Failure of local leadership on CLIMATE change action

Newsletter Volume 1 • Number 41

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As a wealthy and highly educated community, situated along a coastline, you’d think Greenwich would be a leader in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and harden our town against flooding. But you’d be wrong.

Even as the world’s most authoritative body on the science of climate change released the final installment of its 8-year study in March documenting that adverse climate impacts are already visible worldwide, and more far-reaching and extreme than anticipated, Greenwich’s town leaders have ignored the danger signs.

It is once again a story of short-term thinking by miserly Republican officials, now exacerbated by climate-denying local Patriots who have seized control of their party.

Greenwich residents have been doing their part; our town has the highest number of electric vehicles in the state.

But while the federal government and state government have made climate action a priority, in Greenwich the work has been mostly outsourced to volunteers as the town has cut staffing and funding for conservation and energy management. In 2018, in an effort to reduce headcount, Republican first selectman Peter Tesei merged the wetlands and watercourse agency with the conservation department and put both under the management of one department head.

Wetlands permitting is time sensitive, and therefore has taken staff precedence over conservation, which requires more planning and has fewer deadlines.

Short staffed, we lose out on conservation grant money

There are millions of dollars in conservation infrastructure grants that Greenwich is eligible for.The state Department of Transportation has grants for making conditions safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, to encourage sustainable modes of travel. The state Department of Environmental Protection has grants to support food scrap collection, and there are many others. But applying requires staff time, something in scant supply after the department merger. So a short-sighted headcount reduction has cost Greenwich millions.

There are other sources of free funds left dangling too. Congressman Jim Himes has secured over $36 million in infrastructure funding and invited towns to apply. There are state and federal grant programs to prevent flooding, build affordable housing, add electric vehicles to the town fleet, promote energy efficiency, provide essential infrastructure, improve transit for elderly and disabled residents, bridge reconstruction, and myriad other needs.

Right-wing Patriots jeopardize outside grants for political points

The reason we are failing to take advantage of these opportunities has as much to do with the radicalization of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) as it does a shortage of departmental resources. Now, even if the grant money is awarded, there is a risk that it will not be approved by the RTM. The right-wing segment of the RTM mobilized to reject a grant for bringing Greenwich Avenue sidewalks into ADA compliance, and also to stop the modernization of our election infrastructure.

What’s more, after years of squeezing department budgets by refusing to keep up with inflation, this year, the Republican-controlled finance board cut more: directing town departments to find $1.4 million in further cuts.

First Selectman: What emergency?

As scientists gave the world just eight years to avoid the worst effects of global warming, First Selectman Fred Camillo put the brakes on a climate emergency declaration proposed by Greenwich students until the word “emergency” was removed, and any teeth that the declaration had were extracted. Two Republican members of the town finance board intervened. Harry Fisher, who opined that climate change is “natural”, and chair Dan Ozizmir, who said he saw no basis for declaring a “climate emergency.” Camillo caved to the pressure fromlocal Patriots.

Similarly an effort to create an Energy Commission in 2020 to identify ways to reduce energy use by town buildings was defeated in the RTMby the same right wing caucus because it feared the commission could become “too powerful.”

There’s no money where our mouth is

  • Although Camillo named growing the town’s “green footprint” a 2023-24 goal, no money was budgeted for the development of the town’s Climate Action Plan, which is due in December of 2023.
  • No funding has been put forward for implementing our Coastal Resiliency Plan, completed in 2022.
  • A 2023 budget plan for $585,000 for the Conservation Commission was cut entirely from the ‘24 budget by Camillo.
  • A solar canopy system that was being considered for installation in the Horseneck Lane parking lot was scrapped by the BETin 2022.
  • And although municipal fleets nationwide are transitioning to EVs, Greenwich has failed to install charging stations for municipal vehicles. With a fleet of nearly 300 vehicles, the town purchased its first electric car just this year.

Ignoring green building standards

The town has also missed a golden opportunity with Central Middle School. The most economical time to address a building’s future energy use is at the time of construction.

A building built to Net Zero standards, such as the ones recently constructed in Manchester and Mansfield, CT requires a fraction of the energy of a conventional building, and can be done at the same cost.

There are numerous grants available for net zero construction. But in the Republican leadership’s myopic zeal to reduce construction costs, they have not even explored a net zero design, which would save on energy costs for decades, while also producing less greenhouse gasses.

A similar missed opportunity is with the remediation of Western Middle School playing fields, where the town chose to install artificial turf instead of lawn. Artificial turf both contributes to climate change and is harmful to human health.

In the absence of town leadership on environmental action, volunteers have taken up the slack, and made great progress, including earning a silver ranking from Sustainable CT. Volunteer groups like Waste Free Greenwich have brought food scrap and textile recycling to Greenwich; the Energy Management and Advisory Committee has identified ways for the Town to reduce energy consumption and costs.

Climate denying Patriots and weak Republican officials are to blame

While volunteers provide essential time and expertise, it is the job of government, not volunteers, to respond to a five alarm fire when it is impacting the health of our community, and our planet at large.

It is time for vision, for facts, and for integrity. Vote for Democrats on November 7.

For your calendar

APRIL 25 Come crush it with us at this evening of ping-pong, food, drinks and friends! Bring a friend, or two.

April 22

Annual beach clean up in memory of Luke Myers, a dedicated environmental advocate.

April 23

“The Future Fight against Extremism and for Democracy,” a talk hosted by Temple Sholom and the CT Anti-Defamation League. 7:30pm Free.

You know you want one…

Show your Greenwich Democratic pride! Click here to request a free bumper sticker.

Editorials that caught our eye

The threats to our democracy have gone local.
Camille Squires
, an election reporter writes in the NY Times: “With far less effort than it would take on a national level, Republican officials are gumming up the mechanics of local election administration, making it harder to cast a vote, harder to tally votes and harder to get results in a timely fashion.” Read the article here (paywall).

We have put individualism against the common good for too long, writes CT U.S  Senator Chris Murphy in Time magazine. “Government needs to put front and center the challenge of restoring Americans’ commitment to their communities and our collective life. Individualism will always be a hallmark of American identity. But it is time that we took deliberate steps to raise up concern for the common good. … It is upon this work that our brave, beautiful experiment in democracy may depend.”

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