Charlotte environmental leaders: Why is the mayor eliminating a key environment committee?

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles merged threes City Council committees, including the environmental committee, into one.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles merged threes City Council committees, including the environmental committee, into one.

From June Blotnick, Clean Air Carolina; Rev. Amy Brooks, Green Faith Charlotte; Nancy Carter, Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District; Steve Copulsky, Sierra Club; Nakisa Glover, SolNation; Brian Kasher, Quality First EHS Inc.; Don Keen, NC Climate Solutions Coalition; Betsy Keniley; Christy Kluesner, Citizen’s Climate Lobby; Dean Kluesner, Citizen’s Climate Lobby; Terry Lansdell, BikeWalkNC; Corine Mack, Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP; Patricia Moore; Jennifer Roberts, NC Climate Solutions Coalition; Joel Segal, NC Climate Solutions Coalition; Martin Zimmerman, City Wise Studio USA:

The City of Charlotte has recently made positive progress on clean air, clean water, and sustainability for city operations. In its “sustainable and resilient city” resolution passed last summer, the Charlotte City Council committed the city to sourcing all its energy from carbon-free sources by 2030. They also set the ambitious goal of the entire city (government, business, academia, and non-profits) to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Progress toward these goals was initiated by former mayor Jennifer Roberts and has been championed by the Council’s Environment Committee, until recently led by Dimple Ajmera, and supported by dozens of community stakeholders from organizations ranging from the Sierra Club to the NAACP. The city’s progress and council engagement has been so strong that the city won a national Bloomberg grant last year of over $2 million to dig deeper into transportation planning and building efficiency. These community stakeholders continue to be engaged and look forward to having input on the positive progress the city will continue to make.

During the many intense meetings of the Council Environment Committee over the past 18 months, council member Ajmera led her colleagues to examine the city’s operations, measure its carbon footprint, analyze the cost of things like electric police cars and electric buses, and engage the community in working together to make changes that matter to our planet’s future. Recent reports from the UN and from U.S. federal agencies indicate that we have only 10-12 years to make adjustments in transforming our economy if we want to avoid even more devastating climate impacts.

However, all this progress took a big step backward when Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles eliminated the City Council Environment Committee last month. In a move yet to be explained to many citizens who have appreciated the engagement and leadership of Ajmera, the mayor eliminated three committees and merged them all into one new Neighborhood Development Committee. That meant that two council members lost their chairman positions, but it also meant that several fewer council members will serve on the new merged committee. When three issues are merged under one umbrella — Public Safety, Environment, and Housing — simple math tells constituents that each issue will now receive one third of the time, attention and focus of the City Council. In taking this action, Mayor Lyles fails to recognize the critical need for a dedicated City Council Environment Committee that can properly focus on the urgent issue of climate change.

City of Charlotte staff will continue to do their important work, and staff members have been stellar in their efforts. But in a democracy, it is the elected officials who hold accountability to the voters. It is the elected officials who can vote to change regulations, to change zoning patterns, to set new standards for construction and purchasing of city vehicles. If they do not have the opportunity to be educated and involved in the implementation of the Strategic Energy Action Plan, then neither will the citizens. They will have only one third of the opportunity to educate and advocate for needed policy adjustment in sustainability, resilience, and climate action.

The mayor should not eliminate leadership positions when her colleagues are making great strides in moving our city forward in critical areas like climate solutions. We respectfully request that the mayor restore the Council Environment Committee, restore council member Ajmera to her position, and show the citizens of Charlotte that their council is willing to engage their input — and that their voices matter after all.