With the final Clean Power Plan rule coming out any day now, many states will soon begin a thorough stakeholder engagement process to build out implementation plans. And there’s a powerful leadership voice we should be paying attention to — the voice of cities. Mayors, city councils, and city staff have critical roles to play in these stakeholder negotiations to advance compliance in their states.
The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan will set a national limit on carbon pollution from power plants, which accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s total emissions. But who uses the biggest chunk of that power generated from those power plants? Buildings. According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2014, 41 percent of total US energy consumption came from residential and commercial buildings. Buildings are responsible for a comparable amount of US carbon pollution across the nation, but in cities that number jumps to over 50 percent. In some cities like Chicago, energy use in buildings is responsible for 71 percent of the city’s carbon pollution.
To create a more sustainable and resilient city, energy use in buildings must be addressed. That’s why leading cities are taking action through energy efficiency best practices like benchmarking and transparency policies that require buildings to track and report their energy use on an annual basis. This best practice has been shown to correlate to a reduction in energy use. In New York City, after the benchmarking ordinance was passed, the city experienced nearly a 6 percent reduction in energy use over four years. Fifteen cities and counties have these kinds of policies on the books, and a plethora of cities are implementing other best practices like local energy efficiency challenge programs. Now is the time to be recognized for that local leadership and shape what happens at the state level.
The proposed Clean Power Plan standards will help cut power sector carbon pollution by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 through state-by-state targets. Achieving those targets can be done through a flexible approach that includes increasing energy efficiency in the state. Throughout the stakeholder engagement processes, there will be lots of jockeying as to how to go about achieving a given state’s targets. Mayors and other city leaders must jump in and engage at the state level to showcase how local action can drive energy efficiency.
This engagement can reap local rewards. Specifically, a strong and innovative way states can comply with the Clean Power Plan might be to create revenue generating systems that require polluters to pay for the carbon pollution they emit. If a state goes with this model, the big question is: Where will that money go? Mayors and other leaders like sustainability directors are the right voices to demonstrate that cities are smart places to reinvest funds to build out local energy efficiency initiatives and drive down the state’s carbon pollution. With some funding, perhaps leading cities in a state could even assist other cities in peer-to-peer networks to replicate city-based energy efficiency best practices and scale up urban efficiency contributions to state compliance with the Clean Power Plan.
It’s time we all act on climate, and mayors and other city leaders have a key role to play in the months to come.
Kimi Narita is director of strategic engagement, City Energy Project, Santa Monica, California, for the Natural Resources Defense Council. She studied anthropology and biology in college to better understand human interaction with the environment. During her time at Stanford Law School, she had her first experience with NRDC as a litigation/India Initiative intern working on energy and water issues in the San Francisco office. She returned to NRDC as the MAP Energy Fellow in the Chicago office where she worked on defending renewable energy standards and promoting energy efficiency policy both at the state and city level. She now works on improving energy efficiency in large buildings through city-based initiatives.