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December 10, 2010

All (climate) politics is local

        Action on climate change at the federal level seems increasingly unlikely, as Republicans vow to block cap and trade and challenge the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of carbon emissions. Meanwhile, negotiators in Cancun failed to make major advances on an international accord on global warming.
          Local and regional efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to the impacts of global warming, however, are proceeding apace, according to participants in the New England Smart Growth Leadership Forum.
          The annual forum, organized by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, drew 200 people from all around the six-state region to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
            Participants heard about new data on public perception of climate change, regulatory efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions, the role of the built environment in reducing emissions, and the action plans of two New England cities – Bridgeport, Conn. and Keene, N.H. – for both mitigation and adaptation.
            Armando Carbonell, senior fellow and chairman of the Department of Planning and Urban Form at the Lincoln Institute, said that while climate change has been called “the ultimate externality,” necessitating collective action at the national and global scale, local and regional efforts can chip away at the problem – as long as they are targeted for the greatest impact.
          Among the highlights of the forum:
           * Agreement that there is solid evidence for warming global temperatures has declined from 72 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2010, and most people base their opinions about climate change on local observations, such as hurricanes in the South or forest fires in the West, according to Barry Rabe, professor of public policy and the environment at the University of Michigan, who has conducted a 1,000-person survey on the topic. Support for cap and trade or a price on carbon declines precipitously if either will end up costing families $15 or $50 a month, the survey shows. Most respondents think the federal government has the primary responsibility to attack the problem, but many support their home states taking action -- even if neighboring states do not. “Public opinion is volatile,” Rabe said, “but the bottom has not fallen out for public support to do something.”
          * The Clean Air Act sparked innovation, such as the creation of the catalytic converter, similar entrepreneurship will likely flourish as the EPA begins regulating carbon emissions from power plants and other major stationary sources in January, as part of a broader regulation of carbon dioxide, said Avi Garbow, deputy general counsel at EPA. “The agency is moving forward to implement the act with respect to stationary sources in a very … common sense way,” Garbow said. “The Clean Air Act, which has served the country so well, can be structured to address greenhouse gas emissions … We’re setting prudent standards in a reasonable time frame.” The EPA has delayed implementation of new rules on smog and toxins from industrial boilers so more analysis can be done. 
           * Smart growth and compact development produces 20 to 40 percent fewer vehicle miles traveled (VMT), as do metropolitan regions with density, a mix of uses, well-designed public spaces, street connectivity, and destination accessibility, said Reid Ewing, professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah. Some 200 studies have confirmed the correlation of travel and the built environment, unrelated to income, he said. It is important to continue to measure things like VMT in relation to the built environment and land use, Ewing said, particularly as green guidelines like LEED-ND (a green building code for neighborhoods) are developed.
        Dale Pregent, mayor of Keene, N.H., and Thomas McCarthy, president of the City Council of Bridgeport, Conn., presented on climate action plans in those cities. Larry Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning at MIT, and founder of the Consensus Building Institute, said many communities are addressing adaptation to the inevitable impacts of climate change, as a realistic way of assessing risk over the next 50 years.
          The New England Smart Growth Leadership Forum is an annual gathering to promote sharing experiences in sustainable development policies in the six-state New England region, and is part of the Lincoln Institute's continuing effort to explore the intersection of climate change and land use.


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