Chattanooga has an updated vision for combating climate change and boosting sustainability over the next few decades, which comes with a few tweaks designed to assuage concerns about the proposal.
The Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday approved Mayor Tim Kelly's approximately 60-page climate action plan on a 5-2 vote. The wide-ranging initiative lays out six broad sustainability goals over the next few decades.
The decision comes a week after a public hearing at which the panel heard dozens of comments from proponents -- and detractors who claimed the plan would play a role in limiting their personal freedoms. The proposal prompted another round of comments Tuesday.
Councilmen Ken Smith, of Hixson, and Chip Henderson, of Lookout Valley, voted against the plan. Council Chairman Darrin Ledford, of East Brainerd, and Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, of Eastdale, were absent.
"A big part of my job is thinking not just about the four years that I've been elected to serve, but to think about the 10-, 20-, 30-year future of our city," Councilwoman Jenny Hill, of North Chattanooga, told her colleagues Tuesday afternoon. "I think resilience not only of our infrastructure but our economy is really important. ... I think this positions us in a thought plane to be headed in the right direction."
Kelly's chief of staff, Joda Thongnopnua, told council members Tuesday afternoon the version before them had a few revisions that did not impact the overarching goals included in the document.
The administration has added a section about the need for a regional food systems analysis, mention of the importance of public health and a preamble that expressly states the plan will do nothing to impair privacy or personal freedoms.
"We believe that this climate action plan does nothing to harm personal liberty or privacy for residents, but we wanted to be explicit about that," Thongnopnua said. "We included this specifically because we do believe that individual privacy and freedom, and freedom of movement, is critical. We do not want residents of the city of Chattanooga to be confused in any way that this plan does anything differently."
This update to the city's climate action plan includes the goals of achieving net-zero carbon emissions across all city facilities by 2040 and making the municipality zero-waste by 2040. Transportation is a major contributor to the city's carbon footprint, the plan notes, and the city intends to create a timeline for converting all light-duty vehicles to electric and all medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to alternative fuel.
Additionally, leaders are committing to accomplish a net-zero carbon footprint for the entire community by 2050 and to have a zero waste footprint communitywide by the same year. The latter would involve conducting a regular audit to determine the sources and endpoints of different forms of waste.
Officials are also striving to make Chattanooga a leader in the green economy, build a more sustainable city, reduce disparities among vulnerable communities and preserve and improve the integrity of natural resources.
The city's first climate action plan was approved in 2009 under former Mayor Ron Littlefield. In 2012, he approved an executive order laying out additional goals to reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption and to divert a quarter of solid waste to the area landfill.
Since that time, the plan states, the city has continued to boost the efficiency of its facilities, which has included installing a four-megawatt solar array that provides about 10% of the power at the Moccasin Bend Environmental Campus. The facility accounts for more than half of the municipal power demand.
Erik Schmidt, Chattanooga's director of sustainability, said in an interview that at one time, Chattanooga was the sixth fastest-warming city in the U.S., and the Tennessee Valley Authority has been seeing record rainfall totals.
"It's not a theoretical," Schmidt said. "We see some of the things that can happen to our community. We want to provide the resilience and mitigate against those things. We know we can't do it all alone ... It's all voluntary. We'll have a robust public engagement and input process."
Kelly's spokeswoman, Kirsten Yates, said the mayor believes the climate is changing, and the world economy is responding. There is an emerging green economy in the United States the city needs to be in a position to harness. The plan also ensures the city will be eligible for millions of dollars worth of federal grants.
"Sustainability is in our DNA," she said in an interview. "We can sit back and watch these changes, or we can stand up and lead and make sure that all residents benefit from some of the plans that we put in place to make sure that these green jobs are jobs that our residents are skilled and ready for, that these new green businesses are investing here in Chattanooga."
Pushing back against misinformation about the proposal, Yates said the plan is not a law, an unfunded mandate or an act to surveil people.
"It is a plan," Yates said, "and none of the recommendations included in the plan involve any of those things either."
Meanwhile, critics have claimed the plan would act as a gateway to globalization and enhanced surveillance, also contending that climate change isn't real. Several stated that they live outside the city.
"You look up in the sky today -- you can see the geo-engineering, the chemtrails," Glenda Pappu, of Tennessee Neighbors for Liberty, said in a phone call. "You can see those. They are not hiding that. They have admitted that they're putting barium, aluminum ... into the air and they're trying to hide the sun's rays from the Earth."
Seven people filed a complaint in Chancery Court on Tuesday and are asking a judge to issue a permanent injunction against the city, arguing that the mayor's climate action plan should be decided by voter referendum. A hearing has been set for April 12. No action has been taken by the court.
The complaint outlines opposition to each of the six goals outlined in the plan. For example, one goal of the plan is to build a more sustainable city.
"This provision will create governmental overreach in control over output, it will undermine capitalism, impose neo-Marxist duties of conscience, per the World Economic Forum," the petitioners wrote. "The provision indefinitely prevents innovation and is anti-progressive because it is, by definition, circular."
In an interview after the meeting, Smith said he voted against the plan because many of the people he spoke to expressed an "overwhelming interest in taking time to learn more and get more answers." People also remain unsure about the specifics of the strategy, he said, which also motivated his belief that it needed more time.
"I think it's an incredibly complicated subject," Smith said when asked if he agreed with the points raised by opponents of the proposal. "And despite whether or not you agree with some people's opinion does not mean you totally discount the value of them as a Chattanooga resident and they have the right to their opinion regardless of what it is."