Kentucky’s largest cities are seeking public input to develop climate plans

Climate plans are a part of federal grant competition to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions

By: - January 18, 2024 5:30 am

An electric car charging station. (Getty Images)

Kentucky’s largest cities are vying for millions of federal dollars aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and are turning to residents of surrounding communities for help.

Louisville, Lexington and Bowling Green are developing climate plans as a part of the federal Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program, something the cities undertook after the state government declined to take part in the grant program. 

The plans, due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by March 1, will include an inventory of local greenhouse gas emission sources such as transportation and industry, an analysis of how the plan benefits low-income and disadvantaged communities in their metro area and a list of “near-term, high-priority, implementation ready measures” to lower local emissions. 

These plans will be used to compete for grants worth up to $500 million each, a part of a pool of more than $4 billion in available federal funding. 

But first, cities are hoping to hear from people in their metro areas about the plans. For example, Louisville Metro Government’s Office of Sustainability has created a survey asking Louisvillians and communities in surrounding counties to give feedback on what the region’s priorities are, what solutions to climate change should be looked at and what individuals and organizations should be involved in the planning process. 

“You don’t have to be an expert on climate science or necessarily have that background to participate in the survey. This is more just thinking about what’s important to you with the future of this region,” said Sumeha Rao, the executive director of the office. “We can find ways to connect that with climate solutions and get those funded.” 

The survey is targeted toward people in Louisville’s metro area including more rural counties surrounding the city. Rao said her office historically hasn’t had “the best connections” in surrounding counties because her office is mostly focused on Louisville, but she believes there are emissions reduction strategies such as zero-emission buses and improving energy efficiency of homes that can appeal to communities both urban and rural. 

She’s said she’s also cognizant that some people may not see human-driven climate change as a priority or connect the issue of “climate pollution” to problems faced by their community. 

“This grant has the opportunity to impact all of those other things that people care about, and we have funding that can deliver solutions that can solve multiple challenges at once,” Rao said. “So we might be able to both solve a housing problem, as well as a climate problem, by building greater housing.” 

Rao said her office also hopes to set up virtual and in-person meetings across Louisville’s metro area to get feedback ahead of the March deadline to submit a plan. In-person meetings are also something Bowling Green officials plan to do in developing their plan. 

Jake Moore, a coordinator for the grant program with the city of Bowling Green, said there’s value for the city creating a climate plan, even if it doesn’t receive any federal money. Forty-six states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. along with dozens of metro areas are competing for the implementation funding

“This is the first time we’ve ever had the opportunity to do something like this,” Moore said. “Having these plans in place regardless, that’s still a positive.” 

He said having such plans (states and metro areas are required to have a second, more comprehensive climate plan in 2025) could help Bowling Green apply for other grant opportunities to reduce emissions, such as adding sidewalks that could reduce pollution from gas-powered vehicle traffic. Moore said it’s worthwhile to also get a better idea of what are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses locally, pointing to how Bowling Green has a large vehicular commuter population. 

“If so many people are gonna be traveling into the city, can we make it so where they’re not emitting as much and idling as much and stopping as much?” Moore said. 

Jada Griggs, a program manager in Lexington’s Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works, said potential public meetings to gather input on the city’s climate plan are in the works but aren’t finalized yet. But she said Lexington’s climate plan for the metro area will include a focus on low-income and disadvantaged communities, an aspect being emphasized by the federal government, and build off of the city’s own sustainability planning

“What can we do from an implementation standpoint to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce our climate pollutants?” Griggs said. “The idea was, let’s pursue this grant anticipating we may be able to try to get some funding for the implementation piece.” 

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.