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New environmental ordinances introduced to advance Climate Justice Plan

Proposed ordinances to improve energy efficiency, increase funds for sustainability goals

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Ward 2 Councilwoman Helen Anthony introduced two new environmental ordinances Jan. 21 to the Providence City Council that would promote Mayor Jorge Elorza’s Climate Justice Plan. The first ordinance would require all large buildings to record and report their energy usage, and the second would codify the existing Office of Sustainability.

Both of these ordinances would advance the goals of the CJP by “centering climate policy work in racial justice, … (recognizing that) you can’t do one without the other,” Chair of the Environmental Sustainability Task Force Sue AnderBois said. The ESTF works with the Office of Sustainability to coordinate environmental initiatives for the City.

These ordinances would be even more long-lasting than Providence’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, said Leah Bamberger, director of sustainability for the City. In the long term, she said, they would “codify our goals around climate.”

The CJP and the new initiatives will center frontline communities, recognizing that low income communities of color are both the most impacted by, and the lowest contributors to, climate change. The goals of the ordinances are to promote accountability, Bamberger said.

The Building Energy Reporting Ordinance will ensure safe and affordable buildings for tenants, Bamberger said, adding that large buildings more than 10,000 square feet account for 70 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in Providence. As a result, the concrete steps outlined in BERO would hold the owners of large buildings accountable for their energy efficiency and usage by requiring them to release public reports annually.

Moreover, AnderBois said, without reliable data, the City would be unable to assess energy usage and efficiency.

BERO was first introduced in 2017, but stakeholders were reluctant about the ordinance being mandatory, according to Anthony. 

To alleviate this hesitation, Bamberger began a voluntary reporting program called RePower PVD. But “while it was successful, there weren’t many participants,” Anthony said. Still, Anthony decided to reintroduce the mandatory ordinance due to the success of RePower PVD  and of similar mandatory initiatives in over 30 other municipalities — including the entire states of Washington and California. 

“We don’t have the luxury of time,” Anthony said, when it comes to addressing climate change.

Peter Case, principal and founder of TruthBox Incorporated, was one of the original building owners who signed up for the voluntary program, and he has advocated for energy efficient buildings since.

Case described conversations he had with building owners who have saved money on energy and with tenants who had “barely turned on the heat all year” as a result of heat-efficient designs. Case, who constructed an energy efficient building specifically for low- and middle-income apartments among other carbon-neutral buildings, emphasized the importance of “doing our part to mitigate the impacts of greenhouse gases on our state,” calling the effects of those efforts a “win-win for us as a community.”

The second ordinance would officially establish an Office of Sustainability for the City. By putting “what already exists” into law, the Office of Sustainability would be funded and factored into budget planning, AnderBois said. 

“Climate change is too important not to have a department with dedicated funding,” Anthony added. 

The second ordinance would also ensure that “representation in (the ESTF) is reflective of Providence’s diverse communities and neighborhoods,” Bamberger said.

With this ordinance, the ESTF would officially become the Sustainability Commission and would add two environmental justice and two youth seats to bolster representation in the committee. These changes would aim to hold the government accountable and allow for the voices of various communities to be heard during City climate policy discussions.

Though these two ordinances have been introduced and referred to the finance committee, they have yet to be approved. The committee will pass on the ordinances and their recommendation to the City Council, where they will be voted on. Currently, six of the 15 members of the City Council support the ordinances, but at least eight votes are required for them to pass.

Bamberger explained the importance of these ordinances in relation to the community, saying that they “create the structure and the bedrock for the change our frontline community members have identified as priority.”

These ordinances, Anthony said, are “the beginning of a sea of change.”

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