Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum’s pledge to support cleaning up Santa Barbara’s skies will give local residents and environmentalists alike cause to breathe what could soon be a healthier sigh of relief.
Blum joined the mayors of cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Portland and Salt Lake City on Tuesday morning when she signed the United States Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement (USMCPA), in which she pledged to hold Santa Barbara to the same environmental guidelines set forth by the Kyoto Protocol. In 2001, the United States withdrew its support for the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement between 140 countries to limit their respective release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Blum said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickel created the USMCPA as a response to the federal government’s decision not to join the other countries that signed the accord, which sets greenhouse gas emissions levels at 5.2 percent below the 1990 levels for each country. Blum said she signed the USMCPA because she disagreed with President Bush’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.
“We were told that when [President Bush] didn’t sign it, it was too expensive for industry,” Blum said. “That is not a good reason, in my point of view.” Marianne Bichsel, communication director for Nickel’s office, said the goal of the USMCPA is to meet or exceed the regulations of the Kyoto Protocol, which went in effect Feb. 7.
“Since our federal leaders decided not to participate, it would be good to start on a city level,” Bichsel said. “As cities working on a local level, we have the power to change.”
Bichsel said the USMCPA and the Kyoto treaty are similar, even though the USMCPA operates on a local level. She said some common polices that the USMCPA shares with the treaty include the prevention of urban sprawl, commitment to urban forest restoration, climate protection and the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Santa Barbara had already taken measures to lower gas emissions prior to signing the USMCPA, Blum said. One such project was the building of a fuel cell plant at El Estero Waste Water Treatment Facility in Febuary. Blum said the fuel cell plan converts the waste products of methane gas into electricity and said the plant has both improved the city’s air quality and saved it $40,000 per year in electricity costs.
Blum said signing the USMCPA was just a logical extension of the county’s efforts to cut back on all forms of pollution. She said she will hopes to get more ideas to continue these efforts from other city leaders this June at the Conference of Mayors in Chicago.
“I hope to bring back some ideas,” Blum said. “Mayors are great at stealing ideas from each other.”
Bichsel said she thinks more cooperation from U.S. cities could eventually lead to environmental policies made by the federal government, such as the bipartisan Climate Stewardship Act sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). Under the act, local and federal governments would coordinate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have 81 cities signed on to the USMCPA so far,” Bichsel said. “The mayor’s goal is to have 141 cities join during the June conference. We can make a change one city at a time.”
Santa Barbara City councilman Das Williams said he and the other council members unanimously endorsed the USMCPA because of the council’s concerns that global warming is taking place and that the federal government is not doing enough to rectify the problem.
“Exxon Mobil spends $4 million to $8 million in a lobbying effort to convince Americans global warming is not real,” Williams said. “We are undergoing climate change.”
Following Blum’s pledge to cooperate with the USMCPA, Williams said Santa Barbara’s environmental plans will focus on giving incentives to builders for developing greener buildings, allowing the construction of more solar roofs and increasing the amount of mass transit to reduce pollution.
“It’s easy to say we should sign on [to the USMCPA],” Williams said. “Talk is cheap. It’s the actions we take that matter.”