Newton Moves Forward with Climate Action Plan

The Newton Citizens Commission on Energy is working to advance the Climate Action Plan for the City of Newton. At a meeting Wednesday night, members of the commission and the Newton community gathered with Andreae Downs, a Newton City councilor, to discuss the steps being made to get the Newton City Council to vote on and eventually pass a Climate Action Plan. The plan aims to make Newton carbon neutral by the year 2050.

The night’s debate centered around the next steps that the commission should take to ensure its proposal reaches the Council Floor and eventually Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s desk. The Newton Citizen Commission on Energy, headed by Helina Brown, is in ongoing talks with the Newton area utility companies about how best to approach its goal of carbon neutrality—a topic that has been a source of conflict.

The Climate Action Plan should include a bi-annual collection and public release of the city’s carbon emission data in order to ensure Newton stays on pace for its 2050 goal, the commission said. The utility companies disagree, causing tensions at meetings between the commission and the utility companies according to commission members James Purdy, Puja Vohra, and Steven Groudy. 

“A strategy without numbers is not a strategy and a plan without choices is not a plan,” Groudy said. 

The utility companies have not supported the inclusion of metrics and action steps, but the commission said it won’t submit a plan without them. This reluctance to commit to specific annual figures is shared by Fuller’s office who has been working with both parties involved to create Newton’s Climate Action Plan. 

The official plan is said to have been in development for nearly a year and is set to be introduced to the City Council within the coming weeks. There have been several drafts of the Climate Action Plan which have been authored by the Newton Citizens Commission on Energy and the utility companies. The most recent draft was a large revision made by the Newton Citizens Commission on Energy which was said to include specifics about how exactly Newton’s progress would be tracked. 

The Newton Citizens Commission on Energy is pushing for the creation of an “energy coach.” The energy coach, appointed by the City of Newton, would be in charge of keeping Newton on track to hitting its 2050 carbon neutral goal. 

Members of the Newton Citizens Commission on Energy said that Fuller promised to create a similar role on several occasions but never delivered. Downs said that it was time to remind the mayor of the many times that energy positions were not funded with money that was set aside for the creation of an energy coach.

“The mayor is not committed to spending any money on this issue,” said a member of the commission.

The member said that money for a similar position had at one point been put into hiring a sustainability director. The possibility of a sustainability director was short-lived and the post has been left vacant, however, with its responsibilities spread around to other employees. 

The gripes with Fuller continued as the Commission repeatedly cited that the only reason the mayor’s office had to be included in such talks is because the mayor sets the annual budget and would therefore have to allocate money from the annual budget to fund the position. 

There was some uncertainty within the Newton Citizens Commission on Energy that the mayor would be willing to find money in the annual budget to fund the position.

“There are monies that have been saved on rebates, the energy efficiency, that are theoretically supposed to be going in [to an energy-related project] and aren’t,” the member of the commission said.

The Newton Citizens Commission on Energy plans to present the Climate Action Plan at the Oct. 2 Joint Committee meeting.

Correction (9/29/19, 9:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article misnamed a member of the commission. The error has been corrected.

Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / For the Heights