Edina Mayor Jim Hovland joined other Midwest mayors last week in a virtual forum to advocate for federal climate action.

The Aug. 17 forum, hosted by the League of Conservation Voters, featured Hovland along with the mayors of several other major Midwest cities. The mayors provided insight on the importance of tackling climate change and ways in which the cities are taking action.

The discussion was part of a larger multi-state campaign by the League and Climate Power, called Climate Action Now: Great American Build August, to push for federal action on the climate during Congress’s August recess. Additional mayoral events also took place last week with mayors from different parts of the country, like New England, the Mountain West and the Mid-Atlantic.

On Aug. 10, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and a budget resolution – both of which would advance President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan. The budget resolution comes before lawmakers are able to structure a $3.5 million budget reconciliation bill.

If the budget reconciliation bill is approved by both chambers of Congress, this would likely further federal-led measures to address climate change. As outlined in Biden’s plan, these actions include building a Civilian Climate Corps to encourage youth to engage in conversation work, enacting import fees on polluters, loosening taxes for electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels, and looking to electrify federal vehicles, according to a report by The Washington Post.

It would also impose new rules on electricity providers to better use clean energy, the report said.

The Midwest mayors who advocated for federal action on tackling the climate as part of the forum were Hovland, John Cranley, mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio; Leirion Gaylor Baird, mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska; Satya Rhodes-Conway, mayor of Madison, Wisconsin; and Jim Carruthers, mayor of Traverse City, Michigan.

“Climate change is an issue that impacts cities all across this nation, and the Midwest is no exception,” said forum moderator Lisa Wozniak, who is the executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

The budget reconciliation package would provide “robust investments” into climate, Wozniak said to kick off the event. She mentioned the study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that greenhouse gas concentrations are at record-setting levels. Extreme weather events and climate disasters are “increasing in frequency and intensity,” a UN report on the study said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres had called the climate study result “a code red for humanity.”

During the forum, each mayor provided insight into the climate and sustainability measures that have been taken in their own cities and what taking action on climate can do.

Hovland, who sits on the Climate Mayors’ Steering Committee, discussed Edina’s future climate goals, such as getting the city to net zero emissions by 2050 and the ongoing creation of a climate action plan.

“The biggest opportunity is just amongst people,” Hovland said. “Folks in Edina want us to move as quickly as we can (and) as effectively as we can.”

Edina’s climate action plan, which has 15 community members and additional technical staff members working to help build it by the end of the year, includes an analysis of the city through an inventory assessment and identifies vulnerable communities within Edina, Hovland said.

Building energy use is the biggest source of greenhouse emissions in Edina, like it is for many others, he noted. In response, one way the city is trying to combat this is through developing a sustainable buildings policy on new construction this year, Hovland said. “The city is trying to lead by example,” he said.

Edina has also adopted the state’s clean cars rules, placed electric chargers at public facilities and undergone flood improvement strategies, Hovland said.

“What I’m most proud of is that people are right behind us. They’re just pushing us along ... as a government to try to make sure that we can get our planet back in the shape it used to be,” he said.

Rhodes-Conway, of Madison, said the federal government must take action where local jurisdictions cannot, such as enacting fuel efficiency standards or the regulating utilities.

Rhodes-Conway mentioned that buildings are also a significant source of emissions for Madison. More federal dollars could allow the city to make moves to upgrade its multi-family rental housing stock, including making homes more energy efficient and address any mold issues that arise from a wetter, warmer climate, Rhodes-Conway added.

Madison has the only electric fire engine in North America, Rhodes-Conway said. Having more federal dollars could help the city expand its fleet of electric vehicles, especially as chargers for heavy-duty vehicles tend to be expensive, she said.

Lincoln’s mayor, Gaylor Baird, discussed the stakes of not taking “bold” action on climate change. “What’s at stake? ... The promise of a stronger and more secure and more equitable future.”

Carruthers, of Traverse City, talked about the benefits of climate action, like reducing of the need for fossil fuels and foreign energy and adding economic development opportunities. Cranley, of Cincinnati, echoed this sentiment, stating that clean energy is critical to economic growth.

By the end of the year, Cincinnati will be the first city government in the U.S. that is effectively carbon neutral thanks to the installation of 330,000 solar panels, Cranley added.

Through federal action, cities have the opportunity to test initiatives and see what would make a difference, Hovland said at the end of the event.

“The local level ... is really where the rubber meets the road,” he said.

John Anderson, west metro regional manager at Conservation Minnesota, said in a statement to the Sun Current that the forum was “a great opportunity for Mayor Hovland to showcase Edina’s commitment to addressing climate change.”

He added, “The reconciliation package currently moving through Congress has the opportunity to help communities like Edina invest more in clean energy infrastructure and jobs while also assist in meeting the city’s Climate Action Plan goals.”

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter

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