WP: Cities lead on environment
522 mayors have agreed to meet
NEW YORK - To the long list of evils being blamed on global warming -- hurricanes, heat waves, melting ice caps -- tack on the smaller interior of Steve Benesoczky's cab. Inside, his passengers can already feel the squeeze of climate change in their knees.
"Of course it's less comfortable. Look, there's less leg room," said Benesoczky, 55, as he pointed to the back of his new taxi -- a hybrid Ford Escape.
The company Benesoczky works for has started complying with a new directive ordering New York's entire fleet of 13,000 yellow cabs to go green over the next five years -- part of an effort by the nation's largest city to cut its carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.
"Some people are complaining -- especially the tall ones -- but most are saying, 'Finally, you're doing something for the environment,' " said Benesoczky, a Hungarian émigré and New York City cabbie of two-and-a-half decades. "Look, people will make a little sacrifice if they have to. They already are."
Racing ahead federal government
New York is among a faction of U.S. cities from Boston to Portland, Ore., that are racing ahead of the federal government in setting carbon emission targets and developing concrete strategies to deal with climate change. Their solutions are already beginning to alter the fabric of life for millions of urban dwellers.
It is a direct consequence, municipal officials and analysts say, of the growing perception inside city halls that the Bush administration has largely ignored an issue that has reached a tipping point in American culture.
A nationwide poll released in April showed a third of Americans now call global warming the world's single largest environmental problem -- double the number a year ago, according a
"Because of what many see as a policy failure on this issue in
Frustration with resistance to Kyoto
What started in 2005 with the frustrations of one mayor -- Seattle's Greg Nickels -- over the Bush administration's resistance to the Kyoto Protocol has since grown to become a major nationwide movement. Nickel's "
Officials are still attempting to assess the overall impact of the combined effort of local governments. But they say those measures -- along with mild weather and other factors -- significantly contributed to the 1.3 percent drop in
In Austin, city residents are becoming more eco-friendly whether they like it or not. The city has adopted a policy incrementally increasing requirements for energy efficiency in private homes. By 2015, all new single family homes must use 60 percent less energy than today's standards. Homeowners are being encouraged to use solar panels to make their homes completely energy self-sufficient.
"I get to be the mayor of the capital city of the most polluting state in the most polluting country in the world," said Austin Mayor Will Wynn. Characterizing Bush's new proposal, Wynn added: "He suggests we talk about it for two more years and save action for his successor. Well, mayors are acting now."
In Boulder, Colo., the city council last November passed what environmentalists are calling the nation's first "carbon tax." Homeowners there are facing average increases of $16 and businesses $48 annually on electricity bills to cover a "climate action plan." The plan is designed to make the city more energy-efficient and fund a switch to alternative fuels.
Chicago is experimenting with waterless urinals and has planted thousands of trees to cool down "heat islands" -- patches of heavy asphalt and black roofs that absorb heat and raise the city's temperature. It is distributing compact fluorescent light bulbs, more than 500,000 so far. Businesses are receiving grants for solar panels. In the
The tiny city of
The District government has not set independent guidelines to reduce greenhouse gases and is still developing a broader energy-use plan. But city officials say the District has recently moved to replace some vehicles in its fleet with hybrids and passed a green act this year that would require many new buildings to meet stricter energy guidelines beginning in 2012. A measure that would require all vehicles registered in the District to meet stricter emissions guidelines is currently under discussion.
Analysts call the plan unveiled by
'Time to stop debating'
Released amid much fanfare on Earth Day, the plan is projected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to put in place, much of which would be funded by state and federal grants. City officials calculate, however, that the fully realized effects would cut greenhouse emissions in
To be sure, parts of the plan remain controversial and require the approval of state legislators in Albany and local commissions.
Bloomberg has come under fire from some local leaders for effectively creating a vehicle tax that could hurt those citizens living in
"The science is there," Bloomberg said. "It's time to stop debating it and to start dealing with it."
© 2007 The Washington Post Company