Mayor McLean on the City of Boise's climate progress: 'I'm optimistic'

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean talks climate with Idaho News 6
Posted at 7:32 PM, Jul 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-11 02:26:02-04

BOISE — The City of Boise is on its way to carbon-neutrality, and officials are moving forward on a climate action roadmap approved by City Council last year.

That map is intended to move the organization towards carbon-neutral municipality operations by 2035 and the entire Boise community by 2050.

When Mayor Lauren McLean was running for the job in 2019, she campaigned on a number of issues which included clean energy and climate change. "We've seen, every year, our skies get a little smokier, we have more heat days than we've had in the past and the weather is more unpredictable than it used to be. And all of those have real impacts on the health of our community," said McLean. "We are at a moment of change. And I hear every day from residents who recognize the impacts that we're feeling and they really want to see leadership.”

Mclean sponsored the clean energy plan as City Council President in 2019, and in 2021 pushed for the ultimate passage of the that climate roadmap.

Knowing where emissions are coming from is key to accomplishing the city's energy-related goals. That’s where greenhouse gas inventories come in. "They identify where the sources of greenhouse gas emissions in our community and in our facilities come from," said Boise's Climate Action Manager Steve Hubble.

In 2020, the city emitted over 40,000 carbon dioxide equivalent metric tons.

The largest source of emissions were those coming from wastewater treatment processes at 39%.

The water renewal bond that passed last November authorized up to $570 million for improvements to the city’s sewer system. The funds will contribute towards recycling wastewater by treating it at a very high level and making it available to industry again or putting it back in the aquifer.

“Boiseans made clear last fall with the vote on the water bond, that climate action, clean water access, and reusing water is really important," McLean told Idaho News 6.

Heating, cooling and powering city-owned buildings and facilities was another significant source of emissions in 2020 at 35%. See more on the GHG Inventories here.

Targeting this area of the carbon-neutral puzzle looks like simply reducing energy use or electrification of buildings and fleets.

"Science is really foundational to our work," said Hubble. "So back in 2016, we completed a Climate Adaptation Assessment to really understand what climate impacts look like here locally, whether that be around heat, water or other things that are related.”

Research from the University of Idaho, Boise State University, and the Langdon Group determined the risks of climate changes in Boise for the assessment, like rising heat danger. Heat days above 91 degrees Fahrenheit could increase from a historical baseline of 16 days per summer to 66 days by 2050, for example.

In response, officials are emphasizing public cooling spaces and planting 100,000 more trees across the city by 2030.

Related: City of Trees challenge kicks off in Boise

Other risks to Boise include worsening air quality as a result of increased wildfire danger, and more frequent drought among others.

What comes first is accomplishing these goals for Boise's municipality operations, and then shifting towards helping the rest of the community adopt carbon-neutrality.

Despite the challenges of tackling such a complex issue, Mayor McLean says she’s optimistic about turning Boise into a carbon-neutral city by 2050.

"What we're seeing is while we have goals and we have aggressive goals, we have to. The people of Boise, the folks of Boise, want to be a partner in that. And so I'm optimistic that as hard as it is to come up with these solutions, and then to create the change we need to see to protect this community, that we'll be able to do it," said McLean.

Related: Warming environmental conditions to continue