As the representatives of the National League of Cities (NLC) prepared to meet in Washington for their annual Congressional City Conference, NLC President Matt Zone, a city council member from Cleveland, Ohio, sent a letter to President Donald Trump affirming the group's dedication to environmental goals that protect their communities.
The letter comes in the wake of actions taken by the Trump administration to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations and statements made by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who was a guest on CNBC’s program “Squawk Box.” During the interview, Pruitt said, “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”
Pruitt’s comments reflect a change from the Obama administration’s attitude about impact of human activity on climate change, the cause of greenhouse gases and the necessity of certain environmental regulations. Two regulations from 2015 – one that limits greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities and one, called the Waters of the United States rule, that gives the federal government authority over wetlands, rivers and streams that feed into major bodies of water – are the first to be targeted by the administration.
In his letter to President Donald Trump, Zone wrote, “As elected leaders of cities of every size across the country, we write to reaffirm our commitment to using the power of local office and local governments to preserve environmental goals that have directly improved the health, safety and welfare of our residents and communities.”
He went on to note: “(O)ur cities are taking bold actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare our communities for future extreme weather events. As the elected officials closest and most directly accountable to residents, we cannot let our communities down by taking a step back on our actions and commitments to address climate change. We urge you and your administration to partner with us to build cities that can withstand and reverse, the physically and economically destructive effects of climate change.”
Zone speaks for more than 1,600 cities, towns, and villages of all sizes that are NLC members, as well as another 18,000 communities that participate through their state municipal leagues. According to him, there is a long history of partnership between local and state governments and the federal government to address climate change, including: the 2003 Climate VISION program; the Climate Ready Water Utilities program established in 2010; the 2013 State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force On Climate Preparedness and Resilience; and more.
“These programs have helped leverage new sources of capital, grow new manufacturing and technology jobs, and catalyze a boom in the energy and construction industries,” said Zone. “Most importantly, these jobs stay in our communities and cannot be shipped overseas.”
Zone noted that climate change “does not simply threaten our environment. Leading economists agree that it threatens our future prosperity. Farmers agree that it threatens crop production. Doctors agree that it threatens our public health. And military officials agree that it threatens global security. It would be irresponsible to ignore these voices and falter in our commitments to act.”
NLC called on the administration to:
- Help cities leverage funds for the hundreds of billions of dollars in transit, energy, infrastructure and real estate development necessary to upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st century.
- Expand the renewable energy sources we need to achieve energy security and address climate change.
- Provide American businesses the certainty to invest through continued tax credits for electric vehicles, solar power, renewable and other clean technology.
- Embrace the principles of the Paris climate agreement to limit global temperature change below 2 degrees and make cities a partner in doing so.
Pruitt at Odds with Intergovernmental Panel
Most of the members of the scientific community who study the environment and the impact of climate change agree to disagree with Pruitt’s assessment that “there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” human activity has on climate change. For them, there is little doubt that human activity has caused the earth to warm and that as the population grows and activity increases, the warming process has accelerated.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
According to their report “Climate Change 2013,” “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”
They went on to say: “Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.”
EPA spokesperson Julia Valentine offered this response to a question from EHS Today about Pruitt’s remarks being at odds with EPA’s previous view that carbon dioxide from manmade sources does impact climate change in a negative manner: "Administrator Pruitt has said repeatedly and consistently that he believes the climate is warming and that it is in part due to human activity. Many questions remain, however, that should be debated: How much is the climate changing, to what extent is human activity involved and what to do about it?"
Local leaders from the NLC appear to have some of the answers Pruitt lacks, and plan to continue advocating for environmental protections for their residents. According to them, “Extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours, floods and other storms, which have become more frequent and more severe, have brought renewed attention to the need for cities to anticipate, prepare for and adapt to their impacts. These extreme weather events severely impact local and regional infrastructure, economies, public safety, public health, natural landscapes and environmental quality.”
As the local elected officials entrusted with the stewardship of taxpayer dollars, “we know that the cost of prevention pales in comparison to the cost of inaction in terms of dollars, property and human life,” wrote Zone in the letter. “Moreover, we find that improving energy efficiency and investing in renewable energy makes good economic sense for our residents, our businesses and our communities.”
He said that they are prepared to forge ahead in the absence of federal support, knowing that “if we stand united on this issues, we can make change that will resonate for generations.”