St. Louis Park’s new Climate Action Plan could help make the community a leader in fighting climate change, advocates said.
Advocacy efforts by St. Louis Park High School students nearly two years ago led to a city climate action plan aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by 2040.
The plan calls for the city to lead an effort to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings 30 percent by 2030. It states that all new construction should be built using green building standards. By 2030, the plan states that the city should reduce energy consumption in residential buildings by 35 percent, generate all electricity in the city by renewable sources, reduce vehicle emissions by 25 percent and reduce solid waste 50 percent from the amount that would otherwise be generated.
The city council unanimously approved the plan Feb. 5.
Mayor Jake Spano called it a “very bold and aggressive aspirational document.”
Ryan Griffin, chair of the city’s environment and sustainability commission, said the city is progressive and green but is still emitting 10 times the level of emissions “that we think is going to be necessary for our world to sustain course.”
Reducing emissions also has the benefit of reducing air pollution that can lead to hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular problems and premature deaths, Griffin said.
Lukas Wrede, one of the members of the high school club Roots and Shoots that promoted a climate action plan along with the nonprofit iMatter in 2016, said the climate action plan is one of the most aggressive in the state and country.
“We can put our name out there on a national level,” Wrede said.
Roots and Shoots members are stakeholders in the plan, he said.
“We’ve been questioning what our future is going to be like if we stay in St. Louis Park, and now we feel like we really don’t need to be worried anymore because you guys share our vision,” Wrede said.
Abby Finis, a senior planner with consultant Great Plains Institute, advised city leaders to create a climate resource hub on the city website for residents and businesses. The city should continue to promote infrastructure for electric vehicles, she said. Youth can continue to drive the plan by encouraging people in St. Louis Park to engage in home energy evaluations and solar power.
“It is going to be the most aggressive climate action plan in the state,” Finis said. “You should all be really proud.”
Several Roots and Shoots members spoke in support of the plan.
High school junior Anna Kasper offered to attend council meetings and work sessions to promote the plan’s implementation.
“I will continue to help lead the way on this plan, and I look forward to creating my own legacy with you,” Kasper said. “I am ready for the hard times, and I will be here every Monday if I have to.”
Junior Katie Christiansen, who the council named to the Environment and Sustainability Commission earlier in the meeting, said Roots and Shoots would ask the St. Louis Park School Board to power the school district entirely with renewable energy by 2025.
“The school district makes up a large portion of the emissions in St. Louis Park, and we want them to be an example to the rest of the city in moving to the goals in this plan,” Christiansen said.
She also thanked community members for their work on the plan.
“Thank you mostly to all the wonderful St. Louis Park residents for believing that we can do better, and for wanting to be a part of that,” Christiansen said. “The people of this city are the reason this plan has made it this far and will be the reason that by 2040 we will be a part of a city that leads the nation in sustainability by having net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.”
Patty O’Keefe, a Park High alum who is an organizer with the Sierra Club, said as she approached council members, “I’m getting so emotional.”
The plan could help encourage Xcel Energy to make more ambitious commitments to renewable energy, she said. The utility company already has committed to producing 60 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
“This will push them even further,” O’Keefe predicted.
She told council members. “Even though we know this is going to be hard, we know that not dealing with it is going to be even harder.”
Referencing her upbringing in St. Louis Park, she said, “I’m just so proud of my city, everybody in it. I’m so proud. Can’t stand it!”
Resident Stephen Oman, who said he develops solar energy for a living, issued a cautious tone for council members.
“We’ve got a long, long ways to go,” Oman said. “The incentives are already pretty good, but if you look at the number of businesses in the city of St. Louis Park that today are ready to write a check, there’s not momentum. I think this is a leadership issue.”
He encouraged council members to press developers to add solar power to proposed projects in the development pipeline.
“It’s going to be a lot of work,” he said of the climate action plan.
Several council members said approving the plan would be the easy part.
After hearing a presentation about the plan, Councilmember Tim Brausen said, “I’ve gotta say, ‘wow.’ This is a far-reaching and very challenging plan. It crates goals and strategies for all sectors of our community to reduce greenhouse gases and energy costs. Climate neutrality is a giant step, and it’s going to require all of us to change the way we live in this throwaway and disposable economy.”
Government can lead on the issue, but citizens have to do their part, he said.
“It won’t be fun, cheap, or easy at all, but it’s time to stop the dangerous path we as a society and as world citizens are on,” Brausen said. “The planet can’t sustain the American lifestyle here or worldwide, and it’s time for us to start doing our part to reverse the dangerous trends we’ve joined in. The climate action plan makes clear that we are proposing to fundamentally change our ways of life as we want the species to survive.”
The council will have to make choices between spending money on the plan and using the funds on another priority, Councilmember Thom Miller said.
“I say that not to make you think that we might not do it but to encourage you to hold our feet to the fire to make sure we do it,” Miller said to supporters of the plan.
Since city buildings and vehicles make up a relatively small part of the city’s carbon footprint, the city may need to consider expensive incentives to encourage private property owners to participate,” Miller said.
“It’s going to take a lot of investment,” he said. “I hope that you’re going to be there with us as we roll this out in coming years.”
The city will need to educate people who do not see climate change as a priority, Councilmember Margaret Rog said.
“I think of the folks I met while door-knocking this summer who are great people but aren’t thinking of climate change,” Rog said. “I just feel like I’d love to see the community get on board.”
The federal government has not maintained its responsibilities on the issue, causing it to bubble up from local leadership, Councilmember Anne Mavity said. She said “what happens in our little St. Louis Park” could lead to ripple effects in other communities.
Spano compared the effort to colonists burning ships as they settled in a new area.
“We are going,” Spano said to supporters of the plan to achieve carbon neutrality. “It would be easy if we knew exactly how we were going to get to zero. We don’t. And the only way that we’re going to get there is by the work of this group, the work of tremendous city staff and commission members, but more importantly all of you.”
The audience broke out in applause and a standing ovation as the council took a vote that did not count due to a procedural mistake and then louder applause as the council took another unanimous vote that did count.
As Roots and Shoots member Emma Kempf high-fived another student, she exclaimed, “Success!”
For more information about the plan, visit stlouispark.org/our-city/climate-action-plan.