July 20, 2008
By Steve Taylor
Rio Grande Guardian
Mark Peña at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
EDINBURG, July 19 - The Sierra Club has applauded the City of Edinburg for signing on to a national climate protection agreement and thus becoming the first Rio Grande Valley city to join the Cool Cities Campaign.
A Cool City, a national initiative sponsored by the Sierra Club, is one that has made a commitment to cut down on environmentally harmful emissions locally, and implement smart energy policies that save taxpayers dollars.
The initiative also requires a city to sign on to the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement. This agreement pledges to take local action against global warming, by meeting or surpassing the Kyoto Protocol treaty target. The target is to decrease global warming pollution levels to seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
"The lower Rio Grande region is on the ball in acknowledging the need to address climate change by signing the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement," Sierra Club spokeswoman Donna Hoffman told the Guardian.
"We hope the other Valley cities follow suit and push Texas toward the benchmark of 25 cities in Texas stepping up to take leadership for the environment."
Hoffman said the citizens of Edinburg should be immensely proud of its city leaders for acknowledging the need to do more to protect the environment.
"The City of Edinburg’s commitment will help drive the new clean, green economy we need in Texas. Sierra Club congratulates and thanks Edinburg City Council for being a Cool City," Hoffman said.
On February 16, 2005, the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to address climate disruption, became law for the 141 countries that have ratified it to date. On that day, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to advance the goals of the Kyoto Protocol through leadership and action.
Two years later, the U.S. Conference of Mayors launched the Mayors Climate Protection Center to administer and track the agreement, among its other activities. By November 1, 2007, there were more than 710 signatories to the Agreement. Edinburg is the first Valley city to sign the agreement.
"I would like to commend this council for taking the leadership and the responsibility, which is actually all of our responsibility, to make sure we help our future in making sure global warming ceases," said Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa, after the resolution passed.
Ochoa said that by signing the agreement, Edinburg’s City Council commits to evaluate the city’s policies and procedures and ensure environmentally clean and energy efficient practices.
Ochoa said Edinburg’s next step will be to take an inventory of the city’s emissions and develop a local climate protection plan, involving various facets of the community.
Mayor Pro Temp Gene Espinoza said Edinburg already offers a recycling center where residents can drop off glass, plastic, paper and more. The city has also created a mulching program, an ordinance that protects tree and has installed energy-saving tools in its newer buildings.
Espinoza said he is encouraged to see citizen groups, like the Edinburg Cool Cities team, pushing the initiative to expand the city’s environmental efforts.
"We will definitely start looking into solar power and more recycling to save energy and the environment," Espinoza said. "I think the citizens are really going to hear the message that we are behind this."
Two of the leaders of the Edinburg Cool Cities team are Michelle Peña and her husband Mark Peña. "We are excited to be starting a new greener chapter in the story of Edinburg," said Michelle Peña.
Mark Peña said the debate among scientists and leaders is no longer whether global warming and climate change is real but how nations are going to address the environmental challenge.
"I believe the City Council’s unanimous endorsement is a strong indication of a new direction for the City of Edinburg that courageously addresses the challenges of climate change and global warming head-on with positive solutions and new ideas that will save taxpayer dollars, build the local economy, improve air quality and public health, and improve community livability and quality of life," Peña told the Guardian.
Peña said he hopes other Valley cities will follow Edinburg’s lead in initiating environmental campaigns. The cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, and McAllen are working on gaining a Cool Cities designation.
Supporters of the Cool Cities initiative in the Valley held meetings in Brownsville and Edinburg last month to strategize on how to build up momentum.
Stefanie Herweck, a Sierra Club volunteer, said the Cool Cities campaign would not only be asking Valley mayors to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement but also join ICLEI, an organization that provides software and support for developing a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"We are expanding the campaign into the Rio Grande Valley and forming a team of residents to talk to their mayors," Herweck said.
"The Cool Cities campaign is a solutions-oriented, non-partisan campaign to get cities to address global warming by making their city operations more energy efficient."
Under the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, participating cities commit to take the following three actions:
- Strive to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in their own communities, through actions ranging from anti-sprawl land-use policies to urban forest restoration projects to public information campaigns;
- Urge their state governments, and the federal government, to enact policies and programs to meet or beat the greenhouse gas emission reduction target suggested for the United States in the Kyoto Protocol – 7 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2012; and
- Urge the U.S. Congress to pass the bipartisan greenhouse gas reduction legislation, which would establish a national emission trading system.
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