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Climate Action Plan for Boston

Boston is setting its sights on 'greener pastures,' or at least on greener ways of living and working in the city.

Today, Mayor Tom Menino will release a sweeping city-wide plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and some say it's the most ambitious climate change initiative yet launched by an American city. WBUR's Meghna Chakrabarti previews the initiative and reports on reaction to its goals.

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MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Boston's new climate plan is ambitious. Massachusetts congressman Edward Markey calls it the Lexington and Concord of climate change.

CONGRESSMAN EDWARD MARKEY: "Once again, Boston is firing the shot heard round the world."

CHAKRABARTI: And, a warmer world than it was in 1775. The city's 2007 climate initiative aims to cut Boston's municipal greenhouse gas emissions by 80-percent by the year 2050...The same target laid out by two key bills pending on Capitol Hill. James Hunt, Boston's environment and energy chief, says the similarity is no accident.

JAMES HUNT: "The mayor has been working through the US Conference of Mayors on calling on the federal government to achieve similar targets, and we want to hold ourselves to the same standard that we're asking our federal leaders to adhere to as well."

CHAKRABARTI: Menino's executive order begins with every agency operating out of City Hall. They'll have to report reductions of their annual energy use and global warming gas emissions. And, the factors will be used as benchmarks to evaluate agency performance. The plan then intends to expand beyond the municipality with public-private partnerships built through what's described as a "climate action task force".

SETH KAPLAN: "What I would want to emphasize is not so much the making of the plan, but the taking of the action."

CHAKRABARTI: But action isn't so easy, says Seth Kaplan of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group. He says that Boston is in the "leading pack" of cities working on climate change plans. However, unlike Chicago or San Francisco, Boston is also the seat of state government. Kaplan says that might make it harder for Boston to meet its goals.

KAPLAN: "In Boston, we have so many different jurisdictions. There are state agencies and state authorities all over the landscape, sometimes its hard to organize these things."

CHAKRABARTI: Skeptics of broad-based climate plans in other cities worry about potential economic impacts. Boston officials wouldn't disclose how much today's new initiatives will cost.

But Mayor Tom Menino says not acting is not an option. He points to recent reports from groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the effect that melting ice and rising sea levels might have on cities like Boston.

MAYOR TOM MENINO: "Some people might say, well, why are you doing it today? I'm not thinking about today, I'm thinking about the future for my grandkids and children of the future. How we can sustain ourselves during this change in our atmosphere."

CHAKRABARTI: Menino made these comments at an event supporting urban mentorship programs. Congressman Edward Markey says that on climate change, cities are in effect mentoring the federal government.

MARKEY: "I think what is going to happen is that, because of the actions of cities like Boston, that ultimately the federal government will have to pass legislation which accomplishes the same goal, but on a national level."

CHAKRABARTI: Markey himself has a new leadership role. The chairman of the just-created House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will be at the mayor's side when Boston unveils its climate plan at a town hall forum later today.

For WBUR, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.

This program aired on April 12, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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