Greenville Mayor Knox White plans to continue the fight against climate change, despite President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.
White has joined the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, a group of mayors from across the country committed to carrying out the goals of the agreement wherein 196 nations joined together to acknowledge the threat of climate change.
The agreement, which was finalized in 2015, commits the participating nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels through 2100.
Shortly after President Trump’s decision earlier this month to withdraw from the agreement, more than 200 mayors representing over 54 million Americans decided to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”
The group, also known as the Climate Mayors network, recently released an open letter to President Trump to oppose his stance on climate change. Along with mayors Terence Roberts of Anderson, Stephen Benjamin of Columbia, and John Tecklenburg of Charleston, White has joined his fellow city leaders in signing the letter, vowing to confront climate change and create a clean energy economy.
“Environmental stewardship is woven into the fabric of our city,” said White. “It’s a priority for us to be a leader in taking local action for the environment. We’ve always put a premium on that no matter what happens on the national or international stage.”
White said his signature isn’t a political statement as much as it is an affirmation of the city’s dedication to sustainability.
“The president has left it to local leaders to address climate change and other environmental issues, and we’re doing that,” said White. “It’s more important now than ever that we take a stand for the welfare of the environment and act in the best interests of our individual communities.”
The city of Greenville faces many environmental challenges, according to Environmental Data Resources.
After researching the county’s existing 18 ZIP codes, the organization determined that the city scored a one out of a possible four in sustainability overall. According to the report, the city has faced more than 100 spills, releases and accidents where chemicals or petroleum have been released into the environment.
White said the city has embraced sustainability in numerous ways and is actively adopting efforts to become more environmentally friendly, ranging from alternative transportation models to clean energy sources.
“The goals of the Paris agreement are already aligned with our vision for the city, so it was only natural for me to sign the letter,” said White. “We’re actually doing more than most cities. We’re doing things that other cities aspire to do.”
In 2006, White signed the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, which has since been signed by more than 500 mayors urging the federal government to reduce emissions and to fund urban renewal projects.
The city also created a Green Ribbon Advisory Committee shortly after for input about environmentally responsible practices in designing, constructing, and managing capital improvements and city operations.
In regards to climate change, White noted the city’s efforts to rely less on fossil fuels and more on clean energy sources.
In 2016, the city joined “Solarize South Carolina,” a community outreach program designed to help make solar accessible and affordable for state residents. White also proclaimed Jan. 19 as “Solarize Greenville Day” and encouraged business owners and residents in the city to consider solar energy “as a means to power their properties and contribute to a greener, more sustainable Greenville.”
In the U.S., carbon dioxide accounts for 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which can cause multiple health issues. But many residents and companies are adopting clean energy sources such as solar. Those sources reduce the use of power plants, which account for 31 percent of U.S. emissions, according to the EPA.
“Sustainability isn’t only about reducing energy use,” said White. “In addition to protecting the environment, solar energy also supports economic growth.”
“Protecting the climate is not a choice between our environment and economy,” he added. “We can use sustainability to benefit the economy while reducing carbon emissions.”
The city, for instance, made energy efficiency upgrades to the TD Center in 2009 that have saved more than $11,000 per year and consumed 20 percent less energy.
It also conducted a greenhouse gas emissions inventory that’s helped officials identify more opportunities to save energy and reduce emissions. The report identified the per capita carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the city as 45.2 tons per year compared to a national average of 19.1 tons per capita.
But the city’s biggest concern is the loss of green space due to growth and development, according to White.
A census report released last month revealed the city of Greenville is the country’s fourth-fastest-growing city, growing by 5.8 percent as of last July from the year before, to 67,453 residents. The city has issued about 200 permits for single-family home construction since 2013, according to data provided by the city.
“Parks are essential to balancing the growth that we’ve welcomed,” said White. “Many of our projects, including a new park on the west side, are focused on capturing more green space and promoting the outdoors.”
White noted the city’s efforts to improve area parks with record funding.
Right now, neighborhood parks are slated to get $2 million from the city’s capital improvement plan for next year, with the money going to improvements, the first phase of the signature City Park, and to develop the former Cleveland Park Stables property given to the city by a benefactor in 2012.
The city is also working to develop a comprehensive stormwater master plan to address flooding and water quality improvements for the Reedy River Watershed and the city as a whole, according to White.
“The river and the falls have become the centerpiece of downtown Greenville,” said White. “It’s a priority for us to protect it from further contamination.”
The Reedy River, which flows through Falls Park in downtown Greenville, has experienced severe pollution since the early 1900s because of nearby textile mills, sewage discharges and runoff from increased urbanization.
The city, alongside conservation groups and other local governments, has worked to address the river’s problems.
White said the city is actually required by DHEC to provide public education and outreach about ways to reduce pollution, including picking up pet waste, keeping grass clippings out of storm drains and applying fertilizers judiciously.
The city’s comprehensive stormwater master plan will include a stormwater asset management program; water quality monitoring plan; watershed model; and a plan for improving watershed conditions, including a prioritized list of projects to be implemented through the capital improvement plan.
Field work began in May and is expected to continue through the end of 2017.