As President Donald Trump weighs an “incredibly bad” decision to pull out of an international pact to address climate change, it’s all the more important to take local action to advance clean energy, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said Wednesday.
Benjamin hissed at Trump’s speculated withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement Wednesday as he announced new efforts, joined by mayors from around the country, to work toward powering the city completely by renewable energy.
“There are ... thoughtful leaders who care about the environment, who care about the world that we have inherited from our ancestors, who care deeply about the world that we’re passing on to our chidlren,” said Benjamin, standing in front of a tree of solar panels at Half Moon Outfitters, flanked by clean energy advocates and Sierra Club representatives.
The United States produces the second-highest carbon emissions in the world, behind only China, which is signed onto the Paris agreement to lower warming-causing greenhouse gas emissions.
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The only two countries in the United Nations that did not support the 2016 Paris deal are Nicaragua and Syria.
“I have never aspired to be included in a group only with Syria and Nicaragua,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin came down hard on Trump for “a lack of vision (and) a lack of leadership,” underscoring the importance of action on local levels, he said.
“We’re going to show this leadership in spite of what comes out of the White House via tweet today or tomorrow,” Benjamin said, referring to the president’s penchant for Twitter.
Benjamin pointed to Columbia’s efforts in recent years to rely less on fossil fuels and more on clean energy sources such as solar power.
For instance, the city has converted many of its traffic signals to LED lights, begun running City Council meetings completely on renewable energy and installed a host of solar panels across the city, Benjamin noted.
“They pale in comparison to what we’re going to be doing,” he said of the efforts.
Benjamin was joined by state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, who touted an effort in the S.C. State House to offer tax incentives for solar farms.
One big goal Benjamin has for Columbia: Take the city’s wastewater treatment plant, “one of our main electricity users,” off the fossil fuel power grid.
It’s a “bold move” that could “save taxpayers tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars and significantly reduce our carbon footprint,” Benjamin said.