Johnson County and Iowa City say they’ll honor the Paris Agreement

Aerial view of LEED-certified Johnson County buildings in Iowa City. — photo courtesy of Janelle Rettig

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Thursday, June 8 committing to honor the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change from which President Donald Trump recently withdrew the United States. The City of Iowa City passed a similar resolution Tuesday, June 6.

What is the county doing to honor the agreement?

County Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the county has made great strides since 2007 when it began participating in the Sierra Club’s Cool Counties/Cool Cities program to combat global warming at the local level. County Supervisor Mike Carberry, longtime member of the Sierra Club, helped pitch that campaign to the board. Using county buildings as demonstration projects for sustainability was a focus of the presentation.

“When you’re talking about sustainability, energy efficiency is what you do first,” Carberry said.

New county buildings are LEED certified, or energy efficient according to the U.S. Green Building Council. To increase efficiency, the buildings have better windows, insulation and caulking, and are subject to regular energy audits. The county used state grant funds to switch to LED lights in the county administration building, streetlights and a parking lot, a switch which itself through reduced energy consumption within two years, Rettig said.

“You’re not only putting in a product that will save you energy, you’re putting in a product that will give you better light and last longer,” she said.

Four county buildings already have solar panels and a new ambulance service and medical examiner facility to be completed next week will have solar panels that account for 20-23 percent of the building’s electrical needs, plus a green roof, which are thought to reduce the need for heating and air conditioning.

The county has also bought into two community solar systems, including the Farmers’ Electric Cooperative in Frytown, purchasing solar panels to offset the county’s electrical use. They may even look into building wind turbines at the Johnson County Poor Farm, Carberry said.

Beyond the buildings themselves, county employees have changed their office practices toward sustainability. County staff can recycle and compost at work, there are charging stations for electric cars in the employee parking lot, and they put computers on the “sleep” setting when not in use, Carberry said.

County documents have gone nearly paperless and all the printers are set to print two-sided pages, which has reduced paper waste and printer and copier use. The Mental Health Department alone has begun saving half a million sheets of paper annually since their files went electronic, Rettig said.

Other developments include transportation upgrades. Buses now have software that optimizes their routes to use less gasoline. A new SEATS bus has a hydraulic system that stores hydraulic fluid when it brakes, then uses that to accelerate instead of fuel. This reduces fuel use by 30 percent, Carberry said. He said the county also hopes to move toward using electric vehicles as much as possible, and may add charging stations in a public parking lot.

The county now has a Green Team and a full-time Sustainability Coordinator specifically tasked with moving toward sustainability, but all employees are expected to keep that goal in mind, Rettig said.

“Our employees are evaluated based on their commitment and successes in sustainability,” she said. “Your pay raise can be impacted by that. We’ve just seen a much higher number of people becoming engaged and excited.”

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The county has also created a sustainability grant. “You not only have money from the county — you also get staff,” Rettig said. The first year’s grant projects are just being completed, with the county’s Crisis Center and Agriculture Association Fair Board both installing LED lighting.

What’s happening in Iowa City?

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton signed an open letter of support of the goals of the Paris Agreement, and also signed on to the Climate Mayors’ Statement to Adopt the Paris Agreement Goals, along with 284 other U.S. mayors including the mayors of Dubuque and Des Moines.

The mayors’ statement included goals of increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, buying and creating more demand for electric cars and trucks, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and standing for environmental justice.

Iowa City, Dubuque and Des Moines have also joined cities across the globe in the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

Iowa City’s current carbon dioxide emissions are over one million tons with most of it coming from buildings, according to the Global Covenant of Mayors’ website. The city aims to reduce this number by 26-28 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050, according to a June 9 press release. Iowa City’s first Climate Action Steering Committee is developing an action plan to achieve these goals, which will be discussed at public forums throughout the year.

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