With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions crippled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling, the country’s response to the climate crisis remains uneven at best. The Village of Oak Park, however, is continuing its work to address the increasingly urgent situation through its climate action plan.
Oak Park Sustainability Coordinator Marcella Bondie Keenan walked Wednesday Journal through the plan’s final draft, which details the strategies to achieve a 60% reduction in the village’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
The plan has been in development since last September. Engineering and consulting firm GRAEF was contracted to help devise it. The village board could approve the finalized plan as early as this summer.
“We would like to get the plan back to the board for a vote before they break for August,” Bondie Keenan said.
The plan includes projected expenses associated with lowering emissions and reaching net-zero status. It will take the village roughly $79.2 million to reach its 2030 goal, but taxpayers will not be footing the cost entirely.
The village plans to use grant money and loans, as well as revenue from the plastic bag fee and the motor fuel tax to finance a range of projects. Public benefit funds, bonds, energy performance saving contracts, loan-loss reserve funds will also help contribute to paying for the sustainability expenditures.
For 2030 and beyond, the overall cost to reach net-zero community-wide is estimated at $695.9 million.
“The community number is sort of like, ‘OK, so if everybody was going to make their house more energy efficient by 10% or switch to an electric vehicle, what could that cost?’” said Bondie Keenan.
There are ways to offset the financial impact on each household or resident for making more sustainable investments. The state of Illinois is offering rebates of up to $4,000 for switching to an electric car. ComEd has discounts and rebates available for making energy reducing improvements and buying energy efficient products.
The climate action plan goes beyond making building improvements and lowering energy use. It is also concerned with protecting and enhancing the village’s biodiversity, calling for increased plant and tree coverage and more green spaces, as well as the prioritization of native species.
“Because biodiversity is also really affected by climate change, we are going to try to conserve 30% of the community land for biodiversity,” she said.
That could take the form of rain gardens and native plant gardens, both of which will serve to support the urban wildlife that exists in Oak Park. Urban agriculture projects can help to bring greater access to nutritious foods to everyone in Oak Park, not just those that live close to grocery stores.
“Another commitment is that for the village’s public dollars that we spend on climate and sustainability to host stuff in this plan, 40% of that will be directed to vulnerable and impacted communities,” Bondie Keenan said.
The village will also be rolling out new policies and programs to implement the climate action plan, which will involve partnering with community members and frontline service organizations. Such organizations could include Housing Forward and Beyond Hunger.
“Or other groups that really work with folks who use different kinds of assistance programs through the village,” said Bondie Keenan.
The village will execute the plan over a period of years. When the plan goes back to the village board, according to Bondie Keenan, village staff and GRAEF will provide a short-term sequence of the events, so that the board and the public will understand when the first round of changes will take place.