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Why Republican Mayor In Indiana Isn't Cheering On Climate Agreement Withdrawal

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Why Republican Mayor In Indiana Isn't Cheering On Climate Agreement Withdrawal

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Why Republican Mayor In Indiana Isn't Cheering On Climate Agreement Withdrawal

Why Republican Mayor In Indiana Isn't Cheering On Climate Agreement Withdrawal

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As mayor of Carmel, Ind., James Brainard is working to combat climate change. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro asks the longtime Republican why climate change is important to him and his city.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Let's turn now to Indiana. James Brainard is the Republican mayor of Carmel just outside of Indianapolis. And he joins us from member station WFYI. Thanks for being with us.

JAMES BRAINARD: Oh, it's great to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When people think of climate change, I think the first image is of rising sea levels, of islands disappearing and coastal cities being inundated. What's the big concern for you there in Indiana?

BRAINARD: Well, I think that's a concern, too, because we see ourselves as a part of the country and the world. And we realize if there's that sort of displacement, we're at risk for all sorts of bad things. There's also the frequency and intensity of storms in this area, tornadoes. There's the changing climate patterns, which seems to lead to the evolution of new pests in the fields outside our metro areas. All these things, I think, are on people's mind.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I take it that you are not pleased with President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

BRAINARD: No, I absolutely think he's wrong. I think that it's a failure of U.S. leadership at the federal level. But I want to make a point. The mayors of the United States have been working since 2005. Over 1,200 mayors signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. And a third of these mayors were Republican, probably two thirds Democrats - doesn't matter. And we all made a commitment to reduce the carbon emissions in our cities. And these mayors together represent about 85 percent of the Earth's population and should be able to meet the goals of the Paris Accord.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about some of the climate change initiatives that you've enacted there in Carmel.

BRAINARD: First of all, we're trying to - taking a car city, a city that was designed for cars, and turning it into a walkable city so that the average driver is in his car maybe a few minutes a day as opposed to U.S. average of two hours or a hundred miles. We've switched out almost all of our street lights to LEDs, getting a great return on investment as well. We've created over a thousand acres of parkland. We have a street tree program. I did an executive order almost 12 years ago requiring all of our fleet vehicles to be hybrids or alternative fuel vehicles. We're experimenting with hydrogen trucks for our street department. I can go on, but we're doing a lot of things in our city.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you engage with climate skeptics or climate change deniers in Carmel? What do you tell them?

BRAINARD: Well, I say there's lots of different ways to get to the same endpoint. I talk about our LED street light replacement program, where we spend almost a million dollars to replace all our streetlights. And they say, why'd you spend that money? I say, well, we're getting a 22 percent return on investment annually in the lower electricity costs. That usually makes them happy. Or if we talk about jobs or we talk about national defense and not being dependent upon other countries for fossil fuels that we might need in a war or other conflict - there are so many other reasons, job creation being one of them that gets us to the same endpoint.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think the Republicans have missed an opportunity to engage with this issue on that level - talking about jobs, talking about opportunities?

BRAINARD: Absolutely. I think some Republicans have. The administration has missed a political opportunity to expand their base. They're speaking to a very small portion of the Republican base, and it's a big missed opportunity for them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You engaged with President Obama and the Democrats on this issue. Explain how you did that.

BRAINARD: I was asked by the State Department to travel to India and Germany and meet with mayors in those countries to talk about what the U.S. is doing and, in the case of India, to encourage those local mayors to influence President Modi of India to actually come to Paris and sign the agreement. That was up in the air for a long period of time.

You know, what the mayors in India told me, for instance, was that the U.S.'s leadership means a lot. It helps them get to where they want to be, and that's probably my greatest fear with this change, is that some of these countries won't come along. And so my message to those mayors I spoke with in India today would be - simply because the federal government isn't going to make progress, our mayors are going to continue to make progress. We're going to keep our word. We're going to honor the commitments made and continue to improve the air quality and reduce our carbon emissions in each of our cities.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Ind., thank you so much.

BRAINARD: Well, thank you. It was great being with you.

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