An Indianapolis City-County Council committee on Thursday advanced a proposal to create a commission on environmental sustainability.
The proposal, the first to be introduced this year, was penned by Democrats in early January and has been opposed by council Republicans, who believe creating a commission to study climate change is redundant with other efforts.
With approval from the Rules and Public Policy Committee, the measure moves on to the full council and could be approved as early as March 16.
The commission would look at how climate change is affecting the city and recommend any needed proposals that would advance the priorities of the Thrive Indianapolis plan. The plan, approved by the Metropolitan Development Commission in February 2019, details goals and action to be taken to help the city achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
The proposal calls for the commission, named the Commission on Environmental Sustainability, to do three things:
- Review the status of the city’s response to climate change, including the implementation of the Thrive Indianapolis plan.
- Recommend any needed council proposals to advance the priorities of the Thrive Indianapolis plan.
- Gather information from environmental experts and community members to recommend additional policy changes to advance the causes of sustainability and resilience for Indianapolis.
It was amended in committee to stipulate that one of the members of the nine-member commission be an expert on environmental justice.
Language in the proposal was amended to recognize that low-income and minority neighborhoods are more likely to be affected by climate change. They’re more likely to live in older homes that need to be weatherized and in neighborhoods with fewer trees to provide shade from heat.
District 7 council member John Barth, the proposal’s sponsor, told councilors climate change is taking a toll on cities across the country, and Indianapolis is no exception. Extreme weather events are already happening and more are coming, he said.
The amendment to include an environmental justice expert came about after conversations with constituents, he said.
But Republicans Mike Hart and Brian Mowery, who voted against the proposal, said they believe the commission will just duplicate efforts already being taken by other groups.
The city’s Office of Sustainability is already working to address climate concerns through the Thrive plan and many universities and think tanks are already examining the impact climate change will have on Indianapolis and other cities.
Hart argued the council could achieve the proposal’s goals without having to form a commission, pointing out that Democrats recently rejected a Republican proposal to form a study commission on violent crime in the city, citing groups and commissions examining the issue.
Mowery also wondered about the financial implications.
“I’m curious as to why now,” he asked. “It seems like something of this magnitude should have been brought up long ago if it’s this pressing of an issue.”
Barth said the council has a responsibility to consider polices and budget decisions through the lens of climate change.
“I’m suggesting we spend some time digging into it and thinking hard about what we can do to mitigate this,” he said.