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West Palm Beach mayor joins nationwide effort to support Paris climate accord

Posted at 7:48 PM, Jun 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-02 19:48:22-04

Governors and mayors across the country are speaking out against President Donald Trump's decision on the Paris accord for climate change.

And it turns out, the West Palm Beach mayor is one of them.

Mayor Jeri Muoio was in Paris with thousands of leaders two years ago when the climate action plan was drafted.

“There were over 1,000 mayors there," she said. "It was an amazing experience to be there with other world leaders, to see the process that they went through to come to an agreement. It was very well thought out. And to be a part of that and in Paris for that, redoubled my commitment to address climate change issues."

With other cities like Los Angeles, New York City and Pittsburgh, she's now vowing to carry on the tenants of the accord to lower the city's carbon footprint.

“We committed a long time ago to lower our carbon footprint. To decrease the energy that we use," she said.

The United States has now joined the only other two countries in the entire world that didn’t sign on to this accord: Nicaragua and Syria.

"It's very disturbing," said Muoio. "Is that really what we want to be known for?"

Muoio said she plans to have the city meet the Paris climate accord as best as the city can.

"We have recently committed to be carbon neutral by 2050," she said. "We've already lowered our own energy consumption in city hall."

Even before the trump announcement, Muoio was part of  a local climate pact between Palm Beach, Monroe, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

"We are the municipal representative for that compact but it has to be a collaborative approach to addressing climate change. ," she said.

The city also recently started working with Florida Power & Light on major solar projects.

"We need to look at alternative ways to generate electricity and solar is an important one," she said. "We agreed to work with the League of Women Voters to work on neighborhood solar co-ops, where people can come together to source solar panels for their homes."

The city is also continuing its PACE program, which helps homeowners pay clean energy improvements to their home.

Coupled with bike programs and green awards for schools and businesses, Muoio says the efforts are paying off.

"We pledged to lower our energy use by 20 percent by 2015. We did that by 2012," she said. "We are also a leader in our storm water master plan. How we are grabbing and using storm water. We have to look at that because of sea level rise and the flooding that occurs here as a result," she said.

The Green Schools Recognition Program with Palm Beach and Martin County school districts encourages schools to increase their sustainability efforts. Specific green goals include creating healthy school environments, reducing waste, increasing recycling rates, conserving energy and water, growing green schools and promoting environmental stewardship. 

Our school district has had a longstanding commitment to going green, having adopted our first sustainability policy in 2008," said Lisa Toy, sustainability and recycling coordinator for PBC schools. "We are constantly trying to figure out ways to innovate our sustainability practices and lessen our environmental impact."

The mayor said she is also looking at autonomous cars can play into carpooling in the city.

"We need to be thinking more about how do we incentivize that, what kind of policies do we need to put in place to make sure that occurs," she said. "The more people we get out of their cars, the better it is for our environment."

Mayor Muoio said the mayors' have yet to determine if they will commit financially, now that the nation will not.

People who support the president's move are pleased the U.S. will not spend another $2 billion  on the Paris climate agreement.

Despite other cities, like Orlando and Miami Beach supporting the accord, Florida governor Rick Scott is standing by the President's decision.

"I think what you saw from the President is that he is doing exactly what he said he was going to do on the campaign, he's focused on American jobs. If you look at what we've been able to do as we've improved our economy, if you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars we've invested in the everglades, the flood mitigation programs, the beach renourishment programs, all these things only because we have a good economy," Scott told WPTV on Friday during a press conference. "I think you can not invest in your environment without a good economy."

Florida Senate President Joe Negron also voiced the same support for jobs over climate pacts.

“I think the United States should do what’s in the best interest of our country, and the employers and the employees of our country and so my preference is that we handle our environmental issues ourselves to international agreements that frankly other countries don’t follow," he told WPTV.

But FAU geoscience professor emiritus Leonard Berry says with the U.S. no longer part of the accord, cities across Florida will have a tougher time working on the climate action projects.

"Without support from the federal government in regulation, in laws and in funding, it's all a lot harder," he said. "People here for the last 10 years have recognized not climate change as an abstract, but climate change as a reality.

Berry said the fact that a country as large as the U.S. is pulling out of the agreement, it may send a bad message to the rest of the world.

"The long term implications is that flooding will get higher faster because the U.S. is not committed right now to emissions control," he said. "Seeing that we are a key force in the world. And what America does or doesn't do has implications for many, many other people. So it's terribly troublesome."