5 Ways Local Leaders Can Affect Environmental Policy
This is a guest post by Logan Harper, the Community Manager for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillís online Masters of Public Administration program – a top degree for public service leaders.
“Think globally, act locally” is a concept that has been applied to the environmental movement for decades. The concept encourages local strategies for protecting the earth, including conservation, recycling, restriction of environmental pollutants and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
By adopting a global perspective, local government officials can play a key role in implementing policies that support the environment in their communities. They can also work through state and federal channels to influence far-reaching policies to protect the earth.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a wide range of support programs for local government officials. Here is a sample of five ways that local government officials can leverage EPA support programs to implement environmental policies.
Climate and Energy
Local governments can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their communities by implementing policies that improve energy efficiency. According to the EPA, the amount of energy used for government operations can be reduced by up to one third by adopting energy conservation strategies. Wastewater facilities represent up to 40 percent of municipal energy use in many communities, so one of the most important areas to address is community water treatment. Local governments can also develop policies and programs that reduce residential energy demand by improving energy efficiency in homes. The EPA Local Climate and Energy Program provides planning information and grant funding to help local government create and meet energy-efficiency goals.
Local government officials need to be aware of toxic pollution that damages the environment and affects the health and well-being of residents in their communities. Government officials can apply for federal grants to help reduce toxic pollution through the EPA Community Action for Change (CARE) program. The program also provides resources to help community leaders understand the risks of pollution and organize efforts to investigate and eliminate the emission of toxins.
The EPA reports that older diesel engines are a major source of air pollution due to the emission of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. These pollutants contribute to serious health issues, including asthma, cancer and heart and lung disease. Local government officials can address diesel engine pollution in their communities by collaborating with environmental groups and private industry. They can also spearhead clean diesel projects and lobby state lawmakers who are responsible for air quality regulations. The National Clean Diesel Campaign provides tools and resources for state and local government officials who want to improve air quality and ensure public health by reducing diesel engine emissions.
Local governments can reduce the amount of waste generated by their communities by implementing recycling policies. This can include instituting a residential recycling program; providing recycling support in public areas like parks, stadiums and shopping centers; and purchasing recycled materials for government operations. The EPA Wastes program provides Conservation Resources and Tools that can help local government officials promote resource conservation in their communities.
Preparing for natural disasters like floods, hurricanes and earthquakes has become a critical issue for local, state and federal government agencies. Too many communities have had a difficult time recovering from a natural disaster because there was no recovery plan in place. Planning ahead can help lower the cost of environmental cleanup and reduce the risk of contamination from raw sewage, chemicals and other hazardous materials.
Recycling and disposing of disaster debris is another important issue that must be addressed. Local government officials can work with their state office for emergency management and with non-profit organizations like the American Red Cross to implement policies that address natural disaster preparation. Resources are available on the EPA Natural Disasters website.