MH mayor, council members show support for Paris Climate Accord

City doing its part to protect the environment, report says

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 5, 2017


MADISON HEIGHTS — The United States under President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, but city officials in Madison Heights are signaling solidarity with big-city mayors who are committed to doing their part to reverse climate change.

The Paris Climate Accord, also known as the Paris Agreement, was negotiated by nearly 200 nations and adopted by consensus in December 2015. Its goal, as described in Article 2, is to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to hold it “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Each nation made a commitment to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, which have been overwhelmingly linked to unnatural climate change.

Even minor increases in global temperatures can reportedly have catastrophic effects on the environment and the food supply, causing inclement weather and melting ice caps, driving species to extinction, and potentially creating a refugee crisis as areas become uninhabitable due to rising sea levels and resource scarcity, creating political instability that can lead to conflict. Pollution also makes the air unhealthy to breathe, and it has been linked to ill side effects.  

The United States, under then-President Barack Obama, took a lead role in the negotiations, securing transparency and accountability measures that would make sure that rapidly industrializing nations like China and India do their fair share.

The U.S. itself committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. But this year, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement, saying it’s unfair to American workers. Thus begins a lengthy withdrawal process that won’t conclude until November 2020, when Trump is up for reelection.    

In the meantime, the leaders of cities across the U.S. have weighed in on the decision, and some have pledged to honor the agreement regardless. In Madison Heights, Mayor Brian Hartwell said that, while he generally focuses on local issues, the environment is one big issue that he feels shouldn’t be politicized, and he said it’s important to speak out on environmental issues.

“There are several reasons for Madison Heights to be green,” Hartwell said in an email. “Reducing the city’s carbon footprint is the primary goal of our environmental policy. However, during the recession, going green saved taxpayers thousands of dollars that would have been otherwise cut from programs or employee benefits.

“Going forward, the city should be more intentional with energy savings,” he said. “City Council should ask itself when preparing the annual budget how new city projects affect the environment. Environmental stewardship is already built into what the city does: clean water, safely lit streets, energy efficiency at departments that operate 24/7 like fire and police, recycling and composting programs, and maintenance of our parks. The city of Madison Heights is a quiet leader in protecting the environment — partly out of necessity, partly out of passion.”

Saving energy
The mayor asked the city manager to compile a report on the city’s environmental record, and Melissa Marsh, the assistant city manager, responded with an exhaustive list of the city’s eco-friendly policies and practices.

Marsh described the city as a longtime leader in environmental stewardship, with one of the first comprehensive curbside recycling and composing programs in the region. Madison Heights also fought to close down the garbage incinerator at the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority’s transfer site in Madison Heights, improving air quality for residents.

Starting in 2010, the city adopted a council-recommended goal committing to reducing overall energy consumption by 25 percent in the 10-year period from 2005 to 2015 — a period and goal identified by the Millennial Mayors Congress. The city pursued grants and partnerships with regional entities to identify and complete energy savings projects. This was done without sacrificing building comfort or safety, Marsh said, and in many cases actually improved the buildings.

The goal was not only met, but surpassed, with an overall reduction of 33 percent from the 2005 baseline, with extra reductions being realized today. The city has invested nearly $1.4 million since 2010 to achieve its goal, including $474,000 in outside funding.

It started in January 2010 with an Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant, through which the city made lighting replacements at the ballfields at Rosie’s Park and Huffman Park, for better lighting and energy efficiency.

The block grant also funded replacement of the air conditioning in the city’s IT server room; City Hall facade improvements and roof replacement, for improved insulation; City Hall lighting upgrades and occupancy sensors to turn off lights when no one’s around; and HVAC optimization at the Department of Public Services (DPS), the 43rd District Court and the Senior Center, saving energy.

In March 2011, the city participated in a second round of energy-related project grants that paid for lighting upgrades in the remaining city-owned buildings, with interior and exterior retrofits, replacements and occupancy sensors. The roof of the motor pool at the DPS was also replaced.

In fiscal year 2012-13, new HVAC equipment was installed at the Senior Center, including demand-controlled ventilation, and the first installation of direct digital controls that result in energy savings and increased building comfort. This project spearheaded the city’s newfound approach to not heating or cooling spaces when they’re not being used. The roof was also replaced at the DPS garage for the Water and Sewer Division.

In fiscal year 2013-14, the failing HVAC system at the library was replaced, which included decoupling the building from the City Hall boilers and chiller, creating significant energy savings in both buildings. The library also implemented direct digital controls.

In fiscal year 2014-15, after the flood, the city replaced the compromised City Hall basement air handler with three energy-efficient furnaces, and the records room unit heater at the courthouse with a high-efficiency mini-split unit. City Hall’s basement, boiler control and air-handling timers were added to the direct digital controls.

The aged HVAC system at the 43rd District Court was replaced in fiscal year 2015-16, and the building was added to the direct digital control system. In addition, the city converted all mercury vapor streetlights (376 lights) to LED technology, which required a one-time investment of $118,000. Following a two-year payback period, the city has saved about $40,000 annually in energy costs.

Going forward, for fiscal year 2017-18, the City Council has approved a goal to establish a right-of-way tree replacement program for trees that are unavoidably removed due to road and utility projects. This will improve neighborhood aesthetics, property values, air quality, noise reduction and more.

In the same year, the city will work with the state of Michigan to promote recycling efforts among residents, reducing the number of items taken to the landfill as trash. City officials also recently met with the Regional Energy Office to discuss solar energy options and programs.

And any new capital improvement planning will include efforts to reduce costs and energy consumption. 

City Councilman Robert Corbett said the city is doing its best to protect the environment.

“Like many Americans, I was disappointed when President Trump elected to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. While the treaty did not mandate CO2 levels, it did set reasonable targets for pollution reduction while stimulating economic development in the various fields of green energy production. Now those growth industries and the jobs they would have created are going elsewhere, most notably China,” Corbett said in an email.

“We do here at the local level what we can. Our list of accomplishments in the area of energy conservation are something the City Council and all residents should be proud of,” he said. “Hopefully our elected officials in Washington and Lansing will choose to lead the fight against pollution and dangerous carbon emissions.”