Local and Green with Darcy Dumont: Calls on town manager to move faster on climate action

Published: 08-14-2023 7:34 PM

Each year, the Town Council creates one-year performance goals for Town Manager Paul Bockelman to accomplish in the next calendar year. The 2023 goals were adopted on Jan. 9. Since the inception of the council, climate action has appeared as a top policy area for goal-setting.

Both the town’s Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC) and the Amherst Climate Justice Alliance (ACJA) have requested a midyear update from Bockelman on the accomplishment of his 2023 goals. ACJA requested a meeting with the manager, but has not received a response in more than three months. The big questions are: who on staff is responsible for implementing each goal this calendar year and what is the timeline?

Most of the climate action goals set for Bockelman have been repeated since 2019. In the past, they have been minimally addressed because the town manager has not hired or assigned additional staff to implement them, even if the work is grant funded, according to the town manager’s budget proposal. At a minimum, to achieve climate action, these goals need to be implemented in the calendar year they are made and additional goals added each year. Delay suggests a failure to treat climate as the existential crisis that it is.

Let’s take a look at the town manager’s 2023 climate action goals in hopes of getting midyear specifics and timelines for implementation from the manager soon. This would be in addition to the July 13 presentation the sustainability director gave to the Town Services and Outreach Committee.

The first climate action goal for 2023 is “using a climate lens when making budgeting, construction, repair, hiring, and other decisions that involve energy.” The town has started using a climate lens when reviewing all capital purchases, but in his self-performance review from 2022, Bockelman does not address budgeting, construction, repair and hiring in this area.

The town needs a transparent policy, uniformly implemented across departments, boards and committees — and data on how it has been implemented and how it has improved the town’s sustainability.

The second goal is to submit a Community Choice Electricity Aggregation application (among Amherst, Northampton and Pelham) to the Department of Public Utilities, complete the Joint Powers Entity formation, and start implementation upon approval. An emphasis was put on “implementation” this year because things have been progressing slowly. Though the towns have now completed all the requirements, the application has not yet been submitted and the Joint Powers Entity application has been temporarily tabled. Amherst is the lead community.

The third goal is to “take necessary steps toward and support the Town Council in developing a waste-hauler bylaw that is feasible and meets the goals of offering universal curbside compost pick-up and pay-as-you-throw fee structure and, if adopted, start implementation.” The council referred the bylaw proposal to one of its committees a year ago. That committee has discussed the issue but has taken no action yet. The main hold up is that the the town manager has not dedicated any staff to assist with the cost analysis.

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Other climate action goals for Bockelman include creating a timeline for the transition of municipal buildings, vehicles, and equipment from the use of fossil fuels; updating the Green House Gas Inventory; starting a heat pump program for residents; and using the PACE financing program that lets property owners use future energy savings to pay for multifamily and business retrofits.

One area where there has been progress is in completing a solar assessment and supporting the work of developing a solar bylaw. The town hired a consultant to work with the Solar Bylaw Working Group. The assessment was completed on time and confirmed the prioritization of rooftops, parking lots and brownfields as preferred sites for large-scale solar. The solar bylaw working group recently received an extension of its timeline to complete their bylaw creation and recommendation.

Bockelman’s goals this year also include creation of a Climate Community Dashboard to track the town’s energy transition in its municipal capital infrastructure, and the maintenance of a list of future road and sidewalk repairs that incorporates the town bike and pedestrian plan.

Again, I hope the town manager will share with climate action groups and residents answers about the status of progress on climate action in Amherst.

Every climate action the town takes helps to avert a degree of warming. Every degree of warming that we avert is a degree that our children and grandchildren don’t have to suffer with — and a degree away from the critical point where our planet fails as a hospitable home for human life.

As for cost, the long term cost savings from reducing our emissions and preparing to be climate resilient are far greater than the short term costs we may need to incur, whether governments, institutions, businesses or individuals. This all means we need to be doing everything we can as fast as we can, and not fiddling around.

Darcy DuMont is a former Town Councilor and sponsor of the legislation creating the Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee. She is a founding member of Zero Waste Amherst, Local Energy Advocates of Western MA, and the Amherst Climate Justice Alliance.]]>