Climate action will make our cities safer

In Arlington County, as with much of the country, climate change has turned up the heat. Our residents are feeling the effects. And when it comes to taking action on climate to protect our communities, we are not waiting.

Local governments are the first responders to storm-related power outages, flooding, and threats to public health. The City of Norfolk already suffers from recurrent flooding due to sea level rise, and much of Virginia’s coastline is at elevated risk of catastrophic impacts from hurricanes and tidal floods that could put homes and businesses literally underwater.

{mosads}We know that American cities and counties are on the front lines of climate change. It’s no surprise, then, that cities are also on the cutting edge of responding to this challenge. Climate change is not an abstract issue for us. These changes aren’t mere disruptions; they impose real costs on municipal budgets by requiring expensive infrastructure improvements and put the health of our families and communities at risk

Across the country, municipal governments are making progress by setting ambitious targets for improved energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. In 2013, after several years of extensive stakeholder engagement and research, Arlington County set a goal of reducing carbon pollution by 75 percent by 2050. Arlington is well on its way toward achieving this goal, thanks in large part to 30 percent-50 percent reductions in electricity use in several major county facilities.

We set this target because we know that reducing air pollution is good for Virginians’ health. We know that prioritizing clean energy sources is a smart economic policy that will support job growth. And while we’re doing what we can to mitigate the dangerous impacts of climate change, we know we can’t do it alone.

Recognizing this, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from fossil-fuel power plants and encourages greater energy efficiency and investments in clean, renewable sources of energy.  These standards will produce up to $54 billion in annual climate and health benefits per year by the time they are fully implemented.

The federal court charged with considering the polluter-backed lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan recently announced that arguments in this case will be heard before the full court without delay. This decision reflects the importance and urgency of dealing with this growing threat.

This is why Arlington County, along with 50 other city and county governments from 28 states, signed a brief detailing why the Clean Power Plan is critical to the safety and economic prospects of communities across the country. We joined with a powerful majority of Americans who support the Clean Power Plan, and a broad coalition of individuals and organizations—including faith groups, professional medical associations, businesses, and more—in filing these “friend of the court” briefs earlier this year.

We cannot let our best chance to secure a healthy and safe environment for our children and grandchildren slip through our fingers. All of us need to stand up for practical public health protections like the Clean Power Plan, support the transition to greater efficiency and other clean energy, and work together to create the safer and more sustainable future our children deserve. If not, we’ll have a lot more to sweat than the heat.

Jay Fisette is the vice chair of the Arlington County Board. 


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