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Stoney introduces draft 'Climate Equity' plan for Richmond following public criticism of spending plan

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With the goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 — and eliminating it completely by 2050 — the city of Richmond is seeking public input on its plans to hit those targets.

At a news conference Tuesday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Alicia Zatcoff, the city’s sustainability manager, outlined the basics of the city’s draft Climate Equity Action Plan 2030, a 190-page document that details 49 different strategies for mitigating the city’s climate impact.

The various strategies relate to building standards and energy use, development, environmental stewardship, transportation and waste reduction and recovery. The objectives, they said, are based on input from 5,700 local residents, advocates, technical experts and other specialists who the city has connected with since the launch of the Stoney administration’s RVAgreen2050 initiative.

“Simple acts like saving energy and resources — multiplied locally, nationally and globally — can make a difference in our lives and those of our generations to come as well,” Stoney said.

“It is in that spirit that my administration has advanced a number of initiatives to reduce its impact on the environment and mitigate the impact of climate change, which is disproportionately affecting communities of color with extreme temperatures, severe flooding, and other challenges.”

Climate experts with the United Nations recently warned that Earth is “firmly on track toward an unlivable world” if governments and corporations fail to adopt and implement climate mitigation strategies. The Richmond City Council last fall adopted a resolution declaring a “climate emergency,” outlining its own goals to prevent ecological disaster.

While city officials have adopted such resolutions and plans, some climate activists say the city is failing to allocate funding and take action in the short-term, notably in the mayor’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In a public hearing last week, organizers from a coalition of more than 20 local and regional advocacy groups raised concerns about the budget and called on the city to reestablish its Urban Forestry Commission, advance plans to replace the city’s vehicle fleet with electric vehicles and establishing a committee to oversee the city’s gas utility, among other things.

“The city’s budget is a key tool in fighting climate change,” said Joe Brancoli, chair of the Sierra Club’s Falls of the James Group. “Sadly, the budget as proposed by the Mayor does not pursue even basic measures that would address climate change, clean our air and in some cases even save tax dollars.”

Stoney on Tuesday dismissed the criticism against his budget when asked about last week’s public hearing.

“I would say that we’re very proud of the budget that we presented to the City Council. ... I’m sorry to hear that there’s some people who disagree,” Stoney said. “We have made some audacious goals, progressive goals as well. I think that’s what leading is all about.”

While the mayor said he would remain committed to hitting mitigation goals laid out in the action plan, several climate advocacy groups and individuals said they are skeptical.

“Mayor Stoney will be conveniently out of office before we hit any of his deadlines for real decarbonization. That’s not audacious, it’s deceptive,” the group Extinction Rebellion Richmond said. “We need this administration to act, now, in this city budget. Instead, the city is funding millions in new gas hookups, new gas-powered vehicles, and gas-powered building systems.”

Sheri Shannon, co-founder of Southside ReLeaf, a Richmond-based environmental advocacy group, applauded the rollout of city’s climate action plan, but said she remains concerned that the initiatives in it aren’t reflected in the mayor’s budget plans.

“We must go beyond verbal commitments to the environment and fund these measures in the budget,” Shannon said. “Environmental justice is economic justice.”

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