Op-Ed: In Trump era, local governments must lead charge for clean energy

Source: By John Heilman and Denise Simmons, The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, January 9, 2018

President Trump will soon be given another opportunity to advance his pro-fossil fuel agenda. Following a recent ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission, Trump is now positioned to impose heavy tariffs on solar panels coming into the U.S.

Should Trump move forward with these tariffs, he’ll throw up a roadblock to the country’s fastest-growing source of clean energy and choke off nearly 88,000 American solar jobs.

This ruling comes after Trump ignited a nationwide effort to course-correct his administration’s irresponsible position on climate change when he announced he’ll pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement.

With a leadership vacuum at the federal level, it’s now up to local governments to adopt aggressive policies that will help combat climate change.

As the mayor of West Hollywood, California and city council member of Cambridge, Massachusetts, we’ve each taken important steps to reaffirm our cities’ commitments to renewable energy and sound environmental policies.

We’ve both joined over 2,500 other politicians, business leaders and college presidents to declare that “we are still in” and willing to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement. We also joined nearly 400 other “climate mayors” who have promised that their cities and towns will do the same.

Bipartisan pledges like these recognize that the severity of climate change means we all must work together to make a real impact. Yet every local government faces its own set of challenges based on its unique socioeconomic makeup and physical landscape. For any approach to be successful over the long term, the city government’s strategy and programs must be tailored to the needs of the community it serves.

For example, as two of the most densely-populated cities in the U.S., the majority of our residents live in multi-family housing units like apartment buildings and three-story walk-ups, which make it difficult for our citizens to pursue renewable energy options like solar panels due to shared ownership rights, complex electricity metering, and a limited availability of options.

To help these people explore their solar options, we’ve each launched city-sponsored programs that provide free access to online resources and tools so every resident, no matter where they live, can make the switch to solar energy. In partnership with EnergySage, an online solar marketplace developed with the support of the U.S. Department of Energy, our programs are designed to ensure that our residents can easily move through the education, quote comparison, and installation process.

In the City of West Hollywood, we’ve also adopted the West Hollywood General Plan 2035 and West Hollywood Climate Action Plan, which call for solutions to reducing our carbon footprint. We were the first city in California to establish a local green building ordinance in 2007, which requires rooftops to be solar ready and promotes innovative energy-efficient building design. We’ve been recognized as a Solsmart Gold Community for advancing efforts in supporting strong local solar markets.

In the City of Cambridge, we’ve launched the Cambridge Community Electricity program to bring the benefits of renewable energy and electricity choice to our residents and businesses.

This program supports local renewable energy projects and ensures that participants will receive 25 percent more solar electricity from their utility at prices at or below the standard rate. We’ve also built comprehensive energy efficiency programs and formed a Climate Protection Action Committee to provide climate resiliency recommendations to our city planners.

Programs and initiatives like ours can help position American cities as national leaders in the advancement of clean energy technology and the fight against global climate change.

What works at the city level may also work on the state and federal levels, allowing local governments to become the proving grounds for innovative new strategies, policies and public-private collaborations.

We urge the federal government to retract misguided policies like its planned withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and its persistent undermining of clean energy expansion. Until it does it’ll be local governments who ensure our country remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions and embrace the promise of solar and other forms of renewable energy no matter the obstacles put in our path.

John Heilman is the mayor of West Hollywood, California, currently serving his seventh term since 1990.

Denise Simmons is a former mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts and currently is in her 9th term on the Cambridge City Council.