Climate committee chair counters charges against councilors

By Laura Draucker

As Chair of the Amherst Town Energy and Climate Action Committee since its formation in May of 2019, I feel l need to address Councilor Darcy Dumont’s statement in a letter in the Daily Hampshire Gazette earlier this week that Councilors Steinberg, Hanneke, and Ross worked to prevent a strong climate action committee or have somehow worked to weaken climate action.

First, we have been a very strong committee, developing robust climate goals and leading an inclusive planning process to develop the Climate Action Adaption and Resilience Plan (Plan de Acción Climática). We did this in a little over two years despite Covid disruptions and membership changes. I attended the council meeting where the charge was debated and then voted on, and I would not characterize any of that discussion as an attempt to weaken our committee’s charge. Councilor Ross was an active member of our committee for many months and was integral in helping us move forward with strong goals that everyone on the Council – including Councilors Hanneke and Steinberg – voted in favor of.  I recall no situation where Hanneke attempted to slow or block the adoption of our goals. Further, many climate activists – myself included – were against the initial zero-energy building bylaw because it was written in a way that could have completely limited future town capital projects.

Amherst has much work to do to meet our climate goals. Most of this needs to be done outside the Council – town staff, the schools, community groups, residents, business owners, and the higher education institutions need to come together to implement our climate action plan. My biggest hope for the new Council is that they set a clear expectation that their role is to do what it takes to facilitate and help the implementers do their work, and avoid being a gatekeeper for action. I think this is true of many things that come before the Council, particularly from committees. I have faith that if reelected, Hanneke, Steinberg, and Ross will be open to that approach.

As for the candidates Darcy Dumont mentioned in her letter, I have no basis to make a determination as to how well these candidates will address our climate goals.  I welcome them to reach out and join ECAC at a future meeting and learn from our committee and in particular, our fearless sustainability coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello.

However, I would urge strong caution in voting for someone who claims to have climate action at the heart of his/her campaign but who is also actively campaigning against the library project. The most important climate action we can take is getting off fossil fuels – and this project allows us to do that at no extra cost to the town thanks to the work of the library sustainability committee and Trustees. The library currently uses as much natural gas as 30 average homes. Climate justice is accepting these funds and supporting this project so we can fully dedicate other grants and funds to converting affordable housing and housing complexes away from fossil fuel heat and to healthier, safer, and less polluting heat pumps. Any talk about the waste this project creates is distracting from the actual value this project has – while differing opinions on the library project are welcome, stating that it is somehow a bad climate decision is unequivocally false. 

[Laura speaks for herself in this post, not for the committee. Her letter was slightly edited.]

2 thoughts on “Climate committee chair counters charges against councilors”

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful response to the misleading letter authored by Ms. Dumont. I also whole heartily support the work of your committee. Now, if we can only get town government to take your recommendations seriously, stop talking, and start implementing. Unfortunately there is only so much money to go around and town government’s focus has been and will probably continue to be on other things. Maybe it is time for a reordering of some of the town’s priorities. Of course it would greatly help if the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College put some serious effort into it as well. Both operate huge natural gas fired power plants on their campuses in town.

    The zero-energy building bylaw was more of a feel good effort than a useful law. There were alternatives that should have been explored prior to rushing it through town meeting. Maybe it was the best choice but we will never know. What we do know is that it could add between six and seven million dollars to the cost of a new grade school. Would it have been more beneficial to have spent some of that money elsewhere to improve energy efficiency in the community while still achieving a highly energy efficient new school? In any event, at least the new school will not add to our carbon footprint once construction is complete.

    We have a long way to go as a community when it comes to climate change, myself included. When is town government going to seriously start dealing with it?

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    1. It has been gratifying to see the work that has gone into making the Jones project more energy efficient and sustainable. The work that Laura and the committee have put in will make the Jones one of the greenest libraries in the Commonwealth, and it will be interesting to see what reaction our project gets from the Mass Board of Library Commissioners. I would bet that MBLC will use our experience to help shape upcoming design and construction grant rounds (environmentally but not politically😄), and that will be another way that we contribute to building a more sustainable infrastructure for all.
      [Editors: Matthew Blumenfeld is a 25+-year resident of Amherst. His firm, Financial Development Agency, Inc. has worked on more than 25 library projects throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. FDA is working on the capital campaign for the Jones Library.]

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