Future*
  18. Charleen Heidt, Co-founder and Principal Consultant, Charged!
  19. Sara Hess, Facilitator, Campaign for Renewable Energy
  20. Thomas Hirasuna, Co-Chair, Climate Reality Finger Lakes Greater Region NY Chapter*
  21. Susan Holland, Historic Ithaca*
  22. Robert Howarth, Professor, Cornell University, and Member, NYS Climate Action Council*
  23. Paula Ioanide, Principal Researcher & CEO, Rise to Equity Excellence, LLC
  24. Lynne Jackier, United Against Hate
  25. Laurie Konwinski, Catholic Charities Tompkins/Tioga*
  26. Jose Lozano, Director, Ithaca Community Power 
  27. Jennifer Lyons, Chair,  City of Ithaca 5th Ward Democratic Committee*
  28. Lisa Marshall, Program Director, HeatSmart Tompkins
  29. Gen Meredith, Professor of Practice, Cornell Department of Public and Ecosystem Health*
  30. Guillermo Metz, Community Member
  31. Hallie E. Mitnick, Esq., Vice-Chair, Second Ward Democratic Committee*
  32. Dawn Montanye, Community Member
  33. Taili Mugambee Program Director, Ultimate Reentry Opportunity
  34. Gay Nicholson, President, Sustainable Finger Lakes
  35. Tina Nilsen-Hodges, Principal and Superintendent, New Roots Charter School*
  36. Christa Nunez, Farmer and Executive Director, Khuba International, CAN Cooperative Media, and The Learning Farm 
  37. Pete Nunez, Farmer Educator, The Learning Farm
  38. Sheila Out, Organizing Member, Mothers Out Front Tompkins
  39. Holly Payne
  40. Miranda Phillips, Co-leader, Southern Tier & Finger Lakes Chapter Citizens’ Climate Lobby
  41. Raquel Pinderhughes, Executive Director, Roots of Success 
  42. Anne Rhodes, White Allies Against Structural Racism
  43. Martha Robertson, former Tompkins County Legislature Chair
  44. Todd Saddler, Extinction Rebellion Ithaca*, Ithaca Catholic Worker*
  45. Elan Shapiro, TC Showing Up for Racial Justice*
  46. Linda Shi, Cornell Department of City and Regional Planning*
  47. Diane Stefani, Co-Chair, Climate Reality Finger Lakes Greater Region NY Chapter*
  48. Regi Teasley, Chair, Tompkins County Environmental Management Council*
  49. Jamie Vanucchi, Cornell Landscape Architecture*
  50. Irene Weiser, Coordinator, Fossil Free Tompkins
  51. Anke Wessels, Center for Transformative Action*
  52. David West, Planner, Town of Danby*
  53. Charley Willison, Assistant Professor, Cornell Department of Public and Ecosystem Health*

*for identification purposes only; does not indicate institutional support