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Petaluma in front on climate change


As the Trump administration withdraws the United States from the Paris climate agreement, Petaluma is joining a growing chorus of local jurisdictions pledging support for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat global warming.

At a Petaluma City Council meeting last week, Mayor David Glass announced that he sent a letter to the Climate Mayors Network, a consortium of local leaders that “have pledged to adopt, honor, and uphold the Paris agreement goals in their cities,” according to the group’s website.

Glass, who was a founding member of the network in 2006, said his letter only reaffirms what Petaluma has already been doing to voluntarily reduce carbon emissions.

“The point of it is what Petaluma has been doing, the targets we have set, we’ve never wavered,” he said in an interview. “Because we have an idiot in the White House, does that mean we turn our back on clear science? I don’t think so.”

President Donald Trump on June 1 announced the U.S. departure from the Paris agreement, a historic accord in which nearly every nation had pledged voluntary actions to reduce emissions. Trump, who said the move would improve the U.S. economy, was widely criticized as pandering to his base of supporters that have long denied the existence of global warming.

Since the announcement, states and municipalities have led efforts to curb climate change. At least 279 mayors, including Petaluma’s, have signed on to support the Paris agreement.

In his letter, Glass said that Petaluma is taking 24 measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said the city is on track for an emissions reduction of 31 percent by 2020 compared with business as usual.

“Some of the many actions we have taken, or are continuing to take, include lighting retrofits, replacement of vehicles with zero emission electric/hybrid vehicles, and replacement of diesel buses with clean burning diesel engines,” he wrote in the letter.

Senior Planner Scott Duiven, the city’s climate policy lead, said that Petaluma is committed to following the Sonoma County Regional Climate Action Plan, a document created through the Regional Climate Protection Authority that details steps local cities are taking to combat climate change. The city has not officially signed onto the plan, though, as the RCPA faces a legal challenge to the document.

“There is little to no reason why we can’t continue to move forward with these measures,” he said. “For those that believe climate change is real, it is a state, local and individual issue.”

According to the Climate Action Plan, Petaluma’s biggest conservation measures come from the transportation and construction sectors. Some of the measures include requiring new buildings to be energy efficient, encouraging the use of solar panels, planning that includes more walkable development, moving to cleaner vehicles and joining Sonoma Clean Power, the regional energy provider that aims to source more renewable power.

Petaluma also is working to upgrade its waste water treatment plant to produce natural gas that will power the city’s municipal vehicle fleet.

Councilwoman Kathy Miller, Petaluma’s representative to the RCPA, said that the president’s action undoing climate change measures has created a leadership void on the issue, which states and cities have been filling.

“The president can do these things, but California is going to continue to have stringent measures to combat climate change,” she said. “Lots of cities are reaffirming their commitment to combating climate change.”

Petaluma resident Bruce Hagen, a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, an activist group, said that it is important to push Congress to pass legislation to combat climate change. Hagen spent the week in Washington, D.C., doing just that as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby national conference.

“What’s extremely important, since there is no leadership from the White House, it’s up to states and municipalities to voice their opinions to take action to reduce climate change,” he said.

Petaluma’s action on climate change makes political sense in a city that is largely liberal and where an overwhelming majority believes global warming is a real threat, according to polls. But Glass said the city’s efforts are less about politics and more about protecting the planet.

“This is a legacy issue,” he said. “It’s about what you hand off to our children. Trump will be the one who is irrelevant at the end of the day. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)