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Baltimore Implements Climate Action Plan

Lutherville, Md Light Rail station
Baltimore’s Climate Action Plan calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and energy use across the city by implementing such strategies as transit-oriented development and rooftop solar installations. © James G. Howes

The City of Baltimore has begun to implement its Climate Action Plan, which includes reducing energy consumption, increasing transit-oriented development, and a host of other measures.

May 7, 2013—Baltimore has joined the growing list of metropolitan areas that have drawn up formal plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, and implementation of the city’s Climate Action Plan is now under way. Founded in 1729 and situated on a harbor, Baltimore currently has a population of approximately 620,000, and its plan could serve as an example of how a city of nearly any size city can gear itself toward environmentally responsible growth.

The plan aims to reduce the city’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2020 relative to a baseline established in 2010, when nearly 7.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide were released. Spearheaded by Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability, the plan offers 38 strategies covering three main areas: energy savings and supply, land use and transportation, and making the city “green.” It complements the city’s Sustainability Plan, which was adopted in 2009 and addresses itself to, among other areas, resource conservation and pollution prevention.

At its most fundamental, the Climate Action Plan is “about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, becoming more efficient, increasing the quality of life in Baltimore, and creating a sustainable city that will grow,” says Alice Kennedy, the sustainability coordinator for the city’s Office of Sustainability and the city’s project manager for the Climate Action Plan.

Baltimore’s residential, commercial, and industrial buildings contribute 79 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to Kennedy. By reducing emissions that come from the day-to-day operation of those buildings, the plan also seeks to save money for building owners, she says.

Improving the quality of life for residents and those commuting to Baltimore is another fundamental goal of the plan, Kennedy says. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has set a goal of increasing the city’s population by 10,000 families within the next decade, and Kennedy notes that the plan supports this goal by making the city more attractive to families. The energy and monetary savings will be combined with plans to create communities that are more livable by virtue of their access to mass transit and their bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly layouts.

Within the energy category, the plan calls on building owners to disclose information about their structures’ energy consumption to potential buyers or renters, and it suggests the development of energy performance benchmarks for commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings. The plan also encourages the public to install solar roof panels or so-called cool roof systems, which involve white coatings or panels.

Another aspect of the plan focuses on growth and sustainability by calling for a comprehensive recycling strategy, and one of its benefits is that it would reduce construction and demolition waste. This part of the plan also suggests repairing the city’s water supply infrastructure and increasing the number of trees within the city.

The city’s 21-member Commission on Sustainability has formed a climate committee that is working to set priorities in pursuing these strategies and to develop measures for gauging progress, according to Kennedy. While some of the plan’s activities are already under way, others will clearly take more time to implement. For example, the city is involved in a legislative process to improve its zoning code to help meet the urban planning goals established by the plan.

“It’s the first time that the zoning code has been updated since Nixon was president,” Kennedy says. “The zoning code [update] has a number of things geared to helping achieve our land use and transportation strategies around transit-oriented neighborhoods and mixed-use neighborhoods, as well as the parking on- or off-street requirement. The updated zoning code supports both the city’s Climate Action Plan and [its] Sustainability Plan.”

Replacing traditional streetlights with more efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs is one of the steps that can be completed in short order, Kennedy says. (See “State DOTS Reduce Energy, Costs, and Risks with LEDs,” on Civil Engineering online.) And the city is already exploring how deconstruction techniques could be modified so that a higher proportion of construction materials could be recycled.

The city is also engaged in increasing its tree canopy. While the city had a goal of planting 6,000 trees annually, it is now dedicating $400,000 more each year to plant additional trees in areas of the city that exhibit heat island effects.

The plan was developed by a number of working groups made up of representatives of citizen groups and city departments and agencies, and other local stakeholders also were involved, explains Claire Bonham-Carter, who is a principal of Los Angeles–based AECOM and was in charge of developing the plan.

While the team in Baltimore was charged with determining “strategies, programs, or policies that we felt were implementable within Baltimore from a technical, economic, and environmental perspective,” Bonham-Carter says, the blueprint developed for the city could, she believes, be used by any city with similar types of buildings and similar commuting patterns.

Baltimore “has definitely been very forward thinking,” Bonham-Carter says, “in wanting to put in place some policies that, to date, have really only been in some of the bigger, more progressive cities.”

Bonham-Carter notes that Baltimore city officials see the development of the plan as something that “can help them in the long term in terms of economic opportunities as they are trying to sell themselves as a resilient city as well as an attractive place for businesses to come and locate.”

The Climate Action Plan was developed in 2012 with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.



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