Environmental groups press city council candidates on climate issues

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COLUMBIA - Environmental advocacy groups hosted an open forum Friday to gauge potential city council members' attitudes toward climate issues and clean energy.

The forum, hosted by several sponsors including the Osage Group of the Missouri Sierra Club, was put in place three years ago to help voters understand candidate's positions on environment protection and public health.

"Many forums get held, most of them focus on other issues... we just wanted to make sure there was an opporunity to ask questions focused on the environment and climate change," said Carolyn Amparan, chair of the Osage Group.

Recurring topics each year include climate change and, more recently, making sure local development has minimal impact on the environment, specifically reducing stormwater runoff into Hinkson Creek.

One of the new questions at the forum was whether city council candidates supported making Columbia a 100 percent clean energy city by 2035. Columbia has a plan in place to reach 30 percent renewable by 2029.

"I'm for boosting renewable energy, whether that's encouraging homewoners to install solar panels or when it comes to trying to divest away from coal energy," said Andrew Hutchinson, a Ward One candidate. 

Currently, 17 cities in the United States are 100 percent renewable or have pledged to go completely renewable.

"We would like to see the city council take the next step, which is to develop a plan to get to 100 percent clean energy," Amparan said.

Candidates from wards one and five were present at the forum. Many shared similar opinions that reaching 100 percent clean energy was important for Columbia. However, they differed on how attainable it was by 2035.

"I think it's feasible. One of the ways we make it feasible is that we don't keep living the way we're living, using the same levels of energy" said Pat Kelley, Ward One candidate.

"I don't think that's reasonable to try to make that rapid of a shift," Hutchinson said. "Trying to get away from that much coal power is an incredibly hard thing to do." 

Kelley and Hutchinson did agree that anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change was an issue and gave different ways on how it should be dealt with at a local level.

"We can do things where we're not traveling such far distances, we're not building houses that are always dependent on artificial life support systems, we're planting tree canopies, we're doing a lot things that people did hundreds of years ago to survive elements" Kelley said.

Kelley said she found out from the City Clerk's office Columbia has banking ties with UBS, a bank that's investing $336 million in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

"I think we can look at socially responsible banking practices," Kelley said.

Hutchinson said his trust in the state making environmental changes is low, and cities have a responsibility to make change on their own.

"Cities need to exert effort on the legislature informally but also exert effort in their own community to make up on climate change and green energy inititives, because the state will not be doing it," he added.

Amparan said the Sierra Club and the rest of the forum's sponsors hope the city council will keep promoting energy efficiency.

"Columbia has a history of being an environmentally friendly city, and we want to see that continue into the future," Amparan said.

The city council election for wards one and five will be held in April.