This blog post was written by Brady Watson, former Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
This is the third in a series of blog posts by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) where we conducted interviews with Knoxville City Councilmembers about climate and energy issues impacting Knoxville and its residents. Each blog provides background on the council member and a summary of the interview, as well as an audio recording of the interview. Read all the blogs in the series and listen to all of the recordings here. To learn more about SACE’s work in Knoxville and our efforts to #RenewTN, go to RenewTN.org. (Note: due to technical difficulties, only a partial audio recording for the interview with Councilwoman Amelia Parker is available.)
- Cut city government emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030
- Cut community-wide emissions 80% by 2050
While Councilwoman Parker applauded the city for setting goals, she believes the current trajectory doesn’t go far enough to address the problem.
“We’re aware that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated we must slash global greenhouse gas emissions 45% below 2010 levels by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. These are the goals that we’ve all been called on to pursue and we may fall short of those goals. We may determine as a city alone we do not have the resources to meet those goals and we need federal support, maybe we need global support, but we won’t reach them if we don’t set them.”
Knoxville Mayor’s Climate Council
Regarding the newly-formed Mayor’s Climate Council, Councilwoman Parker said she looks forward to having a cooperative working relationship with the Climate Council and stressed the need to engage community members.
“I do believe we need to ensure voices of the community, particularly those that are most impacted by a changing climate, and that environmental groups are lifted up and not overshadowed by corporate and utility voices.”
Speaking about renewable energy, Councilwoman Parker described it as, “necessary for meeting goals, and also increasing public health and air quality.” She cited a recent American Lung Association study that found the Knoxville area had the 25th worst air quality of cities around the country as evidence of how clean, renewable energy could improve life for Knoxvillians. In addition to the public health benefits of renewable energy, Councilwoman Parker also mentioned the potential economic benefits and “green-collar” jobs that increased renewable energy generation could bring to Knoxville.
While she wasn’t on Council at the time, Councilwoman Parker said she was supportive of the City’s LED streetlight project saying it will help the city meet its carbon reduction goals. She also expressed a desire to be more strategic when planning for future projects, and that the LED project plan “fell in our laps.” She said that reducing community emissions are a big part of the City’s carbon reduction plan, but that in the case of the LED streetlights, there was some controversy on the front end due to the cost and uncertainty surrounding new technology. She said about communicating the benefits of the City’s energy projects,
“We need to take the public through it, and show that it’s not just a bunch of dollars, but actually have a conversation about the process.”
Councilwoman Parker views energy efficiency programs that help buildings waste less energy as “low-hanging fruit” and a “no brainer” that should definitely be implemented. By that same token, she said that setting energy efficiency targets is important too, and could lead to more “green-collar” jobs with programs that build a workforce around energy efficiency. Like renewable energy, Parker stressed the need to include money for such programs in the City budget.
With regard to electric transportation, Councilwoman Parker said she supports electrifying the city bus system and trolleys, and would also support an examination of other alternative forms, such as light rail. She also stressed the need to think long term, and regionally when considering transportation options.
“As Knoxville grows, we will reduce emissions, but ensure a high quality of life if people can get around,” the Councilwoman said in listing benefits of electric public transportation.
One issue that did concern the Councilwoman with the city’s recent electric bus purchase was the manufacturing company’s labor practices. There were some employee claims of abuse by the Alabama company, but Parker said the city was continuing to monitor the situation and would make sure the company fixed the issue before purchasing any more buses.
“Along with meeting our climate goals, we can also have economic justice, fairness, and uphold workers’ rights.”
The Councilwoman said she would also be supportive of setting electric vehicle (EV) targets for the city.
Adopting More Clean Energy Programs to Advance Climate Goals
Continuing on the theme of long-term planning, the Councilwoman closed by expressing her desire to see a multi-year climate plan that involves the city, county, utility, and community in a broad coalition with more residents engaged in local government to direct steps. She expressed her support of adopting more environmental ordinances and thinking through what’s missing. She also talked about her experience working with the City in her previous role as the Executive Director of Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment (SOCM). While at SOCM, she worked in a coalition with former mayor Madeline Rogero’s administration and other groups to develop the Knoxville Energy Alliance and Partnership for Green Jobs, which was enabled by the City’s commitment to energy efficiency. This work led to the successful Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover (KEEM) program, which helped weatherize homes for low-income residents around the city. Parker said the City could develop more programs like this to provide home weatherization to low-income households, and cut down on emissions, by looking for other financing options. The Councilwoman brought up the idea of the city implementing its own building ordinance to increase the energy efficiency of new buildings as well.