County to update environmental leadership policy

Sustain Charlotte has joined 12 other organizations in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Climate Leaders group in sending a public comment letter on Mecklenburg County’s draft update to the Environmental Leadership Policy and Action Plan. This is an update to the adopted 2004 plan.

Here is the full text of that letter:

Dear Mecklenburg LUESA Director Gujjarlapudi and Mecklenburg County Commissioners,

Charlotte Mecklenburg Climate Leaders is a network of environmental leaders who have worked together for three years to promote aggressive policies to reduce carbon emissions in our community in the fight against climate change. We have worked with the City of Charlotte to pass a low carbon resolution and a Strategic Energy Action Plan, and we look forward to supporting Mecklenburg County in its work against climate change.

Thank you for taking the first steps to revise the County’s Environmental Leadership Policy and create an Action Plan, which includes addressing climate change.  We greatly appreciate the Board’s commitment to protecting our environment.

We have reviewed the draft of the Environmental Leadership Policy and Action Plan as it pertains to climate change and have the following comments:

1. A Sense of Urgency – We want to be sure that the County Commission approaches climate change with a strong sense of urgency and that this urgency is shared by County staff in plans and in actions.  We are facing a climate crisis and it is urgent that we act immediately in ways that will make the greatest impact.

2. Commit to 2030 and 2050 Goals in support of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Federal clean renewable energy goals:

  • Charlotte’s resolution (as noted on page 11 of its Strategic Energy Action Plan) calls for “city fleet and facilities be fueled by 100% zero-carbon sources by 2030” and also sets a “community-wide goal for Charlotte to become a low carbon city by 2050 by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to below 2 tons of CO2 equivalent per person annually.”

  • The State of North Carolina as noted in Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 80 has a goal to “reduce electric power sector greenhouse gas emissions by 70% below 2005 levels by 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2050.”

  • At the federal level, President-elect Biden’s clean energy plan states that he will “Work with Congress to enact in 2021, President Biden’s first year in office, legislation that, by the end of his first term, puts us on an irreversible path to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

 2. Need for a County Director for Clean Renewable Energy and Sustainability – The County needs to hire or appoint a staff person to take responsibility for moving forward in this area and this person needs the authority to be successful.  We are pleased that the City of Charlotte has taken this step with the appointment of Sarah Hazel as Chief Sustainability and Resiliency Officer.

3. Outside Consulting – Given the complexities of transitioning to clean renewable energy and the wide variety of opportunities, the County should consider bringing in a consulting firm with expertise in this area. This could be particularly important and beneficial in analyzing the financial savings possible with clean renewable energy and the financing options that might be available.

4. Working with Duke Energy – Duke is the “elephant in the room” and its importance cannot be overlooked. Duke Energy is not mentioned once in the Environmental Leadership Policy and Action Plan. The County needs to collaborate with Duke to rapidly expand the availability of clean renewable solar energy. The City of Charlotte has a Memorandum of Understanding with Duke Energy Carolinas which outlines values, goals, and shared principles to foster a low-carbon, smart city collaboration, and we encourage the County to create a similar partnership.

5. Working with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools – CMS receives significant funding from the County. The Board of County Commissioners should require CMS to create a strategic plan for reducing emissions through a robust energy efficiency and solar energy initiative. With state funding available from the VW Settlement, we also ask the County to require a transition plan from CMS to convert its large diesel fleet to electric. Transportation is the number one source of greenhouse gases in Mecklenburg County.

6. On-going Input from Citizens – The City of Charlotte has created four working groups of citizens for on-going input into the City’s Strategic Energy Action Plan. The groups include Energy Generation, Buildings, Transportation, and Job Creation, meet periodically, and have provided important input to City staff. The County should also create a similar plan to allow for ongoing citizen input with a specific strategy for including Black and Hispanic residents and a success measure based on the diversity of participation. In addition, the County’s Land Use & Environmental Services Agency (LUESA) should strive to incorporate input from low-income communities regarding policies that are affected by climate change and that disproportionately impact these communities.

7. Health Concerns and Environmental Justice – The Environmental Health Division of the Mecklenburg County Health Department should be directed to evaluate the health impacts of climate change and put in place a program to mitigate the negative effects which disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic residents. Last year Mecklenburg County Commissioners declared racism to be a public health crisis. We agree and urge the County to address the resulting environmental justice and health issues in our community. The American Public Health Association provided funding for the new publication “Climate Change, Health, and Equity: A Guide for Public Health Departments”. We are happy to work with you to create a climate, health, and equity framework to plan for the increasing health impacts of our changing climate.

 8. Job Creation – As the County commits to using more clean renewable energy, new jobs will be created, including jobs in solar installation and green retrofitting of buildings. The County should work to ensure that training and hiring programs are created that not only provide living-wage jobs but also lead to equitable career paths and economic mobility particularly for low-income and Black and Hispanic residents. Provisions for wrap-around services and support for the large numbers of First Step Act early release reentering citizens and those from disadvantaged backgrounds should be considered. Training programs should leverage the six months of federal funding provided for many of these reentering citizens to be trained and given on the job experience.

9.  Energy Efficiency Retrofit Expansion – The County should work with the City of Charlotte and existing Weatherization Assistance Providers, such as Blue Ridge Community Action, whose weatherization budgets have been increased tenfold by the recent federal stimulus, to expand the retrofit services they offer in ways to meet both the County Environmental Leadership Action Plan goals and the City of Charlotte Strategic Energy Action Plan. Working to extend single-family home weatherization offerings to include deeper retrofit items, such as storm windows, could increase the CO2e reduction of each weatherization. Expanding their program to include equitable retrofits of multi-family residences in line with recommended practices by the International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology could provide a more efficient and equitable means of leveraging their dramatically increased budgets in ways that lower the energy burdens and help keep housing affordable for a greater number of county residents.

10. Energy Disclosure Policy – We would like to see the County engage in an Energy Disclosure Policy for public and commercial buildings to be in line with the City of Charlotte’s SEAP. The County should provide energy use information on public-facing websites such as Energy Star Portfolio Manager, using the platform to move initially towards a voluntary program for both public and private sectors, while creating a plan to implement a long-term adoption of a mandatory benchmarking program. Research has shown that energy savings are realized initially through increased attention to energy use, which leads to buy-in from tenants and owners producing more energy savings, finally yielding to long term fully integrated energy-saving strategies and technologies which feed into market mechanisms.

11. Help Build a Circular Economy – The County should partner with the City of Charlotte in building a circular economy that will help reduce waste. Circular Charlotte is an economic model designed to produce zero waste while reducing CO2 emissions, creating jobs, generating revenue, and avoiding the need for landfill space.

Thank you for considering our comments and suggestions. We are happy to further discuss these ideas with you and work together to create a strong Environmental Leadership and Action Plan.


Charlotte Mecklenburg Climate Leaders

Jennifer Roberts, Former Charlotte Mayor & Former Mecklenburg County Commission Chair

June Blotnick, Executive Director, Clean Air Carolina

Shannon Binns, Founder + Executive Director, Sustain Charlotte

Steve Copulsky, Sierra Club

Corine Mack, President, NAACP, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch

Eboné M. Lockett, CEO, Harvesting Humanity, LLC

Rev. Glencie Rhedrick, Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice & United Missionary Baptist Association

Tina Katsanos, Chair, The Climate Reality Project, Charlotte Chapter

Jerome Wagner, Lead Organizer, 350 Charlotte

Angela Gray, Chair, Roots in the Community Market Foundation

Donald Green, Progressive AE

Nancy Carter, Former Charlotte City Council Member & Vice-Chair of the City Council  Environment Committee

Martin Zimmerman, City Wise Studio USA