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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Across the country, mayors are trying to do something meaningful about climate change. More than 600 have now pledged to try to meet the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol, even though the federal government hasn't.

As NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports, that's not going to be an easy task.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH: Boulder, Colorado, is a sunny college town with lots of bike paths, mountain vistas and activists. Mayor Mark Ruzzin says people here are alarmed about global warming and want to take action.

Mayor MARK RUZZIN (Boulder, Colorado): We don't need to study it for another five years. We don't need to play politics for another five years.

SCHALCH: So Boulder is not waiting. The city has created the nation's first carbon tax - the charge added to electric bills because the electricity comes from burning coal.

Mayor RUZZIN: And electricity is the major contributor to the community's greenhouse gas emissions, so it is the elephant in the living room, so to speak. And taxing that consumption makes a lot of sense.

SCHALCH: The money from the tax - about a million dollars annually - will help fund the city's climate action plan. Volunteers are going door to door, handing out compact fluorescent light bulbs and weather stripping. The city has been buying hybrid vehicles and adding green features to public buildings like this new recreation center.

We're in the locker room.

Mayor RUZZIN: And we're about to see the leisure pool, which is the pool for kids, and the water temperature is kept fairly warm.

SCHALCH: So the city puts solar panels on the roof.

Mayor RUZZIN: We're using sunlight to heat the water rather than using natural gas.

SCHALCH: Residents like the climate plan. Vicky Watson browses through a huge assortment of recycled building supplies piled in a field east of town. Recycling is another way to save energy.

Ms. VICKY WATSON: It's a very good cause.

SCHALCH: Watson stoops to measure a bathtub.

Ms. WATSON: I've bought a fixer-upper and essentially, I've furnished the entire kitchen - all the lights, the bathrooms, the plumbing.

SCHALCH: Okay, this is Boulder, sometimes dubbed the Republic of Boulder. But cities aiming to cut emissions come from across the geographic and political map.

Mayor GRAHAM RICHARD (Fort Wayne, Indiana): My community happens to be a community in Indiana that polls as one of the most conservative cities in one of the most conservative states.

SCHALCH: Graham Richard is the mayor of Fort Wayne, which is holding virtual town meetings to cut down on driving and replacing its old traffic lights with LED bulbs that use 80 percent less energy.

Mayor RICHARD: It's laboratories of innovation in every city.

SCHALCH: Including big ones like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. But will cities actually meet the Kyoto target? To do it, they'll have to cut citywide greenhouse gas emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.

Mr. DAVID MORRIS (Vice President, Institute for Local Self-Reliance): This is going to be very challenging.

SCHALCH: David Morris is with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has studied programs in 10 participating cities. During the 1990s, he says, greenhouse gas emissions in most places soared.

Mr. MORRIS: Most of the cities had increased emissions between six and a half percent and 27 percent above their 1990 baselines.

SCHALCH: Morris says that's tough to undo even for a city like Austin, Texas, which has one of the most ambitious climate action plans in the nation.

Mr. MORRIS: Its population growth is in some ways overwhelming its improvements and efficiency.

SCHALCH: Most cities don't have much of a choice over where they get their energy either. Some - the ones with municipally owned utilities - are cutting emissions by buying more wind and solar power. But most utilities are owned by investors and regulated by the states. Cities do have power over building codes, land use plans, and zoning. Boulder has used these to limit development and improve energy efficiency. Boulder's environmental affairs manager, Jonathan Cohen, says this will help the city meet the Kyoto target.

Mr. JONATHAN COHEN (Manager, Boulder Environmental Affairs): Our total carbon emissions have reduced by about five percent since we started this program. We have another 20 percent to go. And we're going to do it.

SCHALCH: But it won't be easy. Boulder and other cities all face a problem with tailpipe emissions. After electricity generation, the second biggest source of greenhouse gases is vehicles, even in Boulder where you can bike or take a bus anywhere, Cohen sighs, people like their cars.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News.

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