With rising seas and pollution levels threatening the safety of New Haven residents, City Hall is taking measures to combat climate change and the practices that cause it.
On March 19, to prevent pollution, the Board of Alders passed an ordinance banning fracking waste within city limits. The board also passed the city’s Climate and Sustainability Framework, a plan that Mayor Toni Harp first announced in January 2017 to formulate strategies to protect the city from the effects of climate change.
“The city has documented in many different reports its vulnerabilities to climate change: sea level rise, coastal and inland flooding, increased heat waves during the summer,” said Emily Wier FES ’17, who contributed to the framework. “Taking these steps to reduce emissions within the city of New Haven starts to get us closer to … mitigating some of these adaptation challenges.”
Because Connecticut does not have any known oil or natural gas reserves, no fracking occurs in the state. The Connecticut House of Representatives passed a ban on fracking waste in May 2017 to prevent waste entering from other states, but the bill did not pass the Senate. Since there were no changes at the state level, more than 20 other cities in the state have already banned fracking waste, according to the New Haven ordinance.
Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola, the chair of the City Services and Environmental Policy committee, said the idea for a ban on fracking waste in New Haven initially came from the city’s Environmental Advisory Council. Because of New Haven’s history as an industrial city, the metro area already struggles with pollution, and the ban will help alleviate this problem, DeCola said.
As a result of low federal regulation and loopholes in state laws, fracking waste is often not classified as hazardous, in spite of the toxic chemicals it contains, according to the environmental organization Riverkeeper. The waste therefore often ends up at facilities unable to dispose of it properly and causes “the pollution of rivers and the poisoning of people and animals,” the ordinance says.
In conjunction with the fracking-waste ban, the Board of Alders also passed the Climate and Sustainability Framework, which has been in the works for more than a year.
The framework, which the mayor’s office released on Feb. 1, totals 41 pages and outlines strategies for combating climate change in six categories: electric power, land use and green infrastructure, buildings, transportation, materials management and food. The creation of the framework involved seven city employees, including City Engineer Giovanni Zinn ’05 and Engineering Project Manager Dawn Hennings, as well over 30 residents and stakeholders who contributed.
Among other goals, the framework challenges the city to reduce carbon emissions by 55 percent of 2001 levels by the year 2030. The framework also proposes phasing in a tax or ban on single-use items such as plastic bags and straws; expanding bike-share programs; enacting a voluntary ban on pesticides and fertilizers; and expanding public awareness campaigns about environmental issues.
The framework further calls for an increase in park land, which currently constitutes 17 percent of land within city limits, with a priority on neighborhoods with limited access to green space. In the food-related section of the report, the framework proposes expanded partnerships with community gardens and urban farms, largely to help the 40,000 New Haven residents who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
According to Wier, City Hall made a concerted effort to involve residents in the formulation of the framework.
“There was a lot of great input from members of the public,” Wier said. “The city really wanted this to be a plan that reflected what residents of the city wanted. [They did not want] this to be a city-driven plan, but rather a bottom-up plan.”
According to the framework, more than 100 New Haven residents participated in public meetings or submitted feedback on the report’s website.
Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer emphasized the importance of combating climate change, but substantive changes — especially regarding transportation — require effort from many parties.
“Some of these efforts are contrary to what our culture has embraced for decades now in terms of automobile use,” he said.
In addition to the proposed changes in the framework, City Hall has instituted measures to promote eco-friendly forms of transportation like walking, public transportation and cycling, including new speed humps to slow down traffic, recharging stations for electric vehicles and coordination with the Yale shuttle service, according to Grotheer.
New Haven greenhouse gas emissions totaled 1.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2015.
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