Climate Wins!

A streetcar passes a painted mural on the Fifth Third Bank building in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio on August 22, 2019.

Luke Sharrett for NRDC

Climate won big in this year’s election. In cities across the United States, voters approved measure after measure tackling climate change at the local level. And it wasn’t just coastal towns. In Denver, San Antonio, and Columbus, Ohio, residents voted to enact every proposal on the ballot that helped their cities take bold steps toward becoming more sustainable and resilient.

Cities understand that they must act on climate change. This year, more than any other, people are feeling the effects—extreme heat, hurricanes, wildfires—and in November, residents across the country amplified their collective voice and voted decisively to steer their cities in the right direction.

These wins demonstrate how cities can be key leaders on climate action, driving meaningful bottom-up change while the new presidential administration gets up to speed at the federal level. Innovative programs like the Bloomberg Philanthropies American Cities Climate Challenge are helping to bolster and support this groundswell of city-based action, resulting in these victories.

Following on the heels of Cincinnati’s Hamilton County, where residents voted yes on Issue 7 in spring 2020 to improve transit, these are the exciting new initiatives set to launch in Columbus, Ohio, Denver, and San Antonio.

COLUMBUS, OHIO – ISSUE 1

Columbus’s Issue 1 passed with an overwhelming 76 percent of the vote. The innovative measure empowers residents and small businesses to act as a collective group and purchase clean electricity at bulk rates, boosting the city’s usage of renewable energy without raising utility bills. Residents who don’t wish to participate may withdraw at any time. Known as “community choice aggregation,” Issue 1 is a win-win not just for the environment and people’s pocketbooks but also for the economy and labor market, as it will help create local jobs to meet the growing demand for solar and wind projects. Support from labor unions such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) helped to broaden the measure’s appeal, resulting in a resounding bipartisan approval. 

Issue 1 will reduce the city’s annual carbon emissions by an estimated 1.2 million metric tons annually, which is the equivalent of taking roughly 260,000 cars off the road. It is an easy and effective way to help rebuild the local economy while supporting the city’s drive toward achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2022.

DENVER – MEASURE 2A

With the passage of Measure 2A—at 63 percent of the vote—Denver can now advance toward its ambitious target of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2040. The measure will raise an estimated $40 million annually through a sales tax increase of 25 cents for every $100 spent. Notable highlights of what that will fund:

  • Investments in solar power, battery storage, and other renewable energy technology
  • New jobs in the clean energy sector with career training
  • Increased energy efficiency for homes, offices, and other buildings, resulting in reduced utility bills, indoor air pollution, and carbon footprints
  • More affordable, clean, safe, and reliable transportation choices, like biking, electric vehicles, and neighborhood-scale transit
  • About $20 million dedicated to maximizing investments in vulnerable, underserved communities and strengthening the fight against environmental injustice

Denver is committed to cutting its carbon emissions and preserving the environment for future generations. Measure 2A is a solid initiative to achieve that.

SAN ANTONIO – ADVANCED TRANSPORTATION DISTRICT PROPOSITION A

The Advanced Transportation District Proposition A received a robust 68 percent of the vote, paving the way for San Antonio to enhance its VIA Metropolitan Transit system and help promote ridership over car commuting. “It is wonderful to see the voters coming together to support reliable, efficient, and affordable public transit that is so crucial to connecting more San Antonians to jobs, education, health care, arts and culture, and each other,” says former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade.

Instead of tax increases, the proposition reallocates one-eighth of every cent of an already existing sales tax to create nearly $40 million in annual funds, which will support the city’s Keep SA Moving plan to provide cleaner, more efficient public transit. “As a result of the voters’ endorsement of increased funding for VIA, we will be able to improve service that aids in our community’s pandemic response, plays a vital role in our economic recovery, and promotes our long-term prosperity as San Antonio continues to grow,” says Representative Ray Lopez. Key features:

  • Upgrading bus service so that vehicles arrive at least every 30 minutes during peak traffic periods
  • Developing and expanding alternatives to traditional transit, improving fare-collection systems, and launching an integrated transit app
  • Supporting the operation of an Advanced Rapid Transit bus line and other related improvements
  • Building a new maintenance facility and developing new passenger mobility hubs that help people connect different modes of transportation

Centering equity is also a cornerstone of the Keep SA Moving plan, which aims to improve service to underserved communities while promoting cleaner transportation overall and helping San Antonio stay vital as the economy recovers.

IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING: CINCINNATI – ISSUE 7

In March 2020, Cincinnati’s Hamilton County voters successfully passed Issue 7. The new 0.8 percent sales tax levy will be invested in the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority to support its Reinventing Metro plan as well as to fund improvements to existing infrastructure. The plan includes:

  • Eight new routes to expand the area served by the bus system
  • Increased frequency on major routes with faster service 
  • Shorter trips with improved connections to crosstown lines and Bus Rapid Transit
  • 24-hour service on six major corridors
  • Rider amenities, such as real-time signs and mobile apps

Enhancing transit service ensures that the city’s underserved communities can access work, hospitals, and other necessary destinations while broadening the coverage region helps all workers reach the jobs that have developed outside of the urban center. Issue 7 will help Cincinnati promote public transit as a cleaner, more efficient transportation alternative to cars.

The passage of all four of these initiatives makes it abundantly clear: Voters across America want their cities to take action on climate, and they are eager and willing to invest in a more sustainable future.

About the Authors

Hilary Firestone

Senior Policy Advisor, City Energy Project, Resilient Communities, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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