Easthampton seeks comment on climate action plan

Mountain View School in Easthampton is designed specifically for energy efficiency. It is one example of how the city hopes to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The public can comment on a draft Climate Action Plan through Friday.

Mountain View School in Easthampton is designed specifically for energy efficiency. It is one example of how the city hopes to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The public can comment on a draft Climate Action Plan through Friday. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By ALEXA LEWIS

Staff Writer

Published: 06-24-2024 4:15 PM

EASTHAMPTON — For over a year, Easthampton has been working to draft a Climate Action Plan that would make the city a model for emissions reduction and green practices.

After an intensive assessment and development process involving several public meetings and surveys, a draft of the plan is now available and the city is seeking public comment to inform the final product.

The plan contains 46 actions the city can take to combat climate change, which are classified into four areas: municipal actions, actions to support residents, actions to support businesses, and state and regional collaboration.

“The main goal is for the city — the entire city — to achieve being a net-zero carbon emitting city by 2050,” said Cassie Tragert, Easthampton’s conservation agent. “[The plan is] very wide in scope, but it all hones in on that one goal.”

The plan, developed alongside Weston & Sampson, involved surveying over 300 residents and business, as well as officials who work in municipal offices, on the barriers they face in implementing green practices and infrastructure. The plan also takes stock of previous climate related efforts implemented in Easthampton and other communities to determine which kinds of actions the city should prioritize.

Overall, surveying and public meeting discussions evinced that the primary barriers faced by Easthampton community members trying to emit less carbon are cost, limitations to control over their property, and the accessibility of alternative transportation such as biking, walking, and public transportation. Taking these barriers into consideration, the plan lays out a road map for all members of the city to make the contributions that they can toward the goal of net-zero carbon emissions.

In line with state goals and requirements, the plan aims to achieve a 50% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030, a 75% reduction by 2040, and net-zero emissions with at least an 85% reduction by 2050.

The actions that the plan proposes the city take toward this goal are centered on electrifying buildings, prioritizing renewable energy use, increasing access to low-emission transportation, reducing waste, and protecting natural resources.

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One of the main actions the city hopes to pursue is gaining the designation of Climate Leader Community, which requires that communities take certain steps to reduce emissions, like adopting the state’s specialized energy code that would accelerate the electrification of buildings and strictly limit fossil fuel use.

“It will mark a really important milestone for the city,” said Tragert.

The plan also asserts that the city should educate residents and businesses on the actions they can take and incentives they might qualify for, and hire a sustainability coordinator to lead carbon emissions reduction and other sustainability efforts.

The city has already begun taking some steps outlined in the plan for achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Recently, Easthampton installed two city-managed electric vehicle charging stations and purchased two fully electric police cruisers, and the city’s new elementary school was designed specifically for energy efficiency, eliminating the need for the three former schools that did not meet current energy standards.

Currently, Easthampton is exploring improvements to municipal facilities through the Honeywell Energy Conservation Project, such as new solar installations. Easthampton is also working to convert its vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, implement programs that would make it easier for residents to own electric cars, introduce a municipal aggregation plan, support native plants and pollinators with ordinances, and navigate partnerships with DOER, the city of Northampton, and other state agencies to start a resident heat-pump installation program.

“[The plan] is not just something that’s going to sit on a shelf,” said Tragert. “It’s going to be a tool.”

Funding for the development of the plan comprised a $50,000 grant awarded by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Division of Local Services as part of its Best Practices Community Compact Plan, as well as $100,000 designated by Mayor Nicole LaChapelle from ARPA funding. Funding for the future implementation of the plan’s actions is expected to come from additional grants and funding sources that the city plans to explore. If the city achieves its goal of becoming a certified Climate Leader Community, this designation will open up more grant funding opportunities.

Public comments on the plan must be submitted by Friday, June 28. Comments can be submitted through a tool on the city’s website, or emailed to Tragert at conservation@easthamptonma.gov. To access the plan and the comment tool, visit easthamptonma.gov/728/Climate-Action-Plan.

Alexa Lewis can be reached at alewis@gazettenet.com.