The American Planning Association's Annual Policy Briefing: Sobering, but Hopeful

I spoke with about 100 members of the American Planning Association earlier this week about building support for clean energy in Washington.  Planners do critical work in creating more sustainable communities, and it was sobering to have to tell them how difficult it is right now to move a climate security agenda in Washington. Nothing is moving in terms of federal climate legislation, and some of the Recovery Act programs that supported sustainable development at the community level are in jeopardy.

In our current political climate, no one’s talking about climate. But people do want to hear about economics and energy, which means that it’s a great time to talk about transportation solutions. The Mobility Choice coalition has put together a set of transportation solutions that are cost-effective and will help us break free of our dangerous oil habit. Planners should be pushing for bipartisan solutions like high-occupancy toll lanes, ITS technology and scenario planning in their communities.

Investment in transportation infrastructure, like that proposed by President Obama in the American Jobs Act, is another key policy for planners to get behind.  As Andy Seth, the executive director of Climate Communities, said in his excellent presentation, we’re basically playing defense on climate, but the American Jobs Act represents an opportunity to go on the offensive.

Yesterday planners spent the day lobbying on the Hill, pushing for the American Jobs Act and the clean energy opportunities it presents, such as investments in innovative transit projects through the TIGER and TIFIA programs, and Project Rebuild, which will invest $15 billion in rehabilitating properties in distressed communities. Making these properties more energy efficient is a critical part of that rehabilitation, not only in terms of energy savings but in lowering the cost of home ownership as well.

Opportunities to advance the climate agenda are rare these days, but by highlighting the economic benefits and jobs impacts of infrastructure investment, we can still fight the good fight.