Mayor Mitch Landrieu unveiled a plan Friday to cut New Orleans’ greenhouse gas emissions by half over 13 years — an effort to combat at the local level what he called the “existential threat” of climate change and to jump-start a wave of new jobs for locals.
Adopted Friday by executive order, the ambitious climate document calls upon Entergy New Orleans to gradually switch toward using only low-carbon power sources, and it sets a goal of motivating residents to walk, bike or use public transit for half of all their city trips.
It further calls for the diversion of 50 percent of all recyclable trash from landfills, up from the 5 percent that is diverted now.
The plan aims to put New Orleans on a par with hundreds of other cities that have made similar commitments, the mayor said.
“It is abundantly clear that climate change is a matter of life and death for many areas around the world, but specifically for coastal cities like New Orleans,” he said.
It was the second of two initiatives that Landrieu announced this week to accompany his annual State of the City address. The first was a pay plan for New Orleans police officers that the mayor said would help attract and retain cops critical to combating violent crime.
While Landrieu’s climate change initiative comes a month after President Donald Trump announced the United States' withdrawal from the Paris climate accord — a global commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — it also fulfills a promise the mayor made in his 2015 “Resilient New Orleans” strategy, a catch-all effort to help New Orleans withstand disasters.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which Landrieu now leads, also redoubled its commitment last week to combating climate woes and called upon the president to re-enter the Paris pact.
“Cities have got to lead this effort,” Landrieu said. Even with Trump’s withdrawal, he said, “cities can contribute one-third of the reductions needed to meet the United States’ commitment.”
Landrieu’s plan would put New Orleans on the same level as San Francisco, New York and other cities that have pledged to cut their carbon emissions by 80 percent before 2050.
It calls for 255 megawatts of solar power to be in use and for consumers to realize more than 3 percent annual energy savings by 2030.
It also incorporates bold concepts that have become buzzwords for environmental advocates. For one, Landrieu claims that New Orleans will achieve “zero waste,” or a state in which most materials are diverted from landfills and reused in some way, by 2050.
All of it is being pitched as a way to make New Orleans greener and to create more jobs in what City Hall has called the “blue-green economy,” which includes composting, solar power and water management.
That said, the mayor’s 25-action proposal is not as aggressive as some others, which commit cities to using only renewable energy sources within a certain number of years.
Abita Springs became the first municipality in Louisiana and one of only 25 in the country to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, for example.
The softer approach in New Orleans is a nod to Entergy, whose electricity generation is responsible for the largest chunk of the city’s carbon emissions and which will need to do much of the heavy lifting to curb New Orleans’ carbon footprint, said Jeff Hebert, the city’s chief administrative officer.
“We want to push the envelope, and we want to be aggressive, but we also want to deal with reality,” Hebert said. The city is not anticipating that Entergy customers' costs will go up as a result of its plans, especially given recent decreases in costs for renewable energy, he said.
Entergy has committed to using nuclear power, which Hebert and the team of consultants who guided the city’s plan see as a viable, low-carbon alternative to the coal and natural gas energy sources the company is also using. About 57 percent of the energy sources Entergy uses to produce electricity came from nuclear in 2014.
The rest is a mix of natural gas, coal and other sources, with the lowest amount — 4 percent — coming from coal. However, the company wants to build a combustion-turbine natural gas-fired power plant in New Orleans East in the next few years, a move that has been criticized by residents and clean energy groups.
A day ahead of the mayor’s announcement, Entergy sent an amended proposal to the City Council that offered two options: either its original 226-megawatt plant or a scaled-back 128-megawatt alternative. Hebert said the amended plan “was definitely a step in the right direction.”
The company also plans to offer 100 megawatts of renewable energy, and it is seeking approval for three new solar projects that would help it realize 45 megawatts of that goal.
Under the direction of the City Council, Entergy will reduce its coal component by 1 percent before 2030, City Council President Jason Williams said Friday.
A spokeswoman for Entergy said the company is “firmly committed to working with Mayor Landrieu, the City Council and other local stakeholders to explore the various ideas presented and possible implications.”
Reducing the city’s carbon footprint will also require reducing automobile traffic, increasing recycling efforts and educating residents, according to the plan.
Officials noted that the Regional Transit Authority plans to study an increase in bus service to certain job-heavy parts of the region, a move that could boost its ridership. The RTA also is being asked to make its fleet more efficient.
City Hall promises to do its part by way of a 15 percent reduction in energy use by 2020 and by recycling half of all its waste by 2030. Contractors bidding on city projects will be asked to be more energy-efficient, as was the case when the city asked its garbage contractors, Richard’s Disposal and Metro Services Group, to lower their vehicles' emissions last year.
Aggressive planning aside, implementation is key, Landrieu added. And city government is only one piece of the climate change puzzle.
“I’m asking everybody in the city, the private sector, the public sector, to engage," he said. "To make sure that we don’t have to choose between jobs and clean air and clean water."