News: A New Kind of Green for Government

Eco-labor collaboration pushes for action

Oct 20, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Kimberly Nickoson

George Hardebeck (signing clipboard) and Nate Holscher were among the audience at the Blue-Green Alliance Town Hall.

Environmentally friendly practices and job creation are no longer enemies of one another, according to some local officials who indicated last week that they're starting to plan accordingly.

A panel of city and county leaders at an Oct. 9 town hall organized by the Blue-Green Alliance — a consortium of the United Steel Workers and the Sierra Club — said local efforts to invest in renewable energy will give the region some needed economic stimulation.

The combination of workers and environmentalists' interests is proof that job creation doesn't have to come at the cost of pollution, according to Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Crowley. He rejected the argument sometimes advanced by developers.

"They'll argue with us about pollution, 'Don't try to force us to put scrubbers to clean our water, to take the necessary environmental protection, because that will cost too much and cost us that much more to do the job,' " Crowley said. "The fact is the environment will create jobs. There is a whole new array of opportunity that we're just beginning to see."

Crowley said he'd been impressed a day earlier to see the job opportunity as a result of "going green" that had been projected at a meeting of GO Cincinnati, a Chamber-endorsed economic growth strategy group.

But despite a largely optimistic sentiment at the town hall, some of the nearly 150 who attended said they're not fully convinced of the city's or county's commitment.

"We have made some pretty significant efforts to offer support to council and county commissioners in making The Banks a green project," said Shawn Hesse, a local architect and expert in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

His company, Emersion Design, produced a "massive report" on the subject, but he said the response has been limited.

LEED sets the benchmarks by which design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings are rated, established by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune and City Councilman Chris Bortz gave brief presentations at the town hall. Bortz, a Charterite, co-sponsored LEED legislation for Cincinnati.

"We made a requirement that any new constructed city building be built to LEED standards and any time we put any capital dollars into a city structure that we renovate and rehab according to LEED standards," Bortz said.

He also discussed the Green Streets Program, designed to combat trouble that the Metropolitan Sewer District is having with stormwater runoff — overflowing pipes, forcing sewage out — while "creating an aesthetically pleasing environment."

The sewer district is under a federal court order to repair sewer overflows at the cost of $1.9 billion to alleviate sewage overflow.

High school students are expected to play a substantial role in developing environmentally friendly practices in the district. Cincinnati Public Schools' (CPS) district-wide curriculum will include an aggressive environmental studies program. It will be based on the hope that students will be able to take their education home, according to Susan Cranley, a member of the school board. The inclusion of practical environmental education aims to make an impact on parents as their children include the lessons into everyday life.

"There's going to be a curriculum so that (the students) understand why they are (being taught to be environmentally conscious), what is happening as a result and the difference that it will make," Cranley said. "And it will be written down and codified with the sense that they will understand their impact on earth and the impact of the things around them."

The school board's efforts were underscored by the assistance in the evening's programming by students from Aiken University High School's environmental studies program.

Joining Cranley was architect Robert Knight, who said sustainable design initiatives are being incorporated into CPS architecture, including 29 local buildings in construction or design.

The panel, which also included County Commissioner David Pepper, City Councilman Cecil Thomas and Larry Falkin, director of the city's Office of Environmental Quality, consistently lauded the audience for its perceived knowledge of good environmental policy.

Falkin went so far as to solicit the advice of the audience for climate protection efforts, repeatedly providing his e-mail address. He invited participants to join "task teams" with the objective of setting goals for Cincinnati's plan to combat climate change.

"It is an exciting time to be an environmentalist," Falkin told the audience.

Susan Knight, an organizer with the Blue-Green alliance, said the coalition has broad support and will continue to press local politicians.

"Organized labor and environmentalists are not at the economic development table yet," she said. "We are not sitting with the folks on Fourth Street to talk about how to reverse global warming and create good jobs in the process. This is going to have to change sooner rather than later, and that is where we are pressing elected officials." ©