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Climate plan wins endorsement, but not enactment

With a round of applause in the crowded Ashland City Council chamber, councilors on Tuesday unanimously approved the Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP), setting a goal of an 8 percent reduction in carbon emissions annually.

The approval took a while to come into reality. The CEAP commission began meeting in September 2015. After more than 30 meetings and numerous iterations, the plan and its proponents found their way to council approval.

But it was not a total sweep.

The CEAP authors, led by Councilor Rich Rosenthal, had also hoped to create a city commission to monitor progress and to hire a full-time staff person to make sure the goals are enacted. Additionally, they had hoped to pass an ordinance compelling the city to hit the benchmarks. Councilors did not pass either of those measures.

Hank Adams from city administration, when asked if the plan would be merely advisory, answered, “That’s about right.”

The goals, referred to as a “moon shot” by Rosenthal, called for Ashland to be carbon neutral by 2030, to reduce fossil fuel use by 50 percent by 2030 and by 100 percent by the year 2050.

Testimony in favor — passionately expressed primarily by Ashland High School students — urged councilors to move toward firm progress without equivocation.

Councilor Rosenthal urged his colleagues to adopt more than just the plan. “Form a commission and hire a full-time person to monitor our progress. We will have wasted a whole lot of time if we don’t have a city staffer and commission to oversee the progress,” he told fellow councilors. “This is a new lens by which the city can look at its operations.”

Ashland resident Christopher Buckley urged the council to take firm action. “I’m biased because last year I lost hope for my future. The federal government is rolling back regulations,” he said, urging the council to buck the national trend of fewer environmental regulations. “Give people a reason to hope again.”

High school student Nicholas Landauer said he is afraid. “60 percent of middle schoolers are more afraid of climate change than cancer,” he said. He urged the council to consider the deep concern of the generation behind them. “Our generation would rather burn it down than believe in it. Prove us wrong.”

His sentiments were echoed by resident Katie Crocker, who said, “We need to pass the plan and adopt an ordinance to hold the city accountable.”

In the end, councilors did not agree. “I don’t think we’re there yet. I’m willing to commit to a plan. But ordinances don’t do things. People do things,” said Councilor Dennis Slattery of passing ordinances. Councilor Greg Lemhouse did not favor an ordinance either. “When we’ve done our best work, we’ve translated idealism into practicality,” he said. He urged the assembled crowd to be patient and consider the impacts of decisions thoroughly. “When we put standards on buildings it could well impact those who need affordable housing.”

Councilor Mike Morris urged the citizens present to consider not only the city’s role but the importance of individual action in battling climate change. “There’s a lot about what the city should do, but it’s only about 2 percent of the carbon emissions,” Morris said. He spoke about changing mindset as a key part of the process. “I think the real issue is how to get people to look at what they’re doing and how they’re going to get people to change. That’s the biggest problem we have.”

Ultimately, the council agreed to come back with a re-written ordinance for them to consider in the future. Slattery agreed to work with city staff to draft ordinance language and come back to the council. He said the ordinance as it was written might paint the city in a corner.

Mayor John Stromberg said action is eventually inevitable. “I don’t think we’re going to lack for Mother Nature sending us a signal,” Stromberg said.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.